We Are Going To Miss You, Dale

We Are Going To Miss You, Dale

Even those of us not in Jr. Nation. You have been a huge part of this sport.
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I am not a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan of any sort. Only a slight few times have I ever cheered for him to win a race, mainly because my other favorites had wrecked out. At the beginning of this season, Dale announced that he would be retiring from NASCAR’s top series, the Monster Energy Cup Series. He has been in NASCAR’s top series for the last 19 years.

I have been watching NASCAR since I was about 7 or 8 years old -- now I am 20. I have not seen a NASCAR season without Jr. The closest I have come was when he was hurt in the 2016 season and was out three-quarters of the season. Even then, seeing another driver in his car, it was just plain odd to me.

If I'm being honest, I don't think I want to see a season without him.

NASCAR’s season runs from mid-February to mid-November. It is a very long season when it first started this year I knew that it would be a year all about Dale, and I have been right. Every track has used, ‘See Dale’s last ride’ or something of that nature. I was at his last race at Kansas Motor Speedway, and they said it what felt like every 10 laps. But now that Championship Weekend has rolled around, it has started to hit me. Dale is not coming back. I know it has and still is hitting Jr. Nation Hard, but now it is me too.

Dale has been the most popular driver for as long as I can remember, and I sit here now and wonder, who is going to take it next year? Part of me thinks that somehow, he will earn the title next year. He has an announcing job lined up for NBC, he should be better than Jeff Gordan. But how can Jr not be on the track? Its really something that has started to just creep up on me, but I can’t stop thinking of it, how can Jr not be in NASCAR. There is even a Twitter hashtag, #Appreci88tion, it has been used all year, but just about everyone. Most of the tracks have even given Dale a going away type gift.

I remember when Dale went from the 8 to the 88. Even then, that was a huge change. You can go to any given Walmart, especially during the summer, and you have a huge chance of seeing an 8 or now an 88 tattoo. It is just how life works. But what driver are people going to tattoo on themselves now who is the most popular? When Dale changed sponsors over the years, that has been a huge change. But is him not being in the car a change that NASCAR as a sport will ever get over?

Dale Jr., in a way, is a face of NASCAR.

You can go out into any town, anywhere in the United States and start going around to the people you see and asking them what they know about Dale Earnhardt Jr. You are going to get so many correct answers out of so many people. People that have never watched a single race, seem to know exactly who he is, or at least his number. I’m sorry, but that is a feat to how big he actually is.

This is a loss I’m not sure that NASCAR will ever get over. For anyone that watched NASCAR and watched his father, they basically saw Jr. grow up. Sure, he has never won a championship like his Dad, and it seems like forever since he got his last win, but it is Jr. If I am going to be honest, a large part of me doesn’t want him to go. Some people like to say that Dale has shaped NASCAR, I would agree with these people.

My best wishes are with Dale, his wife Amy and their child they will be having next year. Dale has been successful thus far in his life, so he will still be. But I hope that maybe one day he will come back as a driver. I mean, even if it is for one race. Dale, we are going to miss you on track.

Cover Image Credit: Zach Catanzareti

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The Coach That Killed My Passion

An open letter to the coach that made me hate a sport I once loved.
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I fell in love with the game in second grade. I lived for every practice and every game. I lived for the countless hours in the gym or my driveway perfecting every shot, every pass and every move I could think of. Every night after dinner, I would go shoot and would not allow myself to go inside until I hit a hundred shots. I had a desire to play, to get better and to be the best basketball player I could possibly be.

I had many coaches between church leagues, rec leagues, personal coaches, basketball camps, middle school and high school. Most of the coaches I had the opportunity to play for had a passion for the game like I did. They inspired me to never stop working. They would tell me I had a natural ability. I took pride in knowing that I worked hard and I took pride in the compliments that I got from my coaches and other parents. I always looked forward to the drills and, believe it or not, I even looked forward to the running. These coaches had a desire to teach, and I had a desire to learn through every good and bad thing that happened during many seasons. Thank you to the coaches that coached and supported me through the years.

SEE ALSO: My Regrets From My Time As A College Softball Player

Along with the good coaches, are a few bad coaches. These are the coaches that focused on favorites instead of the good of the entire team. I had coaches that no matter how hard I worked, it would never be good enough for them. I had coaches that would take insults too far on the court and in the classroom.

I had coaches that killed my passion and love for the game of basketball.

When a passion dies, it is quite possibly the most heartbreaking thing ever. A desire you once had to play every second of the day is gone; it turns into dreading every practice and game. It turns into leaving every game with earphones in so other parents don't talk to you about it. It meant dreading school the next day due to everyone talking about the previous game. My passion was destroyed when a coach looked at me in the eyes and said, "You could go to any other school and start varsity, but you just can't play for me."

SEE ALSO: Should College Athletes Be Limited To One Sport?

Looking back now at the amount of tears shed after practices and games, I just want to say to this coach: Making me feel bad about myself doesn't make me want to play and work hard for you, whether in the classroom or on the court. Telling me that, "Hard work always pays off" and not keeping that word doesn't make me want to work hard either. I spent every minute of the day focusing on making sure you didn't see the pain that I felt, and all of my energy was put towards that fake smile when I said I was OK with how you treated me. There are not words for the feeling I got when parents of teammates asked why I didn't play more or why I got pulled after one mistake; I simply didn't have an answer. The way you made me feel about myself and my ability to play ball made me hate myself; not only did you make me doubt my ability to play, you turned my teammates against me to where they didn't trust my abilities. I would not wish the pain you caused me on my greatest enemy. I pray that one day, eventually, when all of your players quit coming back that you realize that it isn't all about winning records. It’s about the players. You can have winning records without a good coach if you have a good team, but you won’t have a team if you can't treat players with the respect they deserve.

SEE ALSO: To The Little Girl Picking Up A Basketball For The First Time


Cover Image Credit: Equality Charter School

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From The High School Athlete Who Walked Away, But Walked Away With So Much

From pep rallies to clutch game situations, we miss every second of it. But we walked away with a lot more than we could've ever asked for.

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High school was our prime time. Walking through the hall wearing your jersey or warm-ups on game day. Teachers telling you "good luck tonight, bring home the win." Getting to leave class early for away games. Going to pep rallies and being the center of attention. Practicing day in and day out. Eating, sleeping, and breathing your sport.

The endless hours of practices, the early mornings and late nights, the study groups and trying to keep up with your academics on top of prioritizing your physical shape and talent. It's what we lived for.

Two minutes left in the rivalry game at home court. Your team is up by two and it's crunch time. Coach puts you and the four kids you've grown insanely close with over the last 10 years into the game. You're told to run a man to man defense and not let number three get the ball, because if they do they're going to run the play you've studied at practice for the last week and try to score from the paint; tying the game. The ball gets passed to number three and you're guarding them harder than you've ever played defense before, a screen gets set so you have to switch with your trusty best friend, who you know has the best defense on the team. Your heart is pounding as number three goes up to take the buzzer-beating shot... but they get an offensive foul called on them, and that's the game. The crowd goes wild as the buzzer goes off and you and your teammates rush the center of the gym yelling, screaming, and rejoicing. The feeling you have in your heart is fuller than you've ever felt it before.

It's what we lived for.

It's the bottom of the 7th inning, and you're down by two runs. You've got a man on first and a man on third, with two outs. You're on deck waiting to go up to bat as your power hitter is fighting tooth and nail to get the ball on the ground. They've got two strikes and three balls. Your heart is beating out of your chest, and part of you is hoping they hit it over the fence so the pressure isn't so tough on you. The coach signals to lay a bunt down and all you can think is "why would he do that? Kiana never bunts." But you have no other choice but to trust in your coaches decisions, so when Kiana shockingly lays the bunt down you're in awe as the catcher can't get her face mask off quick enough to throw it to first base.

No runs were scored, and you know that it's up to you to win this game. You walk up to the plate and strike one flies by your face before you even have time to process it. You step out of the batter's box to try to calm your nerves, and your dad looks at you and tells you "You got this, just breathe." So you take one more practice swing and a deep breath, then you step back into the batter's box. You couldn't slow your heart rate down so now you're just running off of pride and focus. The next pitch comes and it's a ball. You knock your cleats off with your bat as the rain starts to pour down, and you're in a position to eye the next pitch.

At that moment, everything turns into slow motion.

You see coach standing at third base, giving no sign. You look back and see your dad in the bleachers, hoping and praying you can hit the base runners in. You've reminded yourself that this is one of your last high school ball games; it's your time to shine. As tingles trickle down your spine, the chaotic screams from the crowd and your teammates turn into distant sound. You smack the ball and before you realize it, you're hitting the inner corner of third base with your right foot yelling at the person in front of you to run faster because you have no idea where the ball went, and coach was just telling you to run. Everyone is waiting for you at home plate because you had just won the game. They're slapping the top of your helmet and screaming your name, while the crowd is banging on the fence.

It's what we lived for.

We lived for the three-hour long Saturday practices. We lived for two-hour bus rides. We lived for team breakfast and dinner. It fueled us to get through high school, and we loved every second of it.

Often, we reminisce. We think back to those buzzer beaters, home runs, and football games. We miss it more than you could ever imagine.

But we walked away. Not because we didn't want to continue playing, but because it was time. It was time to start our lives, but we will never forget the moments, the memories, and some of the best times we have ever had.

Being an athlete is so much more than being strong, athletic, and quick on your feet. To us, being an athlete shaped our personalities. It helped us build characteristics that we still use to this day... and sometime in the future, we will build families and use the traits we learned as athletes to build a strong, successful career, and someday raise a little ballplayer of our own.

A big thanks go out to all my coaches and mentors that I was blessed with over the years. You shaped me, my future, and the rest of the generations that will come after me.

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