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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: Son’s final high school game brings end to an era, and tears

George Ditto, 24, celebrates with his team following his touchdown during their first game of the season.  (Erik Smith)
George Ditto, 24, celebrates with his team following his touchdown during their first game of the season. (Erik Smith)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

I don’t understand football at all.

I’ve tried. When watching the Super Bowl, I’m so bored I could cry. I’ll start talking to a friend and forget that I’m even supposed to be paying attention to the TV until I hear everyone cheer, at which point I’ll ask, “What just happened?” Then patiently listen while someone tries to explain the nuances of first downs or two-point conversions.

It’s all Greek to me, and as I see everyone getting so excited, I can hardly keep myself from saying, “We’re just watching a bunch of men toss a ball up and down a field, right? Why are we screaming?”

I just don’t get it.

And then my son George started playing football. Middle school is when it all began, when he had the body of mini-lineman and the energy of a thousand adolescent boys. He loved it. He would come home from practice bruised and sore and couldn’t wait to go out and do it all again the next day.

Once he started high school, the stakes got a lot higher. Suddenly, he was part of a “brotherhood.” Football was no longer just a fun thing to participate in after school; it was a whole way of life. Members of the team were expected to lift weights together throughout the summer and practice for hours each day from August to November. Football trumped all.

“You always talk about your football team being a brotherhood,” I’d occasionally say when George missed a family activity because of all-important football practice. “What about being with your actual brothers? What about your actual family?”

George and sometimes Logan would try to explain to me why ducking out of football practice wasn’t something that could be done. It would show a lack of commitment, they’d say, and missing out on learning and practicing plays with the team could lead to serious consequences at game time.

“Big deal!” I’d say back. “Real life is more important than a game!” But for all my grumbling, I was George’s number one fan. Come rain, shine or freezing bleacher seats, I showed up to every single game I could and cheered my boy on as he played the sport he loves the most.

By the time his senior year rolled around this fall, George had morphed from a stocky middle-school lineman to a toned and terrifying outside linebacker. He had worked years for this one culminating season, and when the first game arrived, he was ready.

On one of the last plays of that first game, George was playing wide receiver and managed to get open in the end zone. The quarterback threw the ball straight to him, and it went like a magnet into his hands. Touchdown.

The crowd erupted. George was exuberant. I lost my mind; you have never heard a person scream louder or longer than I did in that moment. All the hours of practice and all the missed family outings were worth it just to see my son shine in the glory of that touchdown.

As the season rolled on, I became a little better versed in the mechanics of football. I had to ask “What just happened?” less and less, but still more times than I care to admit.

And then came the final game – the last of George’s football “career.” About two minutes before it ended, it hit me that I was watching him play his last-ever minutes of the sport he loves so much, a sport to which he had devoted hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours. I watched him line up on the field one last time – focused, determined and strong – and give his all till the very last second.

The game ended, and it felt like a funeral. Tough football players walked around, hugging and crying. This football season had meant much more to them than just a game. They were really a brotherhood, bonded together in the way only blood, sweat and tears can do.

I found my boy among the crowd and gave him a tight hug.

“I’m so proud of you,” I whispered. And I cried.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at dittojulia@gmail.com.

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