Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Butterflies are Free

I have told this story before, but I needed to write it down in the blog, before I forget all the details.

There comes a moment in many football games, where the game is truly on the line. I know, that is a hopeless cliche. Nevertheless, it is a true statement. Football play-by-play guys often let us know when that play is about to happen. Even the PA announcer for Olathe Northwest usually says something like, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a big play" which drives me batty, but OK, maybe some people need the help.

So in the 2008 season, our third grade team is playing our third game of the season against the best team in our league. Their coach is a good guy named Kendall Gammon, and if you recognize that name as the former KC Chief and current radio broadcaster, bingo, that's the guy. Kendall's team was unbeaten to that point, and were quickly ahead of us that day 12 - 0. But with some persistent effort and a great final play of the half, we managed to get to halftime tied.

We traded drives for the entirety of the third quarter most of the fourth. At one point we turned the ball over on downs at their 1 yard line, and then nearly scored a safety. Late in the 4th they put a great drive together and were halfway into our territory when we finally stopped them on downs. By that time there was just over a minute left in the game, and that's when we finally broke a 53 yard touchdown run (Peyton) to go in front 18 - 12.

So we're now to their final possession. On first down they completed a pass for 6 yards, but our corner (Hayden) was right there to make the tackle. They called timeout. On second down they tried to beat us outside the other way, but Hunter ran the ball carrier down for a 5 yard loss. They called timeout again.

So let's set the stage, shall we? It's now 3rd down and 9, with less than a minute to play, and we're six points ahead of the best team in our league. Chances are pretty good that if we stop them on this play, only a miracle last play could beat us.

Now when we're on defense, I'm on the sideline. Coach Lee runs the defense, and he's out there in the huddle with the players. This is great for any number of reasons, including Lee's a lot better at defense than me. But I can tell you, it does feel a little more helpless on the sideline than in the huddle, and at that point in the game - yes, I know it is only a game - I was feeling a wee bit of stress.

And that's when the sleeve of my shirt was tugged. "Coach?" I knew it was some player wanting to ask me something. "What?", I asked, as I kept my attention on the field.

"Coach, are the monarchs flying south for the winter?"

You know what a double take is, right? That's where you look at something, look away, and then look back. That's what I did with the player. I glanced at him, then looked back at the field, and then, after the question had mostly registered in my brain, I know that I turned back to him with an expression on my face of absolute incredulity.


"The monarchs, coach, the butterflies. Are they flying to Mexico now for the winter?", Jack D. asked, and pointed across the field at a dozen or so fluttering butterflies along the chain link fence.

So at this very intense moment, literally seconds away from a tremendous victory, or a breathtaking disappointment, it was my duty to consider whether butterflies were migrating.

I looked back at the butterflies, and then back at the kid. I know that at some point in elementary school I must have learned that Monarch butterflies migrate. But at just that moment, my internal tension no doubt interfering with my memory for these things, I could not summon the answer.

So I did the only thing I could. It was in fact, the only thing that a head football coach, a man, SHOULD do in that circumstance. I turned around and asked the team Mom.

"Yvette, are the Monarchs flying south for the winter?"

I know that someday when I am drooling on myself in an Alzheimer's unit, people will once again look at me with the mixture of pity and puzzled bewilderment that Yvette Hatfield granted me that day.


I explained to Yvette that Jack really needed to know, right now, if the Monarchs were flying south for the winter. I saw Yvette's mouth open. I know she wanted to answer. But no sound would come out. Somewhat helplessly, I looked down our fence line, where Brent Morgan (Hayden's dad) had watched the entire exchange.

Brent either took pity on me, or actually knew the answer, I'm not sure which. "Yes coach, they are."

"There you go Jack," I said. "The monarchs are flying south for the winter. Can we watch the football game now?"

"OK," he answered. "I just wondered."

They threw an incomplete pass on 3rd down, stopping the clock, but I called timeout. Coach Lee, I'm sure, wondered what in the world I was doing calling timeout and going out there to talk to him, and I remember that I suggested putting an extra safety back for the last play or something, but really, truly, I just needed to be off the sideline for a minute.

Yes, we stopped them on 4th down, took a kneel down, and claimed the victory. But I will never, ever look at Monarch butterflies the same way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Really Good Officiating

Some of you know that I referee soccer matches for high school and youth games. It is not primarily self flagellation - I really just kind of like the exercise. But it does keep me humble, or at least, somewhat so.

I found that humility helpful this last year, as I watched the officials out at our FCCJC games.

In 3rd grade football (and, I think, for 4th grade too) we only have three officials. Two linesmen and the referee. Despite only those three pairs of eyes, I have to say that our officiating was pretty good.

Standing back as I did with the referee, behind our offensive line, I can't complain about a single holding call we had all year. The offside calls, encroachments, etc., were all fairly obvious, so no problems there.

In our first game there was a non-touchdown call that probably was a touchdown. Seemed so to the parents anyway. In our final game there were two judgment calls with which I disagreed. They were both non-calls, where blocks-in-the-back should have been called, and one of those plays was a touchdown. There was also a minor gaffe with the winding of the clock, that should not have occurred - but that problem turned out to be inconsequential.

Lest it seem I'm sucking sour grapes, understand that the better team won on that last day, so the outcome was just. And I'm sure that there were probably questionable calls that went in our favor through the rest of the season, if you asked the coaches on the other sides.

The major point here is that I have slight cause to complain about only four calls through an entire season of kid football. I find that pretty amazing.

If I could have only had four poor play choices calling games during the season, I'd have felt pretty good!

Friday, March 13, 2009

We Believe

From the preface of the Olathe Northwest Ravens 4th Grade Football Playbook

We believe in running the football.

We believe that the triple option is the single most difficult running play for a defense to defend.

We believe that for youth football players, missed assignments (primarily of blockers not knowing which players to block) will cause offensive plays to break down more than any other factor.

We believe that youth football players can be taught to block, read, and execute the triple option.

We believe that the triple option play, and a few companion plays, can eliminate the size advantage that some teams may have over our team.

We believe that the balanced ‘double tight’ wishbone and the ‘double split’ spread formations that we will use most often, will cause defenses to in turn display balanced alignments against us, making blocking assignments easier to understand.