By Anne Maxwell
From the time he was a little boy, my nephew reached for any sporting equipment he could find.
Whether it was mini Denver Broncos football, baseball, whiffle ball bat, or plastic golf club, my nephew A.J. was always ready to play any game.
To borrow the phrase I recently heard him utter to his parents, “You made a baller.”
And so, it was earlier this summer this proud Aunt packed up family and headed west to watch that baller play the final four quarters of his high school career as one of the athletes selected to compete in the Colorado High School Coaches Association All-Star football game. Due to COVID protocols regarding fan attendance at high school athletic events in his home state, it was the only time we were able to watch him play in person his senior year.
He didn’t disappoint.
From a tackle on the first play to his performance as the final seconds ticked off the game clock, A.J. provided several reasons to cheer. The young man who filled out the #4 jersey dwarfed memories of the little boy I once knew. But as soon as he lifted his helmet and smiled, it was evident his passion for playing remained unchanged.
He graciously posed for photos with all the family who had come to watch him, humbly acknowledging compliments with heartfelt thanks and a quiet reverence that proved he does not merely play the game.
He loves the game.
His high school career has ended, but he’s one of the lucky ones who gets to go on and write a new chapter at the collegiate level in a different uniform. Many changes are ahead for A.J., but it was clear as he walked off the field that day with his head held high that he’ll take with him the same desire and drive.
I thought how exciting this all must be for him, even as the game ended.
Yet, a few days later, I recognized while he is strong enough to embrace opportunity, it also carries the weight of responsibility. It’s easy for me to think about only the exciting parts of the start of his adult life. Possibilities to ponder. Friendships to be discovered. Glorious memories to be written.
But, for all of that to happen, he does have to leave home. And, for anyone who’s left a loving and supportive family, it’s a bittersweet step.
We extended our trip to the all-star game for a short vacation in the mountains. On one of the final days, A.J. and his family joined us for a bike ride down Vail Pass. There were about a dozen of us in our group, which meant at times we were spread out a bit and had to catch up to one another. As the trail wound along a quiet pond, we came upon A.J., simply standing alone, looking across the glass-like water reflecting the mountain ahead.
I pulled over, smiled at him and said, “You love Colorado, don’t you, A.J.?”
“I do,” he said. “It’s just so beautiful.”
The peace of the moment lasted a few seconds more before the rest of our group came along and we biked off together. I caught sight of him later on at a different stop looking out, taking in the beauty of the surroundings in the place he calls home. I can’t be sure what he was feeling at that point, but there’s one thing I know for certain.
A.J., no matter what you do, or where you go, you will do well. As you marveled at the majestic surroundings, it was clear you know with every fiber in your being where home is - and what grounds you.
So, venture eagerly.
The baller your parents made is ready to play the game.
Anne is the author of two books:
Her NEW book: Grace in Extraordinary Times
Her previous book: Grace in Ordinary Time
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