It is really amazing to think about the fact that the worst disaster on American soil happened 15 years ago. That dreaded day seems like only yesterday in many ways.
It was my first year teaching at The Linfield School in Temecula, California. I think it was just our second week of school. I taught freshman four periods a day. To sit in that classroom with 14 year olds all day was really interesting. Little did they know, little did I know, how much our world was changing right before our eyes.
Only it wasn’t really before our eyes. Those were the “pre tech” days; that’s what I call them. I remember one TV being set up in our principal’s office. We went there in between classes to get updates. Sure, the internet was here, but not like it is now. No Twitter, not even Facebook yet. Few students had phones, mainly just the “rich” ones. Updates were just on the TV mainly.
My parents were set to fly back east that morning for their business. I called my mom on the way to work, as soon as I heard about it on the radio. I told them they wouldn’t be going anywhere, and to turn on the TV.
I was not only a teacher, but also a varsity football coach.
So, the question loomed: should we play the game this Friday? We were set to open up against Oaks Christian. In fact, if you know their program now, it’s one of the top programs in Southern California. September 14, 2001 was their first Varsity football game, against us. Would we play?
This was the question on the player’s minds, on the coach’s minds, on the administrator’s minds. Was it “just a game?”
Here is a look at what the professional sports in America did that week.
Major League Baseball: all games through September 16 were postponed. The games were tacked onto the end of the regular season, delaying the postseason until October 4.
National Football League postponed its weekly schedule of football games on September 16 and the Monday night game the following night.
Major League Soccer: The final two weeks of the 2001 season were cancelled.
NASCAR: postponed the September 16 Winston Cup New Hampshire 300 race.
NCAA Division I College Football: games originally scheduled to be played on September 13 and 15 were called off
PGA Golf: cancelled the World Golf Championships at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri.
Canadian Football League: scrapped all games for the ensuing week
I remember sitting in our Athletic Director’s office. He was a mentor to me, in many ways. I had known him for 10 years before starting to work with him in 2001. Scott Raftery was his name. He later went on to work in the CIF SS office as an Assistant Commissioner before passing away from the devil’s disease: cancer in 2013.
We talked about the grim sites on the TV that week. We talked about the astounding loss of life that our country had just endured. We prayed. We cried.
We also talked about the importance of sports in America. We talked about the importance of sports in the lives of people, and specifically in the lives of our own kids. He had two sons playing on our football team.
My take on whether or not we should play came down to: what is best for the kids? And I argued that what was best for our kids was to go play football that Friday night. Most kids were a little stressed. We weren’t far from Camp Pendleton, the largest Marines Corps base in the Nation, and there were rumors that Camp Pendleton was going to be attacked. There were some kids who know someone who knew someone who died, or was injured.
I thought that getting our kids back in to their normal routine would be a great thing for them at this time. Football, as many sports do, provides a brief time during the week to “get away from everything else,” to have fun. To compete. To execute. To hurt. To laugh. To cry. Our kids needed to do all of those things again.
And so we did. We rode the bus to Oaks Christian, and played football. They whooped us! But for a few hours that Friday night, the kids got to be kids again. The coaches got to coach a game they loved. And we were able to simply forget what had happened that horrific week, for just a few hours.
It was a welcome respite.