Cope: When the children’s game ends, let the tears flow

It’s a cruel realization that plays out at the end of every sports season, fall, winter and spring.

In the film “Moneyball,” a baseball scout tells Billy Beane, “We’re all told at some point in time, Billy, that we can no longer play the children’s game. We just don’t know when that’s gonna to be.”

For most athletes, it’s a message that plays out at a very young age. It’s also done very publically, in front of teammates, family and fans. Even though you know it’s coming, the finality is brutal and crushing, and the toughest players react the only way their emotions will let them. They cry. And when you think about it, there really is no other reaction that quite fits.

As the Montesano Bulldogs gathered with their classmates one last time to sing the alma mater on Nov. 23 along the home sideline of Rottle Field, tears were flowing freely on the faces of the players (and maybe a few announcers).

The emotion and the passion with which the team played the second half of their season-ending quarterfinal loss to Deer Park and the sudden end that came with a final second incompletion left many on the team visibly drained and with no way to express their sorrow and disappointment but to openly weep.

But there was more to that outpouring of emotion than the disappointment of a loss on an otherwise undefeated season. For most of the players, that was the end. The last time that they will ever put on a football helmet and line up with their friends and teammates for 48 minutes of the great game of football.

It’s a cruel realization that plays out at the end of every sports season, fall, winter and spring. Like a ton of bricks it hits you: it’s over. Unless you’ve been there and walked off the field for the last time, it’s hard to describe the gut shot of that realization. I only played two years of high school sports and spent more time watching from the sidelines than actually playing, but I enjoyed it immensely and still remember that sadness of knowing I wouldn’t play or practice with my team again and the disappointment I felt for my teammates, many of whom had been playing since they were small children, was immense.

Seeing some of the toughest boys I knew reduced to tears is something I’ve never forgotten. That’s a sadness that I feel at the end of every sports season, watching the athletes walk off the field for the last time and the gradual realization that this is the last time they will play the game with friends they have known and grown up with.

It wasn’t until a couple of days after the Montesano game that a fellow fan and media member put it into words: “Growing up is tough.”

That really sums it up. For many high school athletes, the realization that you are done playing your sport, something many have done since they were 6 or 7 years old, is the first end of childhood moment you face. Most still live at home. They don’t pay taxes yet. They don’t have to provide for families or work 9-5 at a job. However, at a relatively young age they are told for the first time that an activity of childhood, something they have done and loved for years, something they have taken for granted, planned their lives and schedules around, is over and done with and it’s time to move on.

As we grow up, we find fulfillment in other things. Family, jobs, hobbies and activities all have their place in our lives and give us enjoyment and a sense of belonging.You can trace that feeling back to the first time you picked up a bat, strapped on a helmet or passed a ball down the field or court.

The time given to us to enjoy those experiences is far too short. It’s a fleeting moment. And for many it’s the first thing that goes away as we grow up. There’s sadness and maybe a little fear that goes into that realization.

For those emotions, a good cry is the only thing that really helps.

Ian Cope is a Grays Harbor high school sports announcer.