What is better than reading a chick lit book that involves football?!? This was a great story about a single mother raising a son, who happens to be an undeveloped football star! I could so easily relate to Autumn on SO many levels – single mother, heartbreak, dating issues, parent of an athlete, and more! Caught myself thinking “that is SO me!” and chuckling multiple times during the story. I could connect with the story like I was Autumn while I was reading. Great book for vacation, especially parents of athletes!
I was given a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
After losing her marriage, life savings, and waistline, Autumn Kovac is terrified of being hit by more heartache. So when her only child decides to try out for the football team, the overprotective, sports-illiterate mom has a near phobic reaction. But Zachary hasn’t smiled since his father left, and she’s desperate to make him happy (and doing nothing and hoping for the best hasn’t been working). She reluctantly enters a new world of youth competitive sports, full of overzealous coaches with Vince Lombardi dreams and fanatical parents trying to achieve vicarious glory.
been keeping her from her son. After meeting her ideal catch, she finds herself back in the dating game and discovers some fierce competition of her own. Will Autumn make it off the sideline? Can the underdog finally win?
I’m not the kind of person who likes to sweat, run, or exert myself in anyway–unless I’m being chased by an angry mob threatening to tear my limbs off—but even then, I’d probably just lay down and hope for the best.
Working out is a cruel and inexplicable punishment. It’s literally the consequence given at a military school to high risk juveniles for delinquent behavior. To drop down and give some irate commanding officer twenty push-ups after he yells in your face. Push-ups are not something I’d ever do voluntarily, when instead I could, say, watch television, eat a taco, hang with girlfriends, read a book, virtually anything else would be better than wielding unnecessary energy.
Don’t get me wrong, I would die to have Jennifer Aniston’s body, but, nonetheless, I would not diet or exercise.
I still have post-traumatic flashbacks of times I was forced into acts of physical fitness. The images of dodging balls, and that impossible climb to the top of the gymnasium, followed by the rope-burning descent, still gives me nightmares. I can’t forget the disappointed faces of the captains who got stuck with me on their kickball teams. Not being able to live up to the expectations of our beloved President, in that impossible physical-fitness challenge, no-doubt turned me into the maladjusted adult I am today. These experiences are unquestionably the root to all of my insecurities.
So when my only son announced that he wanted to try out for the local youth football team, it left me with feelings of confusion. How can the fruit fall so far from the tree?
It’s impossible to get comfortable on a metal bench that is conducting heat and blistering my thighs. Gnats are swirling around my head. The grass has just been cut so my eyes are swollen and my nose begins to drip. This mid-summer heat is unbearable. Beads of sweat grow until perspiration runs down my face. It’s hard to enjoy anything while having to mop my dripping brow with my forearm. I have pit marks, two half-moon shaped stains under my breasts, and streak lines where my fat folds. My favorite blouse now looks like a tie-dye shirt.
Naturally, I hope my son fails, not miserably, but just enough to get cut from the roster.
Things are looking great. Zachary couldn’t look worse.
He was beaten by every kid his size in the sprints. After running around the perimeter of the field several times, he hyperventilated. He tripped over the cones during the agility drills, twice. Tumbled over his long legs, his limbs flying awkwardly everywhere once he hit the ground. When he got up; little flecks of black rubber turf were stuck to his sweaty face.
But despite it all, he hasn’t quit yet.
It’s day four in the first week of a two-week tryout, not once has any of the kids touched a football, which seems counterintuitive for a football tryout.
This strict evaluation process incorporates a wide variety of training exercises to measure each player’s little league potential. The drills are conducted in a no-nonsense fashion and in quick succession to test levels of stamina. Men with stop watches study these ten-year-olds in great detail and then scribble notes into their clipboards. They’ll scratch their heads in deep contemplation and exchange knowing nods to one another from across the field.
These evaluators of youth talent are the most powerful men in Snoqualmie Ridge. They take their responsibility very, very–I mean exceedingly–serious. They use a high degree of care and circumspection in their performance appraisal system, with the use of scoring algorithms that calculate each boy’s value and risk to the team.
This is definitely not what I had in mind when I signed Zachary up to “play a game.”
There is a group of players stretching along the sidelines, doing deep lunges, and neck rolls. They’re giving themselves pep-talks and performing visualization exercises. They wear shoes with rubber spikes worth more than designer footwear. Their hair is styled into intimidating Mohawks or sophisticated patterns etched into their hair. I’m sure somewhere on the field, the kid sponsored by Under Armour is wearing two-carat-diamond studs on each ear.
These miniature athletes, acting like NFL draft prospects, are busy sizing up their competition. The winner pumps his fist like Tiger Woods did after he sank a big putt in the PGA Tour. The others fall to the ground when they are out beat and cry out in woe. One poor kid throws his hands up in the air in frustration. He proceeds to cover his ears because he doesn’t know which crazy, screaming adult to listen to; his parents, grandparents, neighbors, the family dog–are all coaching him from the stands, contradicting what the actual coaches on the field are yelling.
The bleachers are full of parents sitting at the edge of their seats, hypnotized by their child’s performance. They twitch at every move their child makes. Some pace up and down the bleachers, biting their nails, and shouting exhortations. They’re all seeking confirmation that great athletic possibilities exist in them.
I overhear one parent bribe her child with a fifty-inch flat screen TV for his room if he got a certain time in a race. She’d throw in a Nintendo if his time lands in the top five.
There was a dad on day two that threw his shoe at a coach. “How dare you move my child from the backfield! He’s a skill player! His trainer says he’s college scholarship material!” This dad, who had veins protruding from his neck, had to be dragged off the property by two men with big muscles and tiny tank tops. They were completely unbothered by the event. “Mark my words John, I’ll be buying my paint from someone else from now on! I’ll never do business with you again, never!” His son didn’t seem surprised by his dad’s outburst either. He casually grabbed his water jug, bumped fists with a few buddies on his way out, and met his dad in his monster truck. They peeled out of the parking lot, as was expected.
When one kid threw up orange Gatorade all over the sideline and his parent told him to, “Stop acting like a crybaby,” it became swiftly evident that these are not our peers. We do not belong here.
“Are you a football mom?” asks a man wearing a safari hat, mirror sunglasses, and a badge that reads EMT.
“Me? No way.” I nearly collapse at the thought. “My son is only here for the tryouts.”
“Okay.” He doesn’t say anything right away. “I’m going to need his medical release and parental consent forms before he can suit-up and is allowed to participate in full contact.”
“Oh.” Several thoughts run through my mind, none of which I can decipher. There’s a long uncomfortable pause, at least sixty awkward seconds pass. “Do you mean the forms that relinquish this organization of any liability if my son gets hurt while under your supervision?”
“Um, ah,” he stammers, “yeah, those are the forms.”
I know signing this contract is like signing a contract with the devil. My son’s happiness in exchange for all that I am against: violence, competition, perpetual judgment, egos-
“So, you got ‘em?”
I knew even as I was saying the words, even as I was thinking them, that I’d soon regret it. “Yes. I have the forms.”
I dig into my bag and hand over the binder of paperwork. It includes the registration forms, physical form, medical clearance, emergency and treatment authorization, grade check, uniform and equipment information, parent code of conduct contract, volunteer (although it’s not really volunteering when you’re forced to do it) contract, mandatory fundraising contract, several other forms I didn’t read, and a whopping five-hundred-dollar check.
I cross my arms and inform him, “There are labels along the side for every requested item.”
“Wow.” His bushy eyebrows raise up behind his sunglasses. “It’s color coded.” The EMT flips through the binder. The corners of his mouth turn upward, which tells me he’s impressed. “No one has ever done this before.”
He checks several pockets of his cargo pants for a pen.
“Maybe it’s in your fanny pack,” I say, wincing on his behalf because the fanny pack is one of the most polarizing trends of the eighties.
He scratches his forehead. One falls out from his ear.
Perfect. This is the man who’ll be supervising my child. He can’t even keep track of a pen or what decade we are in.
I follow the EMT to his E-Z Up canopy to ensure he does not lose Zachary’s paperwork along the way. As he files the forms, I look around. It is fully equipped with emergency and first aid equipment. There is a trauma kit, basic life support equipment, splinting equipment, stretcher, AED, airway masks, and supplies needed to stabilize a patient until an ambulance can arrive.
All at once, I realize everything that can go wrong and I want my binder back.
The EMT tells me, “Okay, you’re now good to go Ms…” He looks down at his clipboard. “Autumn Kovac.”
I’m overcome with the thought of my baby needing a neck collar or oxygen. I begin to pace circles around his tent, like I’m being chased by my fears.
“Are you okay Ms. Kovac?”
I put my hand out and brace myself on the table. “Fine. Fine. I’m fine.” But the words get lodged somewhere in my throat, tangled up with my furiously beating heart. My breath is coming fast and shallow. I can’t catch it.
Now I’m choking on air.
“I’m, I’m, I’m going to go outside and get some air,” I spit out before my mouth goes very dry. My tongue feels like it’s sticking to its roof, making it difficult for me to talk. “It’s a bit stuffy in here,” I slur.
The EMT gives me an odd look. “This tent has no walls.” He cocks his head to one side. His face begins to spin like a Kaleidoscope.
A heat-wave rolls up on me suddenly. It starts in my chest and rises to my neck and head. “It’s really hot in here,” I think to myself, but accidently say out loud.
The EMT unfolds a metal chair. He places it behind me. “Why don’t you sit down for a second and have some water?”
What I need is air conditioning, to be indoors in a controlled climate, on a comfortable couch, with my son curled up in my arms where I can protect him from the world.
I want out of here.
I need to get out of here.
I dodge the EMT, teetering for a second before I get my legs back. I stumble my way over to the bleachers. I try and stop shaking. I begin an inner dialogue inside my head. I’m asking myself hundreds of questions, while trying to answer them at the same time.
I catch Zachary glance over at where I’m sitting. I wave and give him my very best fake smile.
I try to remember why I agreed to a contact sport.
Oh yes, I can recall that it all began with Zachary’s meddlesome pediatrician. The doctor was concerned about his weight. He described my son as “disproportionately heavy for his size.” Zachary has always had a healthy appetite. He’ll eat anything, Brussel sprouts, quinoa, organ meat, and all in a single sitting. He’d eat the cat food if our cat wouldn’t scratch his eyes out. I’ve always consider my son big boned or at least that’s what we called thick, stocky kids when I was growing up, decades ago. The doctor called him “obese.” He prescribed more physical activity.
“You should seriously consider organized sports. They build character and self-esteem, promote self-discipline, and sportsmanship…” His pediatrician went on and on as if he’d make commission from his sale.
“Can I mom?” Zachary looked up at me with piercing eye contact.
“I guess,” is how I responded. “Do you want to do track, tennis, golf?”
“Football,” he decided.
I made a gagging sound, blacked out for a second, and continued. “There’s also soccer or basketball.”
“I want to play football Mom.”
“No fricking way,” is what I should have said, but instead I told him, “You don’t have to decide now. Why don’t you think about it,” which he did, obsessively, for over a month. He checked out every book from the library on the topic. He began reading the daily sports column in the newspaper and pulling up sports news sites on the computer.
He presented me with a PowerPoint presentation. He showed me confusing graphs and tables, statistical sheets with a bunch of numbers, and research written by people with a series of letters that trail their name.
I got a second doctor’s opinion and a third. I even asked my gyno if she thought my son should play football. They all said the same. “The benefits outweigh the risks and that playing sports is better than playing video games all day.”
I also picked up a prescription for Xanax.
The man who looks like Mr. Clean, wearing gym shorts, a tight shirt, and a lanyard with a whistler attached yells, “Bring it in boys!” I met him at the equipment pick-up. He introduced himself as Coach McCall, followed by a heavy slap on my back, which nearly knocked me off my heels. He’s the head coach of the pee-wee team. He went through his extensive sports resume, but all I understood is that he is extremely serious about his after-work-hobby.
There were also seven assistant coaches; I had no interest in getting to know.
On the coach’s command, sixty-two anxious young boys line up, desperate for a handful of spots available on the team. About a third are returning players; many have played for three or more years. You can tell by their posture, who is experienced and who’s on the chopping block.
Coach McCall has finally brought out the leather sphere. They begin a catching drill. He doesn’t even look at Zachary, he just shouts, “Your turn Twelve!” Addressing him by his tryout number.
Zachary’s lips tighten. His eyes narrow. He digs in at the line. He pushes off. His long arms and legs flair. His auburn wavy locks blow in the wind. Before the ball even leaves the thrower’s hand, Zachary hits the ground. The coach looks up at the equipment shed. “Is there a sniper on the roof? What the hell was that?”
Zachary blinks hard. He lowers his head. His shoulders are slump over, as he heads towards the back of the line.
He tries again. The thrower throws the ball. He puts it right into Zachary’s chest. It bounces off and falls to the ground. The thrower keeps putting the ball where Zachary should be able to catch it. He even begins throwing them softer. He’s practically lofting them like pop flies in softball. Zachary drops every one.
I try not to smile.
A part of me feels terrible rooting against my child’s dream, but a much bigger part of me wants to keep him safe. I want him locked away in a padded room, just he and I, with miniature unicorns as our pets, for the rest of our lives.
I allowed him to tryout because I hate disappointing him and I was confident he wouldn’t make the team. He’s too much like me. We have grey owl-like eyes that take up a disproportional amount of space on our face. We’re pale, like we’ve been hiding in the shade for years. We’re both five-foot-five and robust. We’re also bookish, flat-footed, completely lack in physical aggressiveness, and terribly uncoordinated. He can fall up the stairs, not just going down. He runs into the kitchen table even though it’s been in the same spot his entire lifetime. He trips over air and spills everything. I’m confident he won’t make the team.
At the water break the kids scatter to find their parents. We are not allowed on the field; in fact, we have to be off the turf, passed the track, and behind the chain linked fence.
Moms are massaging their kids’ shoulders and misting their faces with water. Dads are giving their sons inspirational speeches and wise insider knowledge. Players are ingesting performance enhancing energy drinks and nutritional supplements. One family is holding hands kneeling on one knee and praying.
I have nothing prepared, so I go with my usual. “I’m so proud of you Baby.”
“Stop calling me a baby.” I look into his face. All I see is disappointment that I’m not his father or Russell Wilson. I’m just a divorced, unsuccessful, single mom, who’s hoping for the worst for her son.
“You were terrific.” This is a lie. He was terrible.
“I suck,” he says.
“Don’t say the S-word,” I remind him.
“I can’t throw the ball, catch the ball, or carry the ball. Coach McCall asked me if I was left-handed.”
I reach out and pat his saturated hair, trying to connect with him at any capacity. “Who cares what they think?”
“I do.” He gives an exaggerated sigh. “They’re gonna cut me mom. I know it.” His face is all twisted up, as though he’s in pain.
“It’s not a big deal if you cut,” but I know it is. He wants this and it seems the harder I wish him not to, the more determined he becomes.
There’s a long silence before he says, “You don’t understand.”
He’s right. I don’t. Football is a violent culture and I’m a passive person. My instinct is to avoid confrontation. I like win-win solutions. I’m an indoorsy type. I’d prefer not walking around perspiring or greased from suntan oil.
Zachary starts fidgeting with the label on his Gatorade. His eyes water over. “Dad would understand,” I hear him say, almost to himself. His forehead gathers. My heart clenches. This is when everything changes.
Praise for From the Sideline
“I loved this book and I love the author’s writing style…There were some pages I read twice just because I loved how funny and honest they were. She can make you laugh and cry on the same page. Her humor and storytelling grab you in the beginning and you don’t want to let go! I highly recommend this book and make sure to read Wake Up Call as well! I can’t wait to read what she writes next!” -NetGalley Reviewer
Amy Avanzino is a former advertising executive, who has spent the last several years writing while doing extensive hands-on research for her WAKE-UP CALL series. She’s a contributing writer of Hap Scotch, a play performed at the 2008 Frigid Festival in New York.
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