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.