Texas in August is dreadful, especially for a coach’s wife. Our family has the start of coach’s year at least a month before the start of teacher’s year. That wonderful time I spend being the apple of his eye and center of his attention during the spring and summer fades away as he transforms himself into Coach. The locker room feels barren and lacks life in the later part of July and the first week of August. It smells of dust and all the practice jerseys have that funk that is explained at our house as foot cheddar. (You know, what cheese would smell like if it were mixed with large amounts of toe jam.) I hold on to the last precious moments of vacation by volunteering for the ridiculous tasks of washing the jerseys, dusting the weight room, putting numbers on lockers or whatever may steal one more second before I give him up until January. The children are usually unaware of the pending absence. Most of the time, they enjoy running down the practice field or playing pretend with the helmets and oversized shoulder pads. Then it happens, the Coach emerges from the cloak of summer vacation and I become a supporting actress rather than the lead role in his movie. This usually happens the few days leading up to two-a-days. It is all about the game now. I retreat to the house, kids in tow, and get excited.
In winter, all of the trees look so bare and cold with leaves lying around the bottoms covered in frosty dew each morning. East Texas winter can be as brutal as South Texas summer but a different type of brutality. Winter creeps in through the doorways and the window panes. It seems to permeate the flaps of your fleece jacket and whisper runny noses in your ears as the wind chaps your lips. Errands become a chore greater than the laundry and anything outside of the cozy climate controlled world of the home seems unbearable. Children in schools clamor wishes of warmth through the hall and the head cheerleader wears her new snow boots with the first break of the season. Coaches’ wives huddle in the stands wrapped in blankets and wearing layers for the last Fridays of the season.
Football exemplifies a circle of life type quality in Texas. Football season comes to represent all that is good and all that is ugly. Towns take stock in the team and support the new season like a newborn child, hoping it will produce great things. Coach gets all the nods and hellos he can stand during two-a-days as the Texas heat beats down on him and the players like troops battered by the sun in the desert. At opening kickoff of the first home game, Helios beams down upon the newborn team with some weird life-giving quality, bringing calm to the players as they approach the field for the first time. Onlookers arrive wearing t-shirts and capri pants, toenails flashing from their flip-flops painted to match the helmets and jerseys on the field. Excitement and Fellowship seem to fornicate in the lusty humidity that makes up this good ‘ol boy gathering. Chuckle and Chatter of past players, generations removed from the very field they watch, reminisce amongst the heaviness that is summer’s end. The light joy of a community coming together after a break for family vacations and spring-cleaning fills the air.
This is usually the first meeting of the wives for the season. Those meetings can be very stressful if you are the new wife. You strive for acceptance, as if you, yourself, have retreated to the juvenile ambitions of entering high school again. You wonder about your hair, make-up, the way the other wives will look at you, your children. Should you yell for the team, or sit quietly in the stands, assuming your presence speaks enough of your support? Is it acceptable to eat at the game? This particularly worries me because coaches and their wives are usually former athletes whose bodies were at one time chiseled weapons of competition and even years later show its one time glory. Mine, shows the pregnancies of three children and the lack of athletic participation I suffered from in my youth. I have been blessed by the coaching staff my husband choose for us; or rather they choose him, because the wives are warm and welcoming. There are terror stories out there about the differences in staffs. We are lucky to be on a staff that wins like we have done it before, with grace and humility. That mentality runs through the core of the football program and its branches stretch from the field through the players, the wives, the teaching staff, and the community.
Opening kickoff of the third home game is like a three-month check-up on your newborn. Chuckle and Chatter have now aged to serious talk of running backs and defensive lines. The allure of our newborn team has worn to a drudgery of audibles. Field comes alive for the sake of competition while Fellowship slips away with the colors of the grasses around town. Maddening Heat returns to its asylum for hibernation. Players breathe in the crisp fall air. The cool shot of energy runs through and jolts them from the ground for catches while making the ball travel a slight bit further. Humidity’s retreat clears space for cleaner passes and quicker runs. Players come off the field with the sun creeping behind them at half time. Band members march proudly onto the field in the midst of happy children running down to get a favorite candy. Feelings of tradition clamor from the instruments on the turf the same way the students will in the next three weeks, when winter comes. The high of a winning record keeps the community unaware of the pending cold.
The joy and goodness of smiling faces and wives fellowshipping depends on the standings. If you have been winning then you are still boasting about each new down your infant team makes and each point on the board is one more step toward that trip to state. If you are losing the stadium feels like Thanksgiving where mom’s drunken sister tells everybody she slept with your father in high school. Winning is an easier road to travel so we choose to stay on the winning track. On the wining track, you are among great company. You get to sit among Randy Allen and Todd Dodge. You are associated with G.A. Moore who has led the Celina Bobcats to multiple state wins in the 2A division and almost single handedly made football a religion for that small town. He and his teams have given a reason for community interaction and no matter how many stop lights Celina lacks, anyone who knows anything about football in the state of Texas knows about little ‘ol Celina. Winners get to sit among men like Gary Proffitt who has coached in Goldwaite for 27 years and never left. During that time, he has seen winning records, lost some games, grabbed two state titles and multiple district wins and play-off appearances. He is a reflection of dependability and a staple in his community. Proffit is Goldwaite football.
In some ways our definition of celebrity has changed and as a nation we are verging on the brink of idolatry, if we have not plunged of the proverbial cliff already. So many of our youth find role models in characters played by actors and actresses, the beauty and rancidness of the model industry, and of course musicians. There are few times that we hear kids say I want to be like my dad or mom anymore. Yet we always hear the icons they worship crediting their own parents for what they have become, be it good or bad. Lindsey Lohan has faced a rollercoaster of events with her rehab visits. The nation, Rosie O’Donnell in particular, seems to come down on her mother for being more of a manager than a mom and it makes me wonder how hypocritical we have become. If Lindsey won an Oscar for her performance in Georgia Rule, would the same critics be praising her mother for supporting her during her career?
So how do we get back to the Pleasantville days when kids had pride in local fame; when the head coach’s son always got to start and everybody in his world thought he hung the moon? With all of the technology of our day and age, living inside the constraints of your own community seems to be quite a task. In the same thought, we seem to invite the celebrities of our televisions into the homes of our communities at such a pace, they define our surroundings. We have, in a sacrificial and slow transgression of the community, let this ‘Hollywood’ of people define our lives.
I wonder often if my interest in Hilton, Richie, Lohan, Bradgelina, the YouTube Numa geek, and the ridiculously overpriced attire of these (excluding the Numa kid) people is a reflection of what I lack. Do I need a sex tape? Noone would want to watch it. No, coaches’ wives do not need a sex tape; that is for sure. How did Paris survive that anyway? Kay Hymowitz probably wrote it best when she said “Paris is not like other celebrities, whose scandals leave them drowning their sorrows in smoky dives. The lesson of The Tape continues to hold: the worse she behaves, the more famous she becomes and the more money she makes.” There must be some kind of freedom in that type of exposed lifestyle. I am not sure; acceptance of sexual promiscuity is not part of the football life in Texas. I think I like it that way; less trips to the doctor.
Week six of the season comes in, report cards go home and the stands look a little less full with teens and junior high gals. Someone has been grounded because Summer Bug hadn’t worn off well enough. In some ways report cards can reflect life’s cycle. They can be a defining representation of a young lifetime. You can learn a lot about a person from report cards, transcripts, and football records. Players unite as teams and communities come together under the common label of a mascot. Winter creeps in evermore and players breathe weighty swollen clouds of smoke from their nostrils down the sidelines, looking like a line of bulls wild to run. Stands are filled with jackets and hoodies, all displaying the team logo and colors. Toes have officially retreated to the insides of tennis shoes bundled under a layer of socks and unable to display their hometown pride in their decorations any longer. The higher the winds get the closer the coaches’ wives move to the bottom of the stands. The throne at the top of the 50-yard line becomes too much pressure and they retreat to the safeness of the middle ground. Chatters and Chuckles that danced in the end of summer become concentrated and consumed by play-off promises. Losing one game in six means this infant team may grow up to give this town an identity.
Coach still gets the nods and hellos but with admiration as if he has raised up the next leader of the free world. Defensive coordinators and quarterback coaches walk with a strut while their careers get a nice massage by the cold that brings you deeper into the season. Winter brings strict temperatures combating with desires to stay alive. It paints a portrait of endurance. The next few wins bring about an ego that is felt in the visitor stands at away games. Accomplishment collides with the cold that is death for the leaves, flip-flops and light airy joy of travel. Winter brings a new load of clothing and an extra handful of blankets for that three-hour exploitation of masculine exhibition. Bitter cold creeps into your winning season attempting to rob its glory like old age and time within the body. Onlookers press on, supporting that child of a team, living out old glory days, picking out role models, personifying each other. The stands fill with the retched distain of ‘that’s my boy’ and playing time quarrels. The team presses on united and dignified winning with Fred Astaire grace. Their youth, adrenaline, focus, determination, and unity keep them immune to winter’s icy grasp. The infiltration of the leaf killer trying to creep into the soul of the onlooker lurks like a curse, but knows not to skirmish with the solidity of the winning team.
Even among the best, there will always be a Paris; I guess I have not met her yet. To be honest, if I had, I would not tell you here. That could ruin a career. Gossip and winter are on the same team. While winter creeps in making your physical self uncomfortable, gossip works on your mind, breaking down the team by deforming the psyche. I am sure we are all different in the stands, under the glow of the field lights, but perhaps we are not. I would hope that no one would describe this staff of families like Drew Carey describes his peers; “Hollywood people are filled with guilt: white guilt, liberal guilt, money guilt. They feel bad that they’re so rich, they feel they don’t work that much for all that money–and they don’t, for the amount of money they make. There’s no way I can justify my salary level, but I’m learning to live with it…” Of course, one look at a paycheck of any public school educator, coach or not, and we all know this is a problem reserved for the faces of the big screen.
Week ten meets back on home turf and the cold has claimed victory over many of the onlookers. Competition is ripe for the picking and Tension meanders freely through the stands. Even the melodic beats of the drum line do not move the crowd with the jolly nature they did when Chuckles and Chatter played. November’s games clash with winter’s errands for holiday preparation and clothing layers grow even deeper. Noses of the children run and the uniforms of the cheerleader and the dance squad look almost the same. Fingers have retreated to the warmth of gloves, hiding their victory colored nails. Thoughts conflict between turkey dinner and playoff games. Errands are becoming more and more of a chore while life seems to eat away at you from the grass on the field. The ball becomes the core of your humanity and conversations start off with hut-hut or blue 22.
Playoffs feel like retirement, almost done but still enough energy to enjoy the victory. The adolescent team transforms into the man-child and you can see the day when you can reclaim space in the home. Each week presses into the next like strangers crammed into the terminal of a NYC subway. The game film piles up and the t-shirts get printed after district champs are made and the man-child team goes on to win regional. Then it comes, state game…the three hours that will declare individuality for that encouraging population. Onlookers gather in the seats of the big stadiums, fit for kings, where the money makers play, and shout approval as though Winter slipped away to let summer return from hibernation for one last fling. The air is light and laughter fills the stands, the fellowship and bonding of good ‘ol boys sharing ‘that’s my son moments’ brings back the playfulness of Chatter and Chuckle. The game starts and the stimulation rivals sex. Nail-biting and intense you sit side by side fighting off the death that creeps through official calls against the man we call Team. Struggling like invalids on a ventilator the players leave it all on the field. Onlooker, coach, player, wife, daughter, cheerleader, band member, director, trainer, water boy, mascot, son…you’re only as good as your record. Second is the first loser. The state champ lives forever.
Sorry, my daughter needs my attention…Ok back again but just for a second, she needed me to pin up her “dress up” shirt so she could do her dance routine. I think she saw it on the VMA’s. I better become her celebrity this afternoon. I can honestly say that this married to a coach thing in a small town is like Hollywood, we make comebacks after losses on Fridays and we find opinions about our performances in the local papers that can be hard to take. At other times, we are the best person in town. I guess I can deal with it; at least I get to hear “I want to be a teacher, just like my mommy.”
A desire of being among the Bobcats of Celina, the Scots of Highland Park or the Dragons of Southlake Carroll tempts Coach with abandonment of the family and leads him to a short winter affair with the ego. Winning is his first born, all of life’s other children and responsibilities fall short of the glory of the game. At the end of the tunnel is the field, the crowd, the onlookers, the cheerleaders and most of all, identity. It is affirmation of a job well done and the core of what makes him, us, them, me what we are. The light spring shines behind the bright glare of football’s season; each year a new birth of the tress, the flowers, the off-season. Second gets a new chance at the title. The champs glide through the waters of spring guided by sails of ego. The man born last year on that field fit for a king goes into the summer and sees again the darkness of fall, where all of his glory will fall short of the game on the opening kickoff of the first home game.
Now, I have to go and get that shirt back down where it should be… after all, my identity is based on her lack of promiscuity. Not only am I a reflection of him, but of our entire family to our community. What a great responsibility. I do not hold onto it lightly and refuse to play the game Paris chooses to play. Sensationalism should be left where it belongs, on the field where the big hits happen and the players hurdle defenders. It is not about me, my celebrity status or recognition. It is not about my identity, it is about influence. I guess that is what makes all of us act different in public, church, or at the game. I hope that I am consistently the same person though I understand it is hard to do, with all the hats I wear.
If nothing else, just let me be a winner.
Moorea Coker teaches AP Literature and adjuncts at a Junior college in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @polypel88 or reach her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org