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Wed, Aug. 21

Son's mission brings back sports memories

My mind has really been wondering around the last couple weeks. My youngest son Nathan, who will soon be 19, is leaving on a two-year church mission to Central America. So how does that tie in to a sports article you might ask yourself?

Much of my life with my son has been intertwined with school, sports and in the last few years, religion. His mother and I were divorced when he was only 4, but we both stayed in Prescott and got along very well. Still do.

Because of this, I wasn't the one to put him to bed at night, get up with him in sickness, and make sure he had his homework done, at least in general.

Sure I called each day and we spent much time together, but it isn't the same as being there each day and night, living together.

Sports were some of our most joyous times spent with one another. The common denominator where he could perform to the best of his ability and I could cheer him on, or up, depending on the outcome. As a little tyke it was bitty basketball, T-ball, bumble-bee soccer (that's where they all move together after the ball) and yes, even some tennis.

When it came to school, it seems like all I could do was ask him if he had his assignments done, or how he'd done on that last test, blah, blah, blah. I think he remembers his school years of me saying that about 10,000 times.

As he got older, the sports were Babe Ruth, soccer … AYSO and AYSA, traveling teams, and less tennis. Sports were in many ways still our special bond.

The influences of living in our time were tough for Nathan. He really wasn't fond of school, doing homework and studying. The friends he wanted to hang out with were not in general what I wanted for my son. So we pulled him out of middle school and put him in a charter school. That was almost worse we found because he was now surrounded with kids who had really fallen behind and the school wasn't much more than a babysitting service from what I observed. Learn at your own speed, yea … right.

Sports were still a good motivator, and the good pats on the back he wasn't getting in school, he was in soccer. His brother Yuri, whom he looked up to, felt he should have played soccer in high school, so he parlayed that thought to Nathan. This meant that Nathan would have to transfer back to Prescott High School, something he decided he needed to do if he were to get back in the mainstream. His sister Destiny and mother helped him catch up with daily tutoring.

During this time he also started going to church. Some of the kids he went to church with also played sports, a couple of them were also on the soccer team at PHS.

He made the junior varsity his first year back as a tenth grader, and to get to play he knew his grades needed to be at a passing level. The new friends he made were good at sports and above average students as well, this type of peer pressure I could readily accept.

His senior year they had an exceptional high school soccer season, especially for a team that was supposed to be in a rebuilding mode. Each game was a learning experience, with maintaining couth under pressure. Old "Red Card Howard" needed to keep it together, even when the other team was trying to get him to flare up. They lost in the semi-finals of the state play-offs, not bad for a team that wasn't supposed to even have a winning season.

Since graduation he made his decision and was accepted to go on a church mission. Maybe he could have gone on to college and played soccer, but this is something he feels so strongly about that I can support and feel good about it as well. Higher education can wait until he returns.

Time has gone by so quickly.

I am very proud of who Nathan has become and we all will sure miss having him near the next 24 months. Pretty sappy I know, but you've probably all gone through this before, it's my first time having someone leave the nest, completely out of reach for the most part.

Two decent parents and strong family ties, a community with excellent teachers and role models, many sporting programs for all ages and abilities, family oriented religions, and a bit of luck, that's all any of us needed to successfully make it in this world to adulthood, right?

PS: Drop-in tennis on Tuesdays and Thursdays now begins at 9 a.m. at the Roughrider Tennis Center. Just remember to bring a can of balls. Three rotations, mainly doubles, 2.5-3.5 ability level, open to the public. Call 778-7071 for more information.

(Chris Howard is a local USTPA tennis professional with over 25 years in the fitness industry).

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