It’s the way that I remember it. It’s the way that I like to believe that it was.
Could it be an exaggerated account?
Could it be that almost thirty years having past could account for an inflated memory of how I want to remember my childhood?
Am I grateful for what I believe to be my youth, and thankful for the people who were a part of it?
You better believe it.
I hope that the memories of your childhood are good. I hope that you believe your childhood to have had some imagination, and even some purpose. If not, I hope that you can imagine long enough and hard enough, until you find satisfaction with what your life has been to this point.
Growing Up Germantown
There was no other logical explanation for existing. It was the reason that I got out of bed each morning. I assumed it was the reason that any of us got out of bed in the morning. It was what my people did. It is what we cared about. It is what we practiced for. It was what we aspired to be. There was no questioning whether it was right or wrong, it just was. From the time I was in fourth grade, there was nothing more important to me than having my name called through the loudspeaker, as I ran through the goal posts under the Friday night light’s. Playing football for the Germantown Red Devil’s was paramount. It was my biggest and most sought-after dream.
I attended my first high school football game in the fall of 1986. The Red Devil’s were State Runner-Up that year. I remember looking at those guys, and the way everyone adored them. The Mark Lovinskis, thei Brad Bartletts, the Herkey Cantus- they were absolute monsters. I had never seen humans that big before, at least not when you factor in the imagination of a fourth grader. The Quarterback, Tommy Ferrari, wore his helmet like a crown, and all of the city’s people would gladly bow at his feet. The cadence, the splits, the facemasks, the smells, and even the tape, which hung down tattered, from the big lineman’s wrists. I remember it all so well. I remember feeling so tuned-in, like I knew the plan. I could see the big picture. I felt, at a very young age, as if I knew my role. It was a town fueled by football, and the wishbone offense was the car that it drove. The wishbone wasn’t fast nor flashy, but it started most every time you turned they key, and it would get you where you needed to go, provided you knew how to drive it.
The wishbone offense was a staple of Germantown football. We ran it every year, the same as the year before, and we would be running it the year after, and the year after that. Every kid who would be playing for Germantown knew that the wishbone was king.
It was like some magnetic attraction or gravitational pull. It was inevitable. All we needed was five kids, a football, and some imagination, and we would be sure to form the wishbone and make-believe that we played varsity ball. We would all line up and pretend that it was 4th and goal at the one yard line, with the State Championship on the line. The center would snap the ball and pretend to drive the nose-guard into the dirt. The fullback would dive up the gut, while the QB pulled the ball from his mid-section, as the first option read. The quarterback would scramble to the outside, only to find the imaginary defensive end there to meet him. At the last moment, the qb would use his final option, and make a perfect pitch to the running back for the winning S-C-O-R-E! Every kid knew his position. Fat kid goes to center, good looking guy plays quarterback, the bruiser with the strong legs, big head, and fat ass plays fullback, and the two fastest guys played the running back positions. It was a great time, and a great city to grow up in. ***Side note- I never once, not one single time ever got to be anything other than the center. Even playing imaginary football, I was always the lineman. SMH***
For $5, you were given admission to the magic of Friday night lights. The price included the music of the band, the cheerleaders, the halftime performance, and the fanfare. At Germantown, that price also included the wishbone offense, and you got what you paid for. Five dollars. It was a guaranteed investment. For $5 you got a fullback, 2 running backs, lots of up-the-middles, and some read options. $10 wouldn’t get you any more and $3 would get you no less. Wishbone. There wasn’t a booster with pockets big enough, nor a trophy shiny enough, to convince Ken Netherland to play football any other way. Coach Netherland’s stubbornness, combined with his knowledge and attention to detail, made for quite the successful combination.
It seemed like everything in the city was decorated with the Germantown “G”. Every business had it hanging on their door, every vehicle had it stuck to the window, and every God-fearing man, woman, and child had apparel with the G-town insignia. Germantown was the home of the Red Devils, and we wore it proudly. The football players were respected and revered. They carried themselves with a swagger, and they had earned the right to do that. There was a level of performance that was expected, and we held these guys accountable. If you were to receive the special privileges that came with being a Germantown football player, you had to put in a special kind of work. That work meant dedication, that work meant commitment, and that work meant the devotion of your entire youth life. This seemed like a fair deal. I guess I would liken it to the people who find success in the military. I knew that it would be hard work, but I appreciated being wrapped in the cocoon of intensity, providing I was familiar with my surroundings. I, at least, had some idea of the rules surrounding being an athlete, the rules of life were just too difficult and too numerous for me to digest. The anxiety that came over me when I stepped outside of the area of athletics was over-whelming. I was willing to do whatever it took, just to stay within the field-house walls. It was a safe place. I felt at home there.
As a fifth and six grader playing for the GYAA (Germantown Youth Athletic Association), I knew that the first goal would be to work my way onto the 7th-8th grade Red Devil team. Middle school was when you start learning the wishbone offense. At this point, you are essentially placed on the conveyor belt, which led you directly into the Red Devil Factory. This is where you are molded, formed, and given your position, where you will dedicate the next six years of your life performing some function of The Big Red Machine, which was Germantown football.
GYAA was a magnificent experience. Every kid knew just about every kid, and we all watched one another grow up. Sure, there were plenty of clicks, but there was also a level of respect that spread across the league. If I didn’t know you, I knew someone who knew you, and that was at least some degree of commonality, and a feeling of brotherhood. This brought with it some degree of respect. Even as young as GYAA, the dads knew the dads, the moms knew the moms, and all the kids knew each other. We all played with, and against, each other. Because of this, we all had a feel for each player’s level of skill.
We were all so tight. All of us. From the players to the parents, we were all really close-knit. There seemed to be no unsafe place. There were no cell phones or internet to communicate. If a player’s mom or dad was late to practice, there was another parent who was happy to give the kid a ride home. There never seemed to be any confusion. You were dropped off by one parent and another parent picked you up. It didn’t have to be YOUR parent, they all seemed like your parents. I must have had a dozen parents during this stage of my youth. If the kid wasn’t there when you arrived to the field, you assumed that another parent had taken your child home. I’m pretty sure that was pretty close to accurate about 100% of the time, except for maybe if they had stopped to feed them dinner on the way home. I must have eaten dinner at fifty family tables by the time I was thirteen years old. I had a lot of great people cook me a lot of great food, give me a lot of love and a great deal of guidance. I didn’t always listen to it then, but it means a lot to me now.
We lived at the fields. We lived at each others homes. We vacationed together. We played together. We went to church together. I can remember my friend’s mom calling to the top of the stairs, just to find out how many kids had spent the night, so she could know how much breakfast to prepare. She didn’t care how many of us were there, she just wanted to know how many dozens of eggs and biscuits to cook. Every kid’s parents were every kid’s parents. The adults had put up with enough of our crap and fed us enough groceries to have earned the right to discipline us as we were their own children. Often times, they did just that, and every time, we deserved it. We went everywhere together, we did everything together, and, damn, we had a good time.
As we finished GYAA ball, it was time to tryout for the middle school Red Devil team. The importance of making the cut was of utmost importance. I can seldom remember any more stressful periods of my life than the week of tryouts, and the anticipation alongside the importance that I placed on making this team. It was my entire life. No moment, I felt, would ever be this important.
I made the team. Hallelujah. And so did most of my friends. The journey had begun and it was time to set the big red ball in motion. As a child, the big picture was unclear. There was no way of seeing how the community and youth league was going to have an impact on my future as a football player, or even as an individual. As the dust started to settle, my vision became more clear. When I looked around at my teammates, I could see that, just like in a bakery, we had been sifted through and picked apart. We had been chosen, as if individual ingredients, thrown into a bowl, soaking wet behind the ears. That bowl felt really big, often it seemed scary. That bowl could be lonely, and that bowl could be cold. However, we were all stuck in that bowl together, and we were about to congeal. We would begin the first year, that was just the start of a six year process, hopeful that we would be part of a winning recipe.
To Be Continued….
Peace, Love, and all things Beef related,