Well, here we are. The last Friday night I get to watch William Story play football. A home game against BGA. Bittersweet would be an understatement to say the least. You see, over 10 years ago, I started to watch the Story Boys, William and his older brother, Thomas play sports when we started attending the same congregation their family attended. I have girls, and I have always loved to watch them compete in athletic events, but they didn’t play football. So when we became best friends with the Story family, these boys became “the boys I never had.” I have enjoyed watching William play baseball and football, and I especially loved watching him wrestle in middle school. When we got to be great friends with the family, William was attending BGA. He started wrestling in middle school, and I went to see him wrestle every time I possibly could. I wrestled in high school and absolutely love the sport, so it was really fun to watch someone like family learning to wrestle, and William was really good. In fact, had things worked out for him to continue wrestling, I feel pretty sure he would have been a great high school wrestler. I went to see him so much, some of the BGA parents were a little confused wondering who I was. I would rush across town trying to wrap up a work day or at least put in on hold to watch him compete. There were times when he would wrestle a kid older than him or more experienced than him, a kid who should have beaten him easily, but because of the fight in William he would make it a really tough match. In fact, there were times he would beat an opponent who was a better wrestler because he simply had more heart. I can remember sitting in a high school gym in Springhill, TN all day long just to watch him compete. One of the things I always loved about William is that he would always say “Thanks for coming to watch me Mr. Paul”, and he meant it.
Anyway, William decided to transfer from BGA to Lipscomb Academy for high school. That was great for me since that’s where my daughters have attended. However, Lipscomb had a wrestling program that was in decline. William had thought about wrestling in high school, but whether he would have or not didn’t matter when the school leaders decided to drop the wrestling program. I’m still bitter about that and think it was a terrible decision.
With the prospect of watching William wrestle in high school now gone for sure, I began to hope for William to really do well in football. Wow, was my wish granted. This year began with William playing most of every game on offense and defense. As I began to watch him play this year, I couldn’t believe what a talented and tough football player he had become. After 3 games, Lipscomb’s offense was really sputtering and had only scored 3 touchdowns. Guess who scored all three? That’s right. Not only was he having great success on offense, he was really playing great defense, tackling like someone twice his size and covering receivers with great skill. I began to see a trait that I realized must be common in Story boys. William is tough. I mean really tough. I always get frustrated watching kids who are afraid of contact, afraid to get hit, afraid to endure some pain. William isn’t afraid of any of those things. He doesn’t weigh as much as some running backs, defensive backs, or receivers, but it’s all muscle. He is quick and fearless. Every time I see him lower his head and take on a would be tackler or attack a much bigger running back, it just makes me proud. I can’t help but think back to the times he beat a kid on the wrestling mat because he had more heart. Just this week two days my Facebook memories were videos of William wrestling. I was reminded that I was a pretty annoying fan at wrestling matches, yelling and coaching from the bleachers.
I don’t know what the outcome will be in this last home high school game William will play against BGA tonight, but I would like to tell him this. “William, you are a fine football player, and I have enjoyed watching you on Friday nights. Oh, and if you get a chance to tackle or run over one of those BGA boys you used to spar against in wrestling practice, let them feel how tough you are. Man, I’m really gonna miss watching you compete.”
With the youngest of the Story boys wrapping up his high school football days, I know it’s the end of an era for me. I will always enjoy remembering and talking about the years I watched “The boys I never had” compete.
William, go out there tonight and play with heart like you always do. You’ll miss these days. We will too!