The players all looked at me, ready to hang on my every word. They had no idea that I had never given a halftime talk before. They only knew that we were in the locker room of my old junior high school, and that I had a whistle around my neck.
They didn’t know that I had never played basketball for my school—or any sport, for any school. In fact, the closest I ever came was two glorious weeks on the track team.
My friends and I were asked to turn in our uniforms after we missed a meet. We had been in the locker room seeing who could spin a discus the longest and impressing each other with our favorite celebrity impersonations. I was right in the middle of my Doug Henning when the coach came in and told us to wait on the bus. Needless to say, I was not a jock, and it would only be a matter of weeks before I took center stage in the school production of whatever it was and never looked back.
I glanced at the head coach to make sure I had heard him correctly. He nodded and I took a breath. The floor was mine.
“I grew up here,” I said. “I’ve known their head coach my entire life.
“This was my gym. I went to my first dance here. I kissed a girl somewhere around the free throw line. It wasn’t that long ago that I was you, and moments like this would last forever. Every game was the big game.”
The room was quiet and the boys were anxious. I had no idea where I was going with this, and the other coaches knew it.
I proceeded to have an incredibly awkward one-sided conversation with a room full of teenage boys about things that had nothing to do with basketball. I painted a picture of my own (also) awkward youth and appealed to whatever sympathies their parents had planted in them. It may have been the worst halftime speech ever given, and by the time it ended I was sweating far more than the players.
We lost the game, and I was never asked to give another pep talk the rest of the season.
I was, admittedly, embarrassed—not because of the game, but because I had used their moment as some sort of therapy session I never knew I needed. I feared that I had lost whatever respect they may have had for me.
They thanked me one at a time, in quiet whispers wrapped in their own apologies. They didn’t feel bad about losing, or at least that wasn’t the worst of it, rather they felt that they had let me down, and for that they were sorry.
I told them that they hadn’t.
It turns out that my rambling words of teenage angst and middle school highlights had connected with the boys in a way that doing it for the Gipper never could—at least not my telling of it. My fear was unfounded.
The bus ride back to our school was dark and started somewhat stoic, but by the time we reached our destination it had given way to deep conversation and knowing laughter. Apparently the awkward memories I shared were very similar to the awkward now that the boys were facing, and the moment that we had, a moment that I entered into somewhat reluctantly, became a turning point for all of us.
That was over 20 years ago, and I have been jumping into awkward conversations ever since. Sometimes they jump at me.
My boys are young, but they know things of the world that I would rather they not. They know about cancer. They know about loss. They have heard stories of inspiration and survival. It is my job to make sure they have all the information they need to protect themselves as they get older, and I don’t care how awkward it is for any of us—or you. That is why I am writing this post to bring awareness to testicular cancer and the conversation about early detection that parents need to have with their sons.
Do it for them. The Gipper is overrated.
It’s Man UP Monday!
I’m proud to be a member of the Single Jingles Man UP Monday BLOGGING TEAM! Today, I’m doing my part to spread an important message about Testicular Cancer.
- Did you know that Testicular Cancer is the #1 cancer in young men ages 15 to 35?
- Did you know that Testicular Cancer is highly survivable is detected early?
- Did you know that young men should be doing a monthly self-exam?
And if you’re feeling just a little AWKWARD about this conversation, check out this video (I’m in it looking like awkward is an art form) from some parents who feel the exact same way!
I would like to thank Jim Higley of Bobblehead Dad fame for his passion and energy in spreading the Single Jingles message. He’s a great guy and a real inspiration. Thanks, Jim!