For me, autumn has always meant one thing — and it’s never been hoodies, hayrides, bonfires or pumpkin-flavored anything.
OK, maybe hoodies, which pretty much serve as my daily work attire from Octoboer until April.
But so much more than that — for the past 20 years since I started working at the Troy Daily News, at least — autumn has meant high school sports. Lots of them. Of the three high school sports seasons — fall, winter and spring — none feature more sports than fall. There are a total of nine sports taking place in the fall, which means plenty of work to be done for sports writers.
And, for the better part of my career, that’s exactly how I’ve viewed fall — lots and lots of work. That’s meant more than my fair share of fast food dinners, not being able to kiss my kids goodnight before they go to bed and plenty of family functions that have come and gone with me sending my best wishes via text message.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It’s the life I chose — mostly because the joy of writing about sports and local athletes for a living far outweighs the drudgery of compiling reams of copy following a big tournament or invitational. That being said, however, for the past two decades when the fall sports season has come to an end, I’ve breathed a giant sigh of relief.
Part of me is always a little happy it’s over — and a whole lot happier I’ve managed to surive for another year.
Not this year, however.
Last week, my son Max was sick from school and I stayed home with him. I was working from home — there’s truthfully no such thing as a day off for sports writers in the fall — and as I was sitting at my kitchen table typing up cross country previews, it hit me. Sitting in the silence my kitchen has to offer — Max was peacefully napping on the couch, the television was turned off and I didn’t have the distractions of the police scanner or my co-workers aguring about which flavor of Jolly Rancher candy is the tastiest — I had an epiphany.
I didn’t want the fall sports season to end this year.
Soon, we’ll wrap up another season of fall sports here at the Troy Daily News. Only three local teams remain — one’s season is guaranteed to end this weekend one way or another and the other two will be fighting to keep their seasons alive for at least three more weeks.
After that, it’s another season in the books. And — for the first time in my professional career, it’s hitting me hard.
Maybe it’s because, for the first time in a almost a decade, I won’t have one of my nephews playing football or soccer at Troy anymore.
Or maybe it’s because some of my friends (or, in one case, a “frenemy”) now have high school athletes competing in fall sports. The clock is already ticking for them — and in less than four years, their athletic careers will be finished. Soon they’ll be saying goodbye to their high school athletes — which means its only a matter of time before my own children enter high school and begin their own athletic careers, should they choose to do so.
Or, most likely, my parents’ recent health problems have forced me to confront my own mortality — whether it be in life or as a sports writer. They likely won’t be around to watch all of their grandchildren participate in athletic endeavors, at least at the high school level. I won’t be able to do this for the rest of my life. Eventually, my time — whether it be at this newspaper or on this planet — will end.
No sports season replicates life more than the fall sports season. It begins in the summer when everything is fresh and new and beautiful. All things seem possible when everyone’s record is 0-0. The sun shines high in the sky during those steamy August practices, illuminating all that takes below it. The fall sports season ends as the leaves are falling off the trees and a November gloom hangs heavily in the air.
I don’t know how many more falls I’ll have, but I do know this much — I’m going to enjoy every single one I’m blessed to witness. I’m going to take the time to soak it all in from now on — the smell of the popcorn, the sounds of the band and cheerleaders, the sight of young high school athletes who still look and feel invincible before the real weight of the world is a burden to them.
Thank you, athletes, for providing me with yet another autumn of memories.
But thank you much more than that for providing me with a little perspective.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong