Cory is one of the coaches and I get to spend my Thursday and Friday evenings with him, stalking the sidelines and watching his players perform. I’m not sure what heaven actually looks like, but in my warped brain, it’s pretty close to this. Ain’t any other place I’d rather be than right there on the sidelines with good ole SC.
For the vast majority of high school varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams, ball boy duties fall to one of the “broken players,” as the coaches refer to them. These are either players who are out sick or have a physical disability that keeps them sidelined.
Or, they could simply be academically ineligible. Kids have standards they have to meet to maintain playing status.
In any event, you’re not generally getting a kid who is excited about the role of ball boy. Our primary duty is the shadow the sideline referee and to provide him with a ball when a pass is overthrown or a kick goes out of bounds. Sounds simple. NOT!
As a rule, you end up with a brain-dead teenager who has his earphones plugged in or he’s on his telephone texting his girlfriend. Paying attention to the referee is the last thing on his mind.
The ref’s hate it. The last thing they want to do is have to chase down a ball on the sidelines. Most of them are as old as I am so they’re not exactly excited about logging the extra mileage doing the ball boy’s duty.
I’m an in-your-face ball boy. My goal is the have the ball in their hands before they can possibly even turn around and ask for it. This irritates the younger referees because they don’t want me wandering onto the field. I’ve been doing this so long that I know all the refs by name and I know what they want and don’t want.
For instance, most want me down in the end zone to retrieve the PAT (point after touchdown) or field goal kicks. But they also want the kickoff ball placed right in front of the goal post so that all they need to do is grab it and put it in play. Some crews expect that ball to be brought in by a second ball boy at midfield or by the kickoff specialist.
On some college campuses ball boy duties become a celebrity thing. The Oregon Ducks ball boy, for instance, has died his hair pink. That ain’t gonna happen to yours truly.
Some ball boys have better hands than the pass receivers that are trying to catch the ball. Even I’ve made one handed catch or two in the past, not because I was showing off but because I already had two other balls in my arms and only had one free hand with which to work.
My job on Cory’s teams includes being the “get back” coach, which means I keep pushing the players back behind a white line to allow the referees, coaches, chain crews, and ball boys to move up and down the sidelines. Kids will be kids and they always creep up beyond the line, putting both themselves and others in peril.
It happened to me last year when I got hit by five players who ventured out of bounds. The first one knocked my feet out from under me because I had nowhere to run, thanks to the players in the way. The second player landed on top of me. I was still okay at this point.
However the three trailing tacklers all took turns planting their helmets into my side, fracturing three ribs.
Stubborn as I am, I refused to leave the field for care but did visit the local Emergency Room that night to learn of the ribs. Since I refuse to wear a girdle, there’s not much you can do for fractured ribs. I’m happy to say I’m back to full speed, which is “slow motion” on a good day.
One ref describes me like this: “You’re old but you’re slow… and dependable!”
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Michael Aun is a syndicated columnist and writes a weekly column for this newspaper. To contact Michael Aun, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.