NEW BEGINNINGS — It’s 9:30 PM on Friday night and I slowly step out of AH Jones Stadium at Hastings College.
Lincoln North Star has just come back from 14-6 down at halftime to defeat Hastings High 23-14 in week zero of the Nebraska high school football season.
Eight teams played on Friday night — everyone else for a sports drink — to open this 2021 season. It’s a different start — a fresh one for all. And, for me, too.
My first season without my coach. My dad. His cancer battled ended July 6.
And, so I walked to the dirty Camry in the parking lot, but it was slower than normal. I took in the students and the moms and dads. See, I knew there was no Friday phone call on August 20. Oh sure, they usually weren’t much.
“Where’d you go tonight,” he’d say? His deep baritone ringing in my speakers.
And I’d tell him.
And, we’d talk about if he went to a game in York or if he watched one or two or more than that on Striv. Or if he caught one on the radio.
He’d pick out players he liked to watch — they usually weren’t an all-stater, but a kid who was giving maximum effort. And he loved watching the coaches coach; he started to disdain Saturday football. He liked it pure on a Friday.
“Everybody on Saturday is trying to show us how smart they are,” he’d say. “Just play the game.”
He’d have loved Carter Seim and Cross County coach Hayden Delano’s right at you offense. So, good, he’d give them a “boy” before he started telling you about it.
With dad it was, “They have a nice team” if he liked what he saw. But the great ones — those November teams — they got a boy.
“Boy…… how’d you like to line up against that,” he’d ask, when the answer was obvious.
He would have liked the poise and patience of Lincoln North Star and their coach Tony Kobza after they fell behind Hastings, 14-0 early Friday.
One play — their backs against the wall — changed it. “Never give up.”
🚨🚨 GAME CHANGER 🚨🚨
— Tony Chapman (@tony_chapman76) August 21, 2021
For years, the grass in between the paint was my dad’s classroom. He molded young men into teams on Friday nights and during the week at practice.
I got more brothers than the one I had and learned about all the things life can teach you through sports: lift up others, always give your best effort, team over self.
This year, dad isn’t here, but I am sure he’ll be with me. In the sunsets. In the bitter cold. The teams that never give up. In the ball boys, who came to practice like me, and who tag along with dad on Friday night.
Like little Hayden Shoemaker and his dad Charlie. I hope they know how good they have it. How many memories they’ll make; lessons they will learn. Win or lose.
This year we’ll try to bring you more of these as we begin a run of stories that’s not just football — dad loved coaching girls hoops too — but family. And the lessons that sports teach us.
But for this opening night, you had to meet my dad first. He’d have wanted you to get every good thing out of sports that you could. For that I’ll be forever grateful.
And you? I’ll try to pass along his wisdom here. As you learn about family and sports for our series: Coach and Me.
See you on the sideline.