Over the weekend, I stepped onto hot metal bleachers only miles from my home, took a deep breath, and settled in for the longest, yet fastest game of my more than seven-year run as a proud lacrosse parent. My emotions soared on an indescribable roller coaster ride that culminated in an incredible victory during the Virginia 6A Boys Lacrosse State Championship game. A game that will forever be ingrained into the minds and hearts of my son, his W.T. Woodson High School teammates, the amazing coaches, and all the parents. With tears in our eyes, we watched our sons run and dive into each other’s arms – embracing and celebrating this accomplishment. An unlikely victory by some of the most kind-hearted and hard-working young men I have ever known.
One of the parents of this team wrote a heartfelt essay about not only our team, but about the love that binds all “true” teams. He wrote this as an email to the parents, but I believe that his words need to be shared and read by anyone who has ever known what it means to be a sports parent. So with his permission, I am sharing his tribute to the team that believed. The team that couldn’t lose – the 2017 W.T. Woodson Cavaliers.
The Best Things in Life Don’t Come Easy
W.T. Woodson Wins Virginia State Boys Lacrosse Championship
By Ernie Bower
It’s not wise to write when your heart is so full it is broken. But today I am compelled to do so to honor the incredible team that is the 2017 W.T. Woodson Cavaliers. I promise to do my best.
The best things in life don’t come easy. In fact, they require the hardest effort. They demand sacrifice, selflessness, hard work. The best things in life, the ones only a few elite souls get to share require your sweat, your blood, your heart and soul. The may find you injured, scarred, hurt; see your friends down, broken. They ask you to give up things other people enjoy.
But when the moment comes, when the last ball rips the net, when the final seconds are ticking from the clock and the crowd is counting down, “Four, three, TWO, ONE!!!!” That is when you feel it: the pay back, the return on investment, the overwhelming sense that you’ve done it. You made it. You won.
And to watch the Woodson team experience that moment on Saturday, after they had given so much individually, as a team, and to each other; to see the outpouring of love – it was more than any could have hoped for, wished for. It was a moment from our dreams coming true before our eyes.
This was the dividend paid on dedication. The Cavaliers story, written in blood, bruises and broken bones … that story came true yesterday.
To be honest, it broke my heart, as I know it did yours. I am sitting here writing, crying, looking the picture of my son Hugh, rampant, with the team captain Jackson Miller, valiant and overjoyed, and his best friend Matt Fruchterman, behind them, his broken wrist in a sling, celebrating together after they vanquished a team that was supposed to dominate them by 8 goals according to lacrosse pundits.
They beat a team that included kids who were men — ready to play Division 1 college football. They destroyed that team. As some of you know, a parent from that team we beat pulled my shoulder and yelled in my face after they beat Oakton last week – thinking I was an Oakton parent – “we just ended your f__ing season!” “No,” I said, “we’ll see you Saturday.” His eyes bulged in surprise, I was not who he thought I was. And Woodson was not the team South County thought they were. In the event on Saturday, we ended their season. Conclusively.
Look at our boys’ faces. The joy is pure. The team’s accomplishment is forever. They made history yesterday. They didn’t happen to do that, they worked for it. They earned it. They own it now and always will.
In April, after the Cavaliers were devastated in mid-season by an out of league opponent, I wrote the following words after that horrible game:
The verdict on who the 2017 Cavaliers are and who they will be has not yet been written. That is coming in the next several weeks.
Will this group of young leaders bind together, love one another and give the post season their best, win or lose? Or is their legacy going to be division and a stinking bus after limping out of a muddy abattoir?
No one can write that legacy but these incredible young men. Not their parents, not their coaches, not the school management … no, it is up to them. Bloody, muddy and tested by adversity … but ultimately, they are empowered.
I believed then, as our boys did, that they would write their own story and that they were dreaming big. They believed, beyond — to be honest — what I could have imagined, they could and would win it all. And they did that!
Before Saturday’s championship contest, I woke up to make Hugh breakfast and see how he was doing. It was 6:30 in the morning. He wasn’t anywhere to be found: his bed empty, car gone. I wasn’t worried because it’s Hugh and he marches to his own drummer, but I couldn’t figure out where he was. Fifteen minutes later he pulled into the driveway with his stick and a bucket of lax balls – soaking wet.
“Where have you been?” I asked.
“GMU. I went to shoot for a while,” he replied.
“What, at 6 AM before the big game?” I pursued.
“Yeah. Can I have breakfast, Dad?”
“Sure, but can I ask what’s on your mind? How are you feeling?” I asked.
And he told me then what I guess all of the Cav’s would have answered had they been asked the same question that morning: “Dad, I am picturing the last seconds of that clock ticking off, and we are winning. I am picturing scoring, ripping it. We win,” he said calmly, eyes steady, meaning every word.
I turned, quickly, because there were tears in my eyes. And I knew at that moment that they were going to win this game. They love each other, they love the game, and every one of them was prepared to give it all – for each other.
After the game, I asked Hugh, “how did you guys win, how did you do it?” He told me, “Dad, it’s the seniors, they won’t accept losing. When we got into the playoffs, they wouldn’t accept losing. They wanted to keep playing until the end. That’s why we win. We had to keep playing until we won it all.”
The Cav’s season was the story of a team that believed. A story of seniors that open their hearts to the younger guys on the team and lead with heart. It is a story of a team Mom who saw her senior son get brutally injured – with a season ending knee injury — in a pre-season game and never miss a beat, believing in the team and continuing to support them as if her son was the league’s leading defense recruit. It is a story of coaches that empowered their players and parents that loved their boys. It was a season in which the Woodson Cavaliers couldn’t lose.
That belief, that love, the seniors’ commitment to keep playing – it defined them, it defines winners.
They are now and forever, champions of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s elite lacrosse division, the best high school lacrosse team from the state’s 9 million people. They stand together, unbroken, rampant. And we love them.