It hit me last Friday night as I was escorting my youngest child, Jenna, across the Evans Stadium football field during the Heritage High School homecoming festivities. (She was crowned Patriot Princess - appreciate your asking.) Three more Friday nights and my autumn weekends are going to change drastically - and even though I thought I was ready for the change, now that is upon me, I am not so sure.
Let me explain.
For as long as I can remember, Friday nights in the fall have meant high school football - and we are going back now to the 1950s when I would play touch football with a wadded up paper cup behind the bleachers at Sharp Field, often oblivious to the action on the field.
I coached high school football for a long time and have roamed the sidelines and press boxes, great and small, from Thomas County to Rabun County and, if not all points in between, quite enough of them. High school football, like everything else, has changed drastically over the past five or six decades - but it has also stayed exactly the same in many ways.
Sure, everything is bigger and more elaborate and done on a grander scale - but there is still excitement in the air and the aroma of popcorn and grilled hamburgers and wet grass that gives a high school football game a distinct smell. Kids still come to the games to socialize and to be seen, and the bands still play and cheerleaders still jump around on the sideline and the players still do battle every Friday night for the pure love of the game.
And kids still play touch football behind the bleachers with wadded up paper cups, oblivious to the action on the field.
I gave up coaching football many years ago. Once my I had kids of my own I found it harder and harder to justify the long afternoons and evenings spent with someone else's kids while mine were home alone. And those long bus rides and weekend scouting trips and Sunday afternoon film meetings began to get really old. Plus, I hated dealing with equipment. You wouldn't believe how many snaps and buckles and laces are involved with getting just one football player ready to compete. You might think that a high school player would be able to dress himself, but you would be wrong.
At any rate, I gave up coaching football at just about the time our oldest child, Jamie Leigh, became involved with the Heritage band. She was a proud member of the Flag Corps for four glorious years and just as her marching career was winding down, her brother Jackson's was just getting started. He wasn't on the flag corps, thankfully. He played trumpet - very well, too.
And as Jackson's band career was ending, his younger sister Jenna's was beginning. So for the first decade of the 21st century, Lisa and I have been band parents.
It's kind of ironic, really, because when I quit coaching football I had all sorts of fantasies about how we would spend our Friday nights. We would take in movies and have friends over and be free to go out of town whenever we wanted. We could follow the Bulldogs around the Southeastern Conference and even spend an occasional night in Athens, prior to a big Saturday home game.
We haven't done any of that stuff because every autumn Friday night this century we have been the same place we had been every autumn Friday night of the previous 20 years - at a high school football game. We have watched with pride as our children took the field at halftime. We have fought security guards and policemen and school administrators over the right to cross over to the home side on road games to see our band's performance from the front, the way it was meant to be seen.
We have videoed and snapped photos and listened to the praise from appreciative patrons who have been astute enough to realize that the Heritage High School Marching Band really is a cut above most such organizations. In our minds we have never lost a halftime. We have done all of those things that band parents do.
As this year began I told myself that I was glad that this would be the last year that we would feel obligated to go to a football game every Friday night and I had great plans for what would come next.
We will take in movies and have friends over and be free to go out of town whenever we want. We can follow the Bulldogs around the Southeastern Conference and even spend an occasional night in Athens, prior to a big Saturday home game.
Yeah. It's going to be great.
And then Friday night I realized that the magic number is three. That's how many times I have left to introduce the band at halftime. That's how many times we have left to watch a Heritage band, at least one with a Huckaby child in it, perform. That's how many times we have left to enjoy the excitement and anticipation of a high school football Friday night in which we have a direct involvement. The number got down to three way too fast - and three more Fridays aren't nearly enough.
And, no - that wasn't a tear you saw on my cheek Friday night as I escorted Jenna across the football field at Evans Stadium. I am pretty sure it was misting rain.