Observations from the field

Two-finger applause only, please.

There’s nothing quite like watching your kids play high school sports. It’s a highly emotional situation for parents, who experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as if they were competing themselves.

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with expressing oneself in this new age; however, each sport has its own unwritten rules governing the behavior of spectators, and problems can arise when parents don’t conform to the unique standards for each sport.

For example, we’ve been high school football parents for three years now, and I’m pretty sure we’ve mastered football’s spectator rituals.

On Friday nights, we proudly wear our 100% nylon mesh replica jerseys, emblazoned with our son’s number. We don’t eat before the game, preferring to get dinner from the concession stand, where a balanced game night meal consists of a hamburger or hot dog (protein), chips with nacho cheese (dairy), and ketchup (vegetable.) A blue raspberry Sno Kone rounds out the meal (fruit). Once seated in the bleachers, we try to resist any aerobic activity for the next two hours, other than arm flailing and hitting the restroom at halftime.

During game play, parents are encouraged to outwardly express and exaggerate any feelings of pride, exhilaration, disappointment, or anger. It is commonplace and expected of parents to hoot, holler, and shout expletives that might otherwise be considered obnoxious or unkind.

Some examples might include, “Hey, that’s MY kid! Woohoo!” yelled while pointing repeatedly at the player. Or, “Take that you LOSERS!” directed to the opposing team while making rude spanking gestures. Or, “Hey Ref — I’ve seen potatoes with better eyes than you!” most effective when screamed with a mouthful of half chewed hot dog.

However, not every high school sport has the same rituals. We learned this lesson the hard way when our freshman daughter joined the Cross Country team this year.

After getting up in the middle of the night so that we could be at an away meet for the 8:00 am start time, we arrived at the course groggy and confused.

There were no bleachers to sit on — just hoards of leggy teenagers milling about on tarps laid out in a grass field. As we searched for our daughter’s team, we could not help but notice that there were no foam fingers or tacky nylon mesh to be found. The other parents looked like they were runners too, wearing trendy, moisture-wicking spandex and thermo-regulating micro-fleece sportswear.

We heard no cowbells or air horns – only two-finger golf clapping and the faint tweet of birds in the distance. We could smell no grilled pork products or locker room odors – only fresh air and a hint of cappuccino.

We never felt more lost and alone.

We heard the crack of a starting pistol, and next thing we knew, our daughter whizzed by us, among the pack. No sooner did the runners pass, than the crowd of parents started sprinting through a trail in the woods. We weren’t sure if there was a grizzly bear attacking us, or a clearance sale at the Pottery Barn, but we followed along.

The jog led us to our next observation point, where my husband and I breathlessly yelled, flailed and gestured, “Hey, that’s our kid! C’mon Honey! Make ‘em eat your dirt!”  The looks on the other parents’ faces made it clear that our exuberance was not appreciated.

After two more sprints to observation points, the race was over, and we found ourselves two-finger golf clapping with everyone else. All that sprinting left my husband and I famished and in search of the nearest deep-fat fryer. Unfortunately, the only food available was granola bars, and they were for the team.

On the way home, while waiting in the drive-thru for a #7-With-Bacon-Go-Large, I realized that we’d learned some valuable lessons about becoming cross-country parents. First, spectating this sport requires either an all terrain vehicle with GPS navigation, or a personal defibrillator. Second, unless someone starts deep-frying granola, always keep a bag of Funions and a six-pack of Squirt in the glove box to combat hunger.

And lastly, we shouldn’t worry if we don’t fit in right away. It’s easy to take the parents out of the football game, but it might take a while to get the football game out of the parents.

Granola doesn’t cut it.

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Comments: 11

  1. Ned's Blog November 19, 2012 at 10:41 am Reply

    Loved this post. I’m a parent of three athletic kids AND I cover high school sports at the newspaper I work. Talk about a conflict of interest, right? My first cross country meet (14 years ago), I ended up taking photos of the wrong team before getting lost in the woods. That’s NEVER happened to me at a football game! …Ok, just once, but it was really foggy and I followed the smell of grilling burgers back to safety. Can’t do that with cross country.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm Reply

      Thanks for feeling my pain, Ned. I found your latest post – congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Love your style!

      • Ned's Blog November 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm Reply

        Thanks, Lisa :) Looking forward to following your adventures.

  2. TiredMama1 November 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm Reply

    Great post! This was ME at my son’s rugby game. I had no idea what was going on and I didn’t understand any of the language. But at least we had bleachers. I’m a hockey/soccer/dance/swimming/baseball Mom and I think my youngest is going to have to stick to one of these sports that I’ve already learned. Or at least that’s what I’m going to try to convince her of. :)

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm Reply

      Oh Geeze, my son wants to play rugby next year. Please tell me what I need to know!

  3. energywriter November 14, 2012 at 1:16 pm Reply

    Great story, Lisa. Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away my kids ran cross country. We didn’t follow the team as they ran the trail, but we expected to cheer EACH runner as he or she crossed the finished line. Not rowdy football cheers of course, but clapping and yelling, “way to go, good race.”

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm Reply

      We like to cheer the loudest for the poor stragglers who come in last… I relate to them the most!

  4. Mike Farley November 13, 2012 at 11:08 am Reply

    Entertaining piece, Lisa. Reminds me of George Carlin’s comparison of football, and its “blitz,” with baseball, which has the bunt. Keep it up.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 13, 2012 at 2:19 pm Reply

      Sounds like types of baked goods to me, but I am feeling a bit hungry right now.

  5. Grace Cosgriff November 13, 2012 at 8:24 am Reply

    Love it….. Thanks for the look into the different kinds of cheering. My experience is between wrestling and baseball…..

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm Reply

      Thanks Grace… I’d imagine that spitting is A-OK at baseball games, but probably not appreciated at wrestling matches. Conversely, those scant little Victorian bathing suits they wear in wrestling would probably highly inappropriate at a baseball game. Why does it have to be this complicated!

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