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Football, English and Independence

Football, English and Independence

By Ethan Thompson

Ethan Thompson

The final buzzer inspires my euphoria. My team wins the 10th straight conference game. As the lone freshman on varsity basketball, I garner 8 points and 4 assists. However, a common disappointment spoils the victory when I exit the court.

“Your dad had a meeting at a church member’s house,” Mom says.

From a young age, I realized Dad didn’t have a normal 9 to 5 job. As a minister, his hours were unpredictable. Church related matters could call him away at any moment.  My mother, the Dean of Business at a college in the Bronx, also worked long hours, so I learned to exercise independence. After school, I made my own meals instead of waiting four hours for Mom to get home. On Saturdays, I practiced basketball on my own. Before I knew it, tenth grade came and I was packing the family car to move into my dorm room at Avon Old Farms.  

I walked in the gym and the light from the windows shone down on the floor, letting me see dust particles floating in the air. I smelt 100 perspiring boys selecting a sport. A burly man with a lumberjack’s beard eyed me up and down with an inviting smile when I arrived at a table with a signup sheet. .

“You ever play football before?” he asked.

“No sir, my mom’s against it.”

“Well you’ll never know what you’re missing until you try it. Why don’t you come down to practice and see how you like it, and if it seems like something you want to do, I’ll have a conversation with your mother.”

Something about him compelled me to add my name to the sheet. The next day, the sun blared on my face as my friend Abel and I walked down to the first freshman team football practice of the year. As Abel blabbered on about preferring the Russian cold over this 85 degree weather, I admired the landscape of the athletic fields. The cicadas buzzed throughout the trees and the grasshoppers leapt away. I was at the dawn of a new life.

After a full week of waking up at 5:45 for workouts with our ex-Marine athletic director, then having two practices, I felt I could get through anything. Then came the surprise. I arrived at practice and the assistant coach asked me to join two teammates in the locker room. Minutes later, cheers and applause greet us as we approached the field. We were captains. I was in shock after just learning to play the sport over the past three weeks. Then Abel yelled, “DOGPILE!” I was engulfed under sweaty, sour smelling, pad protected boys. At that moment, I learned the true meaning of camaraderie.

Football fed my hunger for challenge and forced me to balance my independence with the importance of teamwork. In fact, football didn’t encourage the independent streak I cultivated at home. It did the opposite, pushing me to look at things in a broader perspective and see the bigger picture. When you are part of a football team, everything you do affects the team and your performance on game day in ways that differ from basketball.

Two weeks into this school year, I saw the influence of football on my life. I was exhausted on a Wednesday, when we have half a day of classes and grueling practices. I wanted to just hop in my bed and sleep until the next day, but when I checked veracross, I realized I had three single page essays due in English on Thursday. I could have just taken a penalty for handing them in late. Instead, I faced the challenge in the football way. I poured my heart and soul into three pages of writing, even though I was exhausted. I received a 93 for the combined grade of the essays. It felt like catching a 40 yard pass.


Ethan Thompson, a graduate of Avon Old Farms School, is a freshman at Hampton University.