Fall Means Football Season in my Family

Sugar maple seeds flutter to the ground like mini helicopters and leaves tinged in red signal fall and football season. As soon as my hand grew big enough to grasp the pigskin, my dad taught me to throw and catch a perfect spiral. On cool autumn evenings, we ran passing patterns – the down and out, button hook and v-slant – under the waning street light until mom called for dinner.

Back in the late 60s, I was probably the only girl in town that knew that a Hail Mary had nothing to do with the Catholic Church. The daughter of a Sterling High School football coach and the granddaughter of a former Northern Illinois University and Eureka College football coach, no one told me girls couldn’t love football. Though it was almost 2 more decades before girls would be allowed to participate on America’s ball fields, nobody in my family discouraged me from playing a game designed to build the character of men.

Only a half a century later did I realized how unique my upbringing and how privileged I was to grow up in a coach’s family in a community that valued sports.

My alma mater Sterling High School stadium sparkles in the night like a major university field. Dating back to the 40s, the football program brought pride to the community. My dad, a DeKalb High School Barb, remembers the challenge of playing against Sterling when DuWayne Dietz starred as a running back.

“Our game plan was simple – tackle Dietz!” my dad recounted, “Only problem, we had to catch him first. We chased him up and down the field all night.”

Last year, at the recently renovated stadium, the team made it to the semi-finals of a state championship and this season remain undefeated.

I grew up admiring the Sterling warriors, memorizing plays and tracking yardage gained. For me the only thrill greater than Friday night lights of American high school football was watching my grandpa’s college team play on Saturdays. As children, we cherished each excursion to Eureka, Illinois to spend time with our grandparents.

Sitting on hard bleachers, my sisters and I cheered “Go Red Devils,” and chuckled in amusement that a Christian college team could carry such a dubious nickname. But we knew the history behind it and felt proud; my grandma gave them that name when she started the pep club back in the 1930s.

Several Sterling High School athletes would go on to shine at Eureka College. In fact while I was playing basketball for Illinois State University, two of my best high school buddies – Mike Wietlispach and Chris Baldwin – wore the maroon and gold onto McKinzie Field.

Team loyalties transcend from generation to generation. I loved the Sterling Golden Warriors, the Eureka Red Devils and the Greenbay Packers long before the Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers era because Greenbay was my grandpa’s favorite team.

In early adulthood, I moved to Europe in pursuit of my own passion to play professional basketball. I have remained in the land of soccer ever since. Though I would never see another football game live, the love remains.

When my children were young, my dad gave them a football. As soon as their fingers were big enough to spread across the white laces, I taught them to throw and run those passing patterns.

I still dream of attending an SHS football game and heading back down to McKinzie Field for a Red Devils’ game. But for now that goal remains on my bucket list because I am still coaching in Switzerland.

In the meantime, if I close my eyes I can hear my ancestors’ voices echoing across the gridiron. Memories of family, pep talks of inspiration and love of football are imprinted in my soul forever.

Posted in family, sport.

8 Comments

  1. Pat,

    You brought a smile to my face this morning as I read this latest entry to your blog. Bringing back those memories…although I couldn’t play football….I did the next best thing…..I reported for WIXN Radio in Dixon, Illinois. When I was in school, Jim Scott was the football coach. He would give me a hard time every now and then ….once in a while in the Algebra I class Mr. Scott taught. I took his “sticks” with a smile and every chance I got, I would show up for the extra credut he would offer just my way of getting back at him in a silent way.

    • Good for you Randy. Being a radio announcer or sports writer sure is the next best thing. I should have mentioned the impact of the Jim Scott era in my blog. He was a great coach and he sure had some exceptional teams. A loss for Sterling when he left to make his mark at Aurora College. He was also one of the coaches at SHS that supported my athleticism long before girls playing sports was considered acceptable.

  2. Pat, like you, I learned to love football from an early age. My dad never played, but he knew enough to explain what was going on, and being in my college band taught me that much more. I love to take in a college game when I can (especially if I can accompany Domer!).
    Unlike yours, our downstate high school facilities are nothing to brag about. As our high school team improves, I’m sure the facilities will, too. I don’t attend those games unless it’s to watch the band at halftime! Brings back LOTS of memories, ha!

    • Wasn’t watching games with your dad one of your favorite childhood memories? I bet you marched all over the fields of the Midwest. I should have mentioned the bands in my blog.I loved listening to their music and watching them parade in unison. Talk about perfect timing. It was all apart of the great entertainment of American football.

  3. Pat, you bring back happy memories of when my brothers taught me football skills and I joined in the neighborhood flag football games as a pre-teen and teenage girl. Because my father was in the military it meant frequent moves. That resulted in me and my two brothers being very close as often times we only each other to play with until we made some friends. And since all boys need is a ball to make friends, it meant that I was always where the ball was. Hence my love of things sports today. That’s why you and I got to be such good friends too! For that, I’ll always be grateful.

    • Isn’t it amazing how a ball can bring people together? Just think of all the people we have met from every race, walk of life and nationality through our years playing and coaching and our shared love of ball games (especially basketball). I still count my lucky stars the day you walked into the gym and we became buddies, a magical friendship that endures throughout the years and across the miles.

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