I found out this week that my college teammate died. As I navigate these feelings, I wanted to share some insight into what team sports meant to me and hopefully give tribute to fallen teammates.
I began playing team sports when I was 12. I was always very athletic but honestly I was scared to play on a “team.” I finally began softball in sixth grade and played on through junior high, high school, and 4 years of college. I still remember my first team, my first teammates, and my first coach. They put lasting good impressions on me for life.
You don’t realize when you are young and playing ball how special it is to be supported and surrounded by those that have the same goal. People that cheer you on when you do good, encourage you when you fail, push you to your limit to get stronger, and help you when you are hurt. Those are teammates. Those are coaches. When you are in the midst of it, it’s just what you do. When you are older and looking back you realize how priceless it is.
Teammates for Life
Kenzie and I met our freshman year at Faulkner on the softball field. We were two of four freshmen that year. The two others did not finish all four years with us so Kenzie and I were together a lot. It was the freshman’s duty to show up early to practice and fill the huge cooler with ice and water every day. (We did get Gatorade on Fridays!) Then we stayed after practice to lug the cooler back into the gym to clean it out and get ready for the next day.
Kenzie and I came from completely different backgrounds…we could not have been more different. The only thing that really connected us was our love of sports. None of our other differences really mattered. She was my teammate and she became my friend. That’s the thing about teammates- looks, interests, hobbies, IQ, even values don’t matter on the ball field. That is your teammate and you support each other. Kenzie and I got along great. She was easy to talk to and easier to love. I realize not all teammates are like that, but again, if you disagree about something, you hash it out, then get over it. Then you are the first ones there when you fall on the field to lend a hand to get up. You have to…they are your teammate.
Teammates are there to hand you a cup of water after you get sick from running sprints. They are there to help you study for the test you have to make up because of an away game. You sweat together, you bleed together, and sometimes you even cry together. They are there to sing as loud as possible to popular songs during travel. Teammates are there to laugh so hard with you that you both cry (and sometimes snort!) They are there to play practical jokes and to teach you how to take a joke in life. They are there to carry the heavy water cooler back and forth each practice. They are there to sit silently with you when you are angry with yourself after not playing your best. They are there to listen when you have a fight with a loved one…or you just miss your mom. They are there to call you out when they know you are not giving your best. To put it simply…your teammates are there to do life with you and they learn how to do it well.
My teammate Kenzie died last week. Her heart stopped suddenly from a heart condition she dealt with her whole life. We hadn’t seen each other in years and only talked randomly since we left college, but it made me very sad. I know this is how I will feel when I hear news in the future of the passing of other teammates too and I hope that they will miss me when the day comes that I leave the earth too. We did life together and that matters.
A Coach’s Perspective
My coaches’ styles have varied over the years. Some were loud motivators and others were calmer but no less authoritative. No matter their coaching style, I knew my coaches cared. They didn’t just care about my stats, attitude, or performance. They care about me. I can only imagine what it feels like to them when they hear of a player passing away before them. I am sure they ask themselves “Did I make a difference to them? Did I encourage them? Did they know I cared for them?” Let me tell you as a player that yes…we know. We may not have shown it. Heck, we may not have even really liked you as a person, but we knew that you cared about us. We noticed that you spent hours away from family to be there with us. We know you were tired and frustrated with us but never gave up on us. After all, that’s what good coaches do. We know.
Our coach at Faulkner was Hal Wynn. Kenzie always just called him “coach.” He is still there working as hard as ever. Coach didn’t yell much, but you could see by the look on his face if he was not happy with us. He never took it off the field though and was always kind and thoughtful about anything dealing with his players. This year he not only lost Kenzie but also another player, Shannon. I did not have the honor of playing with her, but I can imagine the pain my teammates felt when they heard of her passing. Coach had the following words to say in response to Kenzie’s death and I think they sum up pretty accurately how many coaches feel.
“This has been a tough year for me as a coach. I have experienced for the first time the loss of two former players. Each and every player is very special to me. They each have brought something wonderful to the teams they played on and more importantly they had an impact on my life. This recent loss of Kenzie is tough. I remember when she first came to me it wasn’t softball that we discussed, it was life and the struggles that she had been through and was still facing. I remember telling her that I will do everything I can to help her. I told her the most important people who will be there for her, are her teammates. They did not disappoint…they were a valuable influence on her life and helped her in so many ways. I know how much they meant to her. What she didn’t always see was how important she was to them. She was there for them which I know did much in helping her overcome many of the struggles she faced. I know I will miss her, but I will always remember that big smile. In life she brought her teammates together…I pray that even now she is bringing them together to bring back the memories and keeping her in their hearts.”
Well said Coach…well said.
To My Teammates
I feel that I speak for all players when I tell you that if we have ever played together, whether it be one season or ten, I am so thankful. From MVPs to the new kid on the team who spent most of the time on the bench, I am so glad you were there. It would not have been the same without you. You played an integral part in our group that worked so hard together. When we won, we celebrated together and when we lost, we felt it…then shook it off. You taught me a lot whether you knew it or not and I am a better person because of our time together. Thank you for doing life with me during those years. No matter where we are in life now…or twenty years from now…if there is something I can do for you, please ask. I will do my best to help. Want to just reminisce and laugh about old times? I’m in. Want to vent about how hard and different life is now? I will listen. Need an encouraging word to get you through something? I will cheer you on. I know you would do the same for me…because we’re teammates.