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February 21, 2016

As the conclusion of another sports season nears, I find myself reflecting on the emotions that student-athletes, coaches and parents experience as playing careers come to an end.

Once that final event is over, there are no more practices, team meetings, inspirational speeches, fun bus rides, boisterous crowds, and the list goes on. All they have at that point are the memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.

It really hit me Saturday afternoon at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima, Ohio when my oldest son, Derek, and his Lawrence Tech men’s basketball teammates concluded their season with a loss to the Racers. My son is only a sophomore and still has two years remaining, but, when I looked into his eyes after the game, I could tell that he had emerged from an emotional locker room where six of his senior teammates were dealing with the realization that their basketball careers were over.

Moments later, I was talking with a father of one of those seniors and he was doing everything he could to fight back the tears. We attempted to share some post-game analysis, which is our norm, but the conversation quickly changed directions when he said, “This is it.” I’m pretty sure he has seen all of his son’s games over the past 17 years, and I am certain that he will miss them as much or more than his son. This is not about living vicariously through a child; this is about sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience with someone you love.

Similar emotions have been and will continue to be in the air as Olivet High School student-athletes wrap up their careers. Just last week, two senior wrestlers – Wyatt Autrey and David Hewer – suffered disappointing losses at the Michigan High School Athletic Association Individual District at Michigan Center. It was an abrupt ending for both young men, but especially for Autrey who was a definite threat to qualify for the state meet.

Olivet wrestling coach Brandon Peters posted the following message on his team’s Facebook page: “As a coach, you always want to get more kids through, but it is especially tough as seniors see their careers end. I have always said that the toughest part about coaching is losing your seniors each year. Thank you Wyatt Autrey and David Hewer for being our leaders and making this year so much fun. You guys will be missed…and you know you are always welcome to come back and jump into a rotation or two! You guys have been a huge part of who we, Olivet Wrestling, are!”

Six seniors from this year’s OHS varsity girls’ basketball team and eight more from the varsity boys’ squad will be recognized prior to their final home games – the girls on Monday, February 22 and the boys on Tuesday, March 1. This is a common occurrence at most high schools and colleges and usually produces a wide range of emotion – anything from giggles to uncontrollable tears.

The tears are often as heavy from the parents as they are from the student-athletes. These teams and events become a huge part of the families’ lives, so the realization that it is coming to an end can have a profound effect – especially for parents who also will be sending that child off to college or the work world in the very near future.

Personally, I am not immune to these emotions. It was just last week that I was watching a video of the National Anthem being sung after the Dexter High School girls’ basketball team’s Senior Night ceremony. One of the senior’s mothers can be seen in the foreground wiping away those uncontrollable tears. Let’s just say that it brought back memories of Derek’s final high school games.

Former OHS boys’ basketball coach Brian Dartt once described the end of a player’s career this way:  “There’s a finality to it that is difficult to describe…and difficult to overcome for everyone involved. It is also hard to predict sometimes, and that makes it even tougher.”

So what about the seniors and their thoughts? Well, that is something all of us should pay attention to during the next few weeks. Watch them as they walk out with their parents on Senior Night, or kiss the “O” at center court, or come out of the locker room after their season is over. Removing that jersey for the final time should be difficult – and it’s a good bet that it will be for this year’s Olivet seniors.