It was homecoming of my senior year at Cedar Falls High School. Time was running out and we had a 21-0 lead over cross town rivals from Central Waterloo. I didn’t have a spectacular high school football career but I like to think I played an important role for the team. Eleven starters had bravely defended our goal for the entire game. They were able, in part, to do that because I and my duck squad had learned the opponent’s tendencies and prepared our team for what they might see in the game. That’s the thing about teamwork; victories are often the result of unseen contributions.
I was captain of the ducks but I’m not sure how the name “ducks” was attributed to our practice squad. Washington park had a pond that was home to a flock of ducks and I assume the name originated with less than complimentary intent. Regardless, by the time I was in high school the moniker had its own sense of honor.
We were fortunate to play our home games in the local university’s domed stadium. The air supported cloth roof had flashed throughout the game as a raging thunderstorm lit up the October night sky. The fans were jubilant as the defense struggled to maintain the shutout. The Chargers were driving toward the end zone. It was time for my ducks to shine. We were fresh. We were hungry. We wanted our taste of this victory in the understood contact that we got to play when games were well in hand. Two minutes left.
The coach hadn’t looked our way. I called out. “Coach! It’s duck time.” One minute thirty remaining. Maybe he hadn’t heard me. “Coach! We’re ready.” “Not now Willy” he said. A couple more plays went by and my duck squad was looking to me with hope in their eyes. Another play. The clock ticked under a minute. I was mad. I saw what was going on. The coach wanted the shut out. I stepped in front of the coach and fighting back tears of rage yelled, “Coach! We want to play! Now!” For his own reasons the coach turned his back on me. Time expired. The shutout was in the books.
Our high school and locker room was a couple of miles from the stadium. Normally the bus ride home after any victory was marked with macho and boisterous bravado in the manner only teen age boys are capable of. But there was no hooting. No hollering. No chanting. No laughter or talks of events after the game. There was only some murmuring; maybe a sniffle here and there as the bitter disappointment from the unrewarded hours and hours of hard work and dedication sank in.
It was still pouring rain. It was a seriously reduced visibility kind of rain. And as the bus pulled up behind our gym I looked down disgustingly at my glaringly white game pants. I made sure to get to the front of the bus before the doors opened and I looked back at my team. “I’ll tell you what! I didn’t get to play tonight but I’ll be damned if they aren’t going to have to wash my uniform!” I ran off the bus and swan dove into the muddy field beside our school. As I came to the end of my slide teammates, all of them, ducks and starters alike, were sliding past me. The first sounds of joy filled the air as we frolicked in the mud.
The coach was waiting at the door when we went in. He didn’t say anything but he looked me in the eye and I knew he knew. He was a great coach but had made a mistake that night. He knew it. We knew it. Sometimes that’s enough.
I thought about this story because I’m seeing more and more stories of people banding together to challenge adversity. Western society is hierarchical in its own ways and just like my heart swelled when my team had my back I have to believe we encourage people who feel at risk when we show them support. There are many changes facing our country these days. Nearly every psychological need is at risk by one person or another in America today. To fully grasp what it requires to be our best certain hierarchical needs must be met. From Maslow’s great work:
1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love.
4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
You can see how these things are at risk for many in our community under the Trump administration. Only by standing together will we be able to ever truly celebrate home coming. Let’s make the world a better place. Resist. Persist.