Below is the point of view from the team trainer on a difficult yet also inspiring night - the State Championship Semi-Final for Mt Angel Oregon Kennedy HS.
A Life-Changing VICTORY in the midst of a "loss". This is the True Glory of sports.
With our virtue being thankfulness last week, I wanted to share a story that significantly impacted my life as an adoptive father of a mentally ill son who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was difficult for me to watch our team lose last night, but I was able to hold it together through the numerous injuries we experienced during the second half of the football game. However, it hit me really hard when I saw my son have a PTSD attack in the bleachers because his Trojans were losing the game. I remember looking in the stands and seeing my son not only grieve the loss of the game but also re-live his past trauma, abuse and neglect.
I walked over to the bleachers to remind him that I loved him and will always love him forever and always. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to share that message entirely with him because I was called out on to the field for another injury. Since I had to leave the field and help an athlete with his injury, I missed what happened in the last 30 seconds of the game. Hunter Hill, who I had just set his dislocated shoulder in place several minutes beforehand, picked my son up over the handrail and took him out on to the field and together they gave each football player on the opposing team a high five and then he carried him over to the end zone to listen to Coach Traeger.
I later heard that Hunter and my son cried together in the end zone as they heard Coach Traeger address the team and then they walked together to the locker room, where I then met up with them. As I left the locker room, Coach Traeger talked individually to my son and let him know that he didn’t need to be sad about the loss. He reminded him that some of the older guys were sad that they had finished playing football, but that he had at least six years left of playing football. He also told him that he was proud of his team for trying their best and how it is important to show honor in defeat.
The most remarkable aspect of this entire story is that my son never disassociated or “left” his pain. Usually during his PTSD attacks, you can visibly see him check out as a coping mechanism so he can escape his pain. However, with the loving care of those around him, especially Rodney Hill—Hunter’s dad, he remained emotionally present during the entire grieving process.
Some only see games from the win-loss perspective but as a father of an adopted and traumatized child, a selfless act by one of my athletes and my head coach had a significant impact in the life of my son that night. He saw firsthand how to exhibit honor in defeat and process his grief in a healthy manner.
At that moment, I realized that sports was going to be the major mechanism that would help facilitate my son's recovery in dealing with his grief and PTSD. Despite all of the therapy, medications and behavior plans we have implemented in the past year, I could not underestimate the power of an athlete and coach emulating a life of virtue in helping my son heal from his past scars and wounds. I am blessed to work with an amazing group of coaches that have taught these young men to becoming winners in life—not just on the scoreboard, and my son was blessed by having these young men demonstrate what it means to them in living a life of virtue.
My wife and I have a very difficult road ahead of us with our son, but I also know that Hunter and Randy played a significant role in his recovery that night. Something special definitely occurred on the Tuesday afternoons during those virtue talks, and my family has been blessed because of it.
Coach Traeger, I am thankful for you, your coaching staff, and for the young men on your football team. You all have been a huge blessing to my son and as well as I, as his father.