Many of you have shared in my family milestones over the years, and last week, we reached another one. This time the milestone was bittersweet as my oldest Nick played his last college soccer game. It's hard for Mike and I to imagine our lives without one of Nick's games on our calendars. For the past 17 years, we've spent countless hours watching our son play the game he loves. Mike coached him for half of those years, and I was your typical soccer mom. We rarely missed any of his games, and some of my favorite family memories involve soccer.
Nick's soccer career began when he was 5 years old. In those days, we had to travel to Monett and Aurora to play because Cassville didn't have a youth league of its own. We quickly discovered that Nick and a bunch of his friends had a natural talent for the game and loved to chase that ball around the field. It was those same group of youth players who 13 years later, as seniors in high school, propelled the Wildcat soccer team to the state Final Four where the team capped the 2005 season by finishing third at state.
Nick's soccer career has had its highs and its lows. As a junior in high school Nick tore his ACL and had to sit out the season. He was able to make it back for his senior year and ultimately fulfilled his dream of playing college soccer by securing a spot on the Truman State University men's soccer team.
After two successful seasons at Truman, Nick tore the ACL in his other knee and again was forced to miss his junior year. As he did four years earlier, Nick worked hard to rehabilitate his knee after surgery and was able to get back on the field for his senior season. By the third game this fall, Nick had earned a starting position at forward and the Bulldogs had an amazing 12-3-1 season that ended with Truman ranked 18th in the nation's among NCAA Division II soccer programs.
It is an amazing feeling to stand by and watch your child realize a childhood dream, but it's so hard when that part of your child's life comes to an end.
When the whistle blew marking the end of Nick's final game as a Truman State Bulldog last Tuesday, Mike and I stood in the bleachers with tears running down our cheeks. Nick and his teammates gathered in a tight circle in the center of the field and sang their traditional victory song with arms wrapped around each other. When they were done singing, they stayed there awhile, huddled together as if they didn't want the moment to end. I know we didn't want it to end, and I can't imagine how hard those final moments on the field had to be for Nick and his teammates who had become like brothers.
In preparation for the senior soccer banquet, I looked through years of photos of Nick playing soccer, searching for the perfect youth soccer picture to include in the senior DVD. The one I choose shows Nick standing next to the scrubby-looking soccer field with a soccer ball placed between his feet. His hands are on his hips and a crooked grin lights up his face. That photo stands in stark contrast to the more recent photos of a grown-up Nick, lean and muscled, battling against a defender for possession of the ball with a fierce and determined glint in his eye.
As I look back over all the years Nick played soccer, his pure and passionate love for the game shines through. I believe he was successful in soccer, because playing the sport was something he wanted, something he loved with all his heart and something he was willing to work hard for. As much as we loved watching him play, he would never have accomplished what he did if it had been our dream instead of his.
As parents we have all kinds of dreams and desires for our children, but sometimes our wishes can get in the way of what's best for our kids. I believe it's important for parents to expose their children to all sorts of sports and activities and then let their children's natural talents and abilities show themselves. I was never an athlete and playing anything at the college level would never have occurred to me. But even though that idea was foreign to me, it became my son's deepest desire so Mike and I did what we could to make sure Nick had opportunities to play soccer and develop the skills he would later use to earn a college soccer scholarship and a place on the Truman State team.
Sometimes as parents, the best thing we can do is provide the foundation and then get out of the way and let our kids do the rest. Mike and I are very proud of Nick but hold no claim to his achievements. We also appreciate all the help Nick received along the way from teachers and coaches who believed in him and encouraged him to "go for it." I believe Nick represented Cassville well during his college career, and it was always fun to see Cassville listed on the program alongside Nick's name. There were many times when we'd find ourselves explaining to those sitting next to us in the stands where Cassville was located and how Nick made the journey from a small "football" town in southwest Missouri to a nationally recognized soccer program in the opposite corner of the state. Thanks Nick for all the memories. It's been a great ride, and we've loving every minute of watching you play.