When The Game Ends: A Letter To High School Seniors
To the seniors,
To the ones who bought in, the ones who never questioned, the ones who never quit,
To the ones who didn’t leave school until the sun was almost setting, covered in sweat, then went home to do their school work,
To the ones who suited up for the name on the front of the jersey, for the pride of their city, until the day they hung the jersey up,
I thank you. Your school thanks you. Your town thanks you, but more importantly: thank yourself for making a decision you will remember for the rest of your lives. You might not realize it now, but you will think of your teammates and the experiences you shared, years down the line, and smile. Nobody can ever take those away from you.
Most of you won’t make the pros. Some of you will be lucky enough to play at the collegiate level, where your adventure will continue with another group of brothers or sisters. Embrace those opportunities with open minds, hearts…and eyes. There will be those along your path who only want to see you succeed, while others wait in the shadows, hoping to trap you in their darkness and weakness. Find strength where you can. Keep your circles tight, and don’t be scared to cut ties with people or things that can take you off track. Remember, this is YOUR life, and YOU were the one who sweat, and bled, and lost sleep to get where you are. Don’t ever forget that, and don’t forget there are others who would kill to have your opportunity.
To the ones who “didn’t make it,” the ones who “weren’t good enough” or “strong enough” to make it at the next level, you’re good enough for me. You’re good enough to be a leader, or an innovator, or the captain of your own ship.
The game you loved playing is now over, but it taught you lessons you never would have had without the bumps, bruises and bandages. Love the game for what it taught you (toughness, loyalty, comradery, cooperation, drive), but never let it go.
There’s no gameplan for life or playbook or coach to coordinate the call, but there is adversity, which you dealt with before.
You dealt with loss. You dealt with pain, suffering and exhaustion, and rejection. When you expected jubilation, occasionally you were handed grief. It didn’t break you though, and now you know you can defeat it. Save that forever because life doesn’t give you any warning.
Most importantly, the game will never be over for you. People might say so, but they’re wrong.
Your teammates will simply become friends, but they’ll never stop being family. The moments you shared together on the field, in the locker room, riding the bus, working at practice, pretending to pay attention in study hall…will never leave you. That’s a promise.
I played team sports my whole childhood, but when I left high school my “playing days” were over. Are my memories gone? Absolutely not.
I played for a team (Hopewell High School, in Charlotte, NC) that only won a single game all season in high school, but I still remember every game. I remember how I fell two yards short of scoring my only career touchdown. I remember the way my Mom’s van smelled when my best friends and I piled in after practice (the sweat was spicy, gross, right?), how we would clear out the entire kitchen’s worth of food within 15 minutes of reaching the house, trying to flirt with girls on the sidelines (even though we all acted like we weren’t) and getting caught by coach, the way my extra small helmet fit on my tiny head…everything. I remember everything, and so will you.
I guess what I’m try to say is, whenever the game ends for you, just know it will never leave you. Sports change people, and I’m not just talking about the muscles you build and sculpt…then hope to keep all the way into adulthood. I’m a better person thanks to the games I played, the guys I played them with and the men who coached and taught me how to act. For that, I will always be thankful.
Attack everything else in life like you attacked the sport you love. I believe in you, have faith in yourself and know the next team you join will be lucky to have you.
A Former Athlete
(Listen to R.B. read his letter below)