The Saints*

The parking lot is filled with cars. We drive past filled spaces and admire the green athletic fields, perfectly manicured and lined for each sport. There are now two artificial-turf fields, a separate lacrosse field and a baseball diamond. In my day, there was one field, not quite regulation size, worn down to large dust patches at either goal end due to overuse. By all physical measures, my high school is totally changed. A facelift for the present way parents need to be convinced to spend $20,000 on a high school education.

My mother and I walked into the front hall, a place I have been associated with since my brother started fourth grade there in 1978. As I put on the plastic nametag with my married name of Jones, it felt sort of odd. In this place, I am Melanie Bartol. I am known for me and my faults and accomplishments as an individual, not for my girls or my husband. It is as if the spotlight has been cutoff. I am not more fierce or competitive or strong or loud than any of the people there. I am home.

There are familiar faces everywhere. My classmate who runs the alumni office, the head who is the same since I went there (and who my mother has known since she was a teenager in Connecticut), the former teammates and coaches who all seem to come back or never leave. And it is a joyous occasion, five people and two teams being inducted into the athletic hall of fame. The feats are somewhat awe inspiring of those honored: A gym teacher who taught for 41 years; a three sport athlete who scored 1,041 point on the basketball court. I had the privilege to play lacrosse with her in high school and college. A wrestler who won the national prep school wrestling title and an ACC college title. And the 1995 field hockey team who had a perfect season -no losses, no ties, no goals scored upon. There are only seven high school field hockey programs in the country to achieve that. I felt pride for what they achieved.

It was a joy to sit with parents who drove us to games, paid for camps, listened endlessly to the breakdown of games, cut oranges, cheered loudly even when they didn’t know the rules, brought old newspapers to tournaments to stuff in our cleats so they would dry between games. Secretly I think there was a competition among the parents to see who could come up with the next handy gadget to support us. One year, a Dad showed up with a picnic table that folded into the size of a briefcase. There were tents and towels sitting in ice water for the hot days and sock warmers and sweatshirts for the colder games. In short high school athletics was an atmosphere where we were cared for and rejoiced in. We were cared for and we mattered.

There have always been rumors the school has recruited athletes, starting in first grade. I imagine these people think the interview consists of freeze tag and relay races with any seven year old not in the top three being cut from the process. I can assure you this does not happen. There is nothing fancy about the plays or the training or the coaches. In fact I don’t remember feeling any outward pressure to win. Prepare, play hard, inspire teammates, reap the benefits. A straight up process. It worked most of the time. In twelve seasons, over four years, the teams I was on lost 5 games. Total. In college we lost more than that my first season. I had to learn how to lose and I did not like it, still don’t.

This week was a big news cycle: The Royal Wedding, The President’s birth certificate and Obama’s speech at The White House Correspondents Dinner, the Tuscaloosa Tornado, the killing of Osama Bin Laden. So why do I write on sports? Because it’s the only thing that makes sense to me day in and day out. Fairytales will fade back to the books, our enemies will find new reasons to hate us, and politicians will continue to bicker. Natural disasters will wreak havoc on towns and change lives forever. And for me, sports will always be an analogy for life and faith. In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, the running missionary, says:  “Then where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.” It is something I was subtly taught while competing. It was brought to glowing light this weekend. Each honoree was humbled, thankful, and sure of what sports had done for their lives. I hope one day to be able to say that about my faith.

* My high school mascot is the Saints. As visitors to away games, we would roll down the windows on the bus, slam our sticks loudly on the floor and scream “Oh When The Saints Go Marching In.” This title is in no means a reflection of our perfect behavior, most of which was not and is not fit to be written about anywhere.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Molly on May 5, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I’m always humbled on the tennis court and ironically learn about my faith, strength and self just by showing up and playing. Thanks!


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