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.