A great season, great kids…

I hoped that I wouldn’t have to write this piece. Like most of you, I hoped for a happy ending.

Sweet Home High School, football champions of 2003.

As the game was being played out, and the Huskies trailed 21-0, just when hope was slipping away, the fog began to lift. Donny Cliver, with his foot heavily taped, came onto the field. Though the first series behind Cliver came up empty, Tim Matuszak was there for the opportunistic fumble recovery one play later. For the first time, momentum switched to Sweet Home. Brandon Miner made an incredible catch. Seth Graves bulled his way yard by yard into the end zone for the Huskies’ first score. Travis Smith blocked the Marist punt on their next drive and Sweet Home found itself knocking on the door at the Marist 25.

Could it be a fairytale ending? No, history had a different ending in mind. The Huskies poured every ounce of their sweat onto an already soggy field; their heart was exhausted from the effort. Their hopes had now sunk into the quagmire of mud: the same mud that they wore on their uniforms as a testament of the honorable battle they had fought.

So I won’t get to write about the physical triumph, but I do get to write about a more important triumph—the triumph of the soul. Some of you went home and didn’t see this struggle take place. Every warrior had a different way of handling defeat. Some will wait and deal with it privately. But many, especially among the group of seniors who have been with each other for years, were consumed by the moment. Tears flowed from the eyes of tough young men, as if it were their country, their homeland, that they had been unable to defend.

Those of us who stayed behind to console the distraught tried to keep our stoic faces on, to say something empathetic but really not knowing what to say. But personally I couldn’t stay stoic for long. I saw the hurt in their eyes. It was Cliver who finally sent me over the edge of emotional safety. And all he and the other players wanted to say through their tears was thanks for the support. He even came up to me afterwards in the lockerroom and said to make sure that everyone knows the team is grateful for the community support.

Sports writers and fans alike try to analyze the game afterwards. What went wrong? What should we have done? What were the statistics of the game? Or they will say things like “Marist recruits” their athletes. Forget it. Let me tell you, not one reporter from Eugene or Portland or Albany will tell the whole story of this game because they didn’t see it. Not one television in their short snippets and snappy patter will capture its essence.

They won’t tell the story of a very special group of seniors and underclassmen. They won’t get to the heart of this moment. Perhaps it’s better that way. As a matter of fact, those of us who weren’t there in the preparation day after day aren’t privy to the tightness of the inner circle of those who were there. Only they can tell the true story.

Those of you who are really interested, listen to their story. They will tell it as it should be told. They will always be able to raise their arms up together and once more call out, “Brothers!”

So I might not be able to write the story I had hoped for. But I am writing the story that I prayed for: the story written on their hearts. If recruiting was a possibility, this is the team Coach Younger would have recruited. Our community is blessed by their presence.

The result is still the same: Sweet Home High School, football champions of 2003.