How 30 middle schoolers made me cry
Something happened at the city cross-country meet yesterday that was so profound and unexpected, I felt it needed its own post.
Okay, so at last Thursday’s meet, Coach Lynn asked me if I was able to help out with the city meet on Monday, or if I was going to have pickup issues with Adam, or what. Coach Lynn is a good friend of my brother’s, so we’ve known each other for several years now. I told him I had to check with Dawn to be sure, but I should be able to, since Dawn got off work at 2:00, and she should be able to pick up Adam (turned out that she could, seeing as how she was in on the whole thing). Jeff asked if I could possibly be there about 3:00, even though the meet doesn’t start until 3:30. I told him it wasn’t a problem.
So fast forward to yesterday. I get to Lincoln Park around 2:50 or so. I find Jeff there getting stuff set up with Mr. Hampsey (one of LMS’s assistant principals), so I walked over to the tent and pretended like I was supposed to be there. I’m shooting the shit with Coach, Mr. Hampsey, and Mr. Heyen (the principal’s husband), when the team bus shows up around 3:05 or so. The kids get their stuff settled under “their tree”, and I grab Ian’s stuff and take it to the car, so as not to have to dick with it later. As I’m walking back to the tree, Coach starts them in their stretching exercises. During preseason practices, I attempted to do the stretches with them, but I proved to be too fat and/or out of shape to do most of them. So I usually just watch the kids do them.
I started wandering back to the awards tent where Mr. Hampsey was, when Coach said, “Mr. Stearns, I’m going to need you right here with me in just a few minutes”, so I walked back over next to him and waited for the stretching to finish. As they finished stretching, Coach said, “Okay, friends, let’s all gather around Mr. Stearns for a moment.”
So the kids surround me. I mean, SURROUND me. Tightly. The kids on the outside of the circle were within arm’s reach. And I have short arms. Then all the kids put a hand on my head, shoulders, and back.
Now I’m thinking, what the hell is going on?! I mean, what would YOU think?
Jeff started talking about the city meet being the most important race of the year, then switched gears and said, “Okay, friends, tell me some things we like about Mr. Stearns.” The first one to chime in was little Mia, who said, “He learned all our names!” That made me giggle, especially since I am SO horrible with names. Then there were several more comments, including:
- “He comes to every single meet!!”
- “He yells and cheers SO loudly for all of us!”
- “He helps us and inspires us to do better!”
- “He literally saved our butts at the Franklin meet!” (That was Ian’s contribution.)
- “He has cool hair!”
- “He’s like our second coach!”
That was the beginning of the flood. I started tearing up a little when Ellie said that I was like a second coach. Then it continued when Coach then said, “That’s right, friends, you have all done amazing things this year, but none of it would be possible without Mr. Stearns’ help. Therefore, Mr. Stearns, we have all decided as a team to dedicate today’s meet you. Now I want you all to go out and run your best not just for yourselves, not just for me, but for Mr. Stearns!” They then did the team cheer, gave me high fives, and went off to prepare for the meet.
Dudes. Did you catch that? They dedicated the meet. To ME.
I’ve had several proud moments in my life. My boys being born. My dad getting inducted into the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame. Ian receiving four awards- including straight-A honor roll- at last year’s awards ceremony. Watching both Ian and Adam at the piano recitals. But never have I ever- EVER- had such an honor bestowed upon me. And it was bestowed upon me by middle-schoolers. Kids from 10-13 years old. Kids that age can potentially be some of the most adult-despising people on the planet, yet at that one brief moment, more than 30 of them made me the center of their world. And get this: they meant it. They may well wind up denying that it ever happened, if asked, but at that particular moment, I know they meant it.
As the girls walked to the starting line for their race, I had to walk about 15 feet behind them, so they couldn’t see what a blubbering idiot I was. I was able to regain my composure, for the most part, and timed the girls. And they didn’t disappoint. The LMS/BC girls took second place for the meet, and we had four girls that medalled by finishing in the top 20. (Shout-out to Alexa, Maria, Sophia, and Kaitlyn R.!!) Then the boys also took second place as a team, and Kody medalled for us. Karl finished 21st- just out of medal contention- but I’m very confident he’ll be well in the mix next year, as I hope Ian will as well.
I was already crazy stupid proud of these kids all season. They’ve done so well and improved so much. But for them to dedicate the most important meet of the season to me… I love these kids to pieces. I’ve read to 3 or 4 classes of kids at library time, for both Ian’s and Adam’s classes. I coached Ian in baseball for four seasons. I’ve been around some good kids. But these kids on the LMS/BC cross-country team are literally the finest group of kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
So to Kody, Jervias, Allie, Kaitlyn T., Karl, Ian, Holling, Josh, Noah S., Noah L., Kaitlyn R., Alexa, Lillian, Kelly, Clare, Trevor, Harrison, Brendan, Alex D., Jaden, Tyrone, Caleb, Zach, Danny, Ellie, Mia, Healy, Maya, Alex R., Logan, Noah D., Liam, Maria, and Sophia, I say this: I cannot express how much yesterday meant to me. You all will likely forget about me, quite possibly sooner than later, but I will never forget any of you, nor especially will I ever forget yesterday’s gesture. You did more for this goofball totally lame dad of one of your classmates than you can possibly imagine, but I hope one day you can feel what you made me feel yesterday.
Thank you all SO much, not just for yesterday but for accepting me and allowing me to hang out with you over this cross-country season. It has been my privilege. I love you guys.