Our youth football league puts on the most incredible banquet. Nine years ago, I started handing out an award to a graduating (eighth grader) player each year. I wanted to give you a feel for how this award ceremony unfolded on Tuesday night.
The following is the speech that was read before the announcement of the winner. You’ll notice the speech is broken up by colors. I read the black sections while two friends (and fellow Board members) each took the other portions.
The excerpts are from emails that were sent to me by friends and family members of the nominees. A panel of seven voted and made the final decision on the winner. I have removed the last names of these players in the version below.
The book Distant Replay is Jerry Kramer’s account of the twenty-fifth anniversary reunion of the 1967 Green Bay Packers, winners of the first Super Bowl.
The book delivers a poignant and intriguing message regarding the importance of renewing old friendships and never forgetting where you came from. Its reoccurring theme is, “People need people.”
With this award comes the responsibility of attending next season’s banquet as our guest of honor and speaking to the new group of players that will be leaving Mudville.
Our recipient will also become heir to the book for one year. Hopefully he will read it and then find a space inside to inscribe a message for all future recipients.
Remember though, every player that puts on a MudHogs uniform becomes a life-long Big Brother to the league. You are forever family and always welcome to stop by for a visit.
“The Distant Replay Award is presented to a MudHog who has excelled both on and off of the football field. He is a positive influence for his teammates as well as his classmates. He is not necessarily the most talented football player on his team. He is respected by his peers; Unselfish, unassuming, and unspoiled. He leads by example.”
THE NOMINEES FOR THE 2009 DISTANT REPLAY AWARD:
When I announce your names please come up to the stage and line up here…
Nine distinct personalities
Nine extraordinary stories
Nine wonderful young men
How do you choose one of these young men from this group?
This mother writes, “If the qualifications for the Distant Replay award were most time spent in this league and most variety of jobs performed he would win hands down. However, there is much more to this award and the attributes of a candidate. He wanted to be a MudHog from age 3 when he sat on the sidelines and watched his big brother play. Always the team’s little mascot, he ran around and in and out of the Snack Shack each Sunday until he was able to play Flag. Flag was OK, but the fun really started when he was given his first set of pads and helmet, which he proceeded to try sleeping in that night.
How do you choose?
From a friend of the family: At the first game this season I was down on the lower field and saw the ambulance arrive. My heart sank as it does for everyone when you see it pull up. After a very long wait we were told he had broken his leg. I couldn’t believe it. His last year of Mud Hog Football and he would be out for the season. Despite the injury, he didn’t give up on his team. As soon as he was able to get around, he was back on the field for every game wearing his jersey with pride and cheering on his team.
This can show every player in every sport that just because you are not playing on the field because of an injury you are still part of a team. That you can’t give up, and being a team player is not only what you bring on the game field, it is bringing your heart and soul to the game no matter what the circumstances are. This commitment that he has demonstrated throughout his Mud Hog career will take him through every aspect of his life. He will be there for his friends, family and teammates no matter what life will bring his way.
How do you choose?
This mother writes about her son, “Our family is built through adoption. We have 3 wonderful boys. And we are a multi-racial family. He was very nervous about being a big brother but right from the beginning he was protective of his younger brother. He wanted his brother to be in his room so he could watch over him. As he grew older and began to understand prejudice more, he would tell us that he would always protect his younger brother and not allow anyone to say mean things to him. Being a child of color in a white family, in a predominately white town, his little brother would comment that people knew he was adopted. The older brother once said to him – “Why? It isn’t like you have ‘I’m adopted’ written across your forehead.” When the younger brother responded, “duhhhh… I have brown skin & you all have white skin” – the older brother’s response was, “I never really noticed your skin color. To me you are just my brother”.
How do you choose?
Another mother writes, “This story is one that I didn’t experience first hand. This was told to me by my dad, his grandfather (or “Pop” as we call him), with whom he has a very special relationship. Pop brings him to practice every day. On this one particular day, as was the usual drill, Pop parked the car and my son ran off to the practice field. Pop pulled his camp chair from the trunk and brought it over to the sidelines. Due to his Parkinson’s, Pop’s hands were quite shaky and he was having a difficult time untying the knot and opening his chair. Five minutes later he was still at it. Ten minutes later he was still at it. Pop, head down, was still intent on untying the knot when suddenly my son appeared, untied the knot in a flash, opened the chair, and jogged off back to the field.
How do you choose?
This mother offers, “He began his passion for football while watching his older brother play for the MudHogs years ago. He has been involved in many sports. Since the age of three, he has been quite a skier and when he suffered a broken shoulder after a fall last winter, his only concern was, “Can I still play Football?” His passion is FOOTBALL. He aspires to play High School and College Football. To be totally honest, of all the team sports he has been involved in, football has been the one that he has felt he has excelled in, and being a MudHog has done so much for his growth. He has been extremely enthusiastic about playing with MudHogs, and they have done more for him than any other sport he has played.
How do you choose?
From the father of a teammate: My son was new to MudHogs this year. The boys knew each other from Cub Scouts and school, and he went out of his way to help my son assimilate to the tryout process, and then the ropes when he joined his team. He has done the same for several other players. His experience in football, and in the MudHogs league, has been invaluable to new players coming in. In many ways, he fully represents what MudHogs is all about. Also, when my son got injured early in the season and required the use of crutches, this young man sought him out at school and helped him to and from classes, and in class when possible. His sense of team work and supporting his teammates isn’t confined to the field; it extends to the rest of his life off the field. He also encouraged my son to continue to attend practices and games after his injury, and this proved to be an important factor in my son maintaining his positive attitude during his recovery.
How do you choose?
From a coach: He doesn’t lose sight of what’s important. He works hard to win every game and every challenge, but knows how to accept defeat, learn from it and move on. He is concerned about others, no matter what team they are on. We have seen him take time to encourage other teammates and opposing team players when they were down. He is very well-rounded. A sensitive young man, he is a model student and is actively involved with his community. He doesn’t do something because it will be seen as “cool” by others. He is very focused on doing what is right. He has a number of friends from multiple towns, and this is evident in seeing him interact with other MudHoggers. He is self critical, and would never consider himself for an award such as this. He’s been too busy making other people look good, especially on the football field.
How do you choose?
From one player’s Dad: he is a multi-sport player. Away from the field he is an accomplished cello player in the IAR orchestra. He maintains an A average as an 8th grader there.
From his Mom: I of course needed to add my 2 cents!!! As parents we naturally think our kid is an all around good kid. That being said, the thing that makes me most proud as a mom is his ability to acknowledge the talent and heart in other kids he has played sports with and against. There is a humbleness that he has acquired along the way. I’d like to think he’s learned it from his dad and me, but I think he gets all the credit for that.
How do you choose?
From a Mom and Dad: His love for the game is infectious. In fact, for his Bar Mitzvah community service project earlier this year his desire was to share his love of football with Hartford children who could not afford equipment. He asked guests to bring Dick’s Sporting Goods gift cards so he could buy new equipment to donate to Hartford Public schools. Over $500 of supplies were donated! It’s hard to put into words the impact that this MudHogs experience has had on our son. It has become part of his identity that he cannot wait to carry into High School. The MudHogs have taken a mediocre athlete and spectator and turned him into a strong, confident leader who sees the payoff of the hard work and hours that he has put into this. We feel that the MudHogs have helped to shape our son and helped him to grow into the person that he is, but we also feel that he has given back to the MudHogs in his dedication, persistence and spirit!
How in the world do you choose?
As one parent wrote to me in an email:
“Being nominated is the same as winning. It may not seem that way to a 12 or 13-year old. And we talked about how this is a great reflection on them, on the program, and on the way they are perceived by their coaches and parents. This award is important for just that reason. We need to recognize kids that are doing it right, setting an example and giving the young kids something to look up to. We choose one winner because that’s what tradition tells us to do, but we must be sure to let these kids know that we are equally proud of all their accomplishments and proud that the choice was so difficult.”
The recipient of the
2009 Distant Replay Award is:
From Chris’ mom, Dee:
When Chris was 5, Cameron joined our family as our foster child and he was 19 months old. Chris was very nervous about being a big brother but right from the beginning he was protective of his younger brother. Being an older child, Cameron went through a period of tough emotional adjustment and even at such an early age, Chris knew Cameron needed his big brother. So even though Cam had his own bedroom, Chris wanted his brother to be in his room so he could watch over him.
A few weeks after Cam came into our family, another foster child was placed in our home. He was a 2 day old infant, going through withdrawal from crack and fetal alcohol exposure. Being a foster family has many challenges. Because Cody was so ill at birth, many people were all of a sudden involved in our lives – lawyers, doctors, visiting nurses, social workers and the never ending stream of court appearances. Through many trials and ups and downs, 2 yrs after Cam & Cody were placed with us, our family was official and complete.
Even though he didn’t realize it at the time, these events were the cornerstones to Chris’ growing up into the young adult that he is. Because of our circle of friends and our involvement in the foster care and adoption community, Chris has met many children with emotional and physical challenges. From holding the baby who suffers from shaken baby syndrome to playing with a peer who was removed from his family due to physical abuse, Chris has learned that there are many children who are in need of secure and loving homes.
As they have grown, our boys are truly brothers – they fight and they yell just like any other brothers. But Chris is the brother they look up to, the brother Cam wants to emulate on the football field and the basketball court: the big brother that helps them with their homework and is protective of them.
The core of Chris’ character is evident in all of Chris’s school reports, through his Sunday school teachers, camp counselors and the coaches he plays for. He is a natural leader, has a great sense of humor, is very aware of the hardships that other children go through – not just in his personal world but in the world around him as is evident in his project to help orphaned children in Afghanistan. He is a team player and an honors student. If you were to ask Chris his feelings about his adoption – he would tell you that he feels very fortunate and blessed. But truly – we are the ones who have been blessed. And above all else, as Chris told his second grade teacher when she asked him what he was best at – he answered – I am great at being a kid.