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High School Football: Team Doctor Was This Year's MVP

The high school football team where I live in Texas fell just short of the playoffs this year, but its MVP never played a down.

Doctor, Doctor

Our team was very lucky.  Not only did we have coaches, assistant coaches, trainers, and assistant trainers, but standing on the sideline, cheering every play and guarding the buckets of ice cold Gatorade were a couple of the most talented orthopedic surgeons in the entire state of Texas.

They were there because they wanted to be part of the team and served for free (I can only imagine what it would have cost had they been charging!), although I guess you could say they did get paid in a sense: all the Gatorade they could drink and all the cookies and cupcakes they could eat!

So, with the end of the fall sports season and before the December holidays arrive, I want to recognize my friends' service and what they give back to so many with their time and talent.  They treated everyone assembled under the lights every Friday night with respect and professionalism, from players to coaches, from cheerleaders and the drill team, to the band and spirit group who waved flags after touchdowns, treating not just injured players, but fans as well. Goal line of football field at the pylon

One of the doctors is someone I know especially well. He played sports in high school, and is still an athlete: not only is he a scratch golfer and can hold his own on the basketball court, but he coaches b-ball as well. You can see the twinkle in his eye on Friday night. He looks like he would happily go in the game if his number was called. This season they called his number a lot, but for triage not for touchdowns!

One Friday in October, I knew my friend had had a bad week. He was not feeling well at all. Indeed, I was shocked to see him on the sideline. He was checking on several of the players injured in previous games, sharing a joke and a laugh, watching and cheering. It had to be hard while not feeling his best.

Then a player got hurt. It was obvious that the injury was more than just the trainers could handle. The doctor jogged out to check on the kid and help bring him back to the sideline. I knew that the doctor was hurting, but he never showed it; in fact, I think attending the game actually helped him feel better because he looked a lot happier and healthier at the end of the game than at the start.

Painful end

The final game of the season is still painful to think about. Though its roster was depleted by injury after injury, the team was still hopefull of making the playoffs, even as back-ups replaced starters, and back-ups to the back-ups were called into action.  On Thanksgiving weekend, a large contingent of the team's fans drove out of town for the final game (and for those of you who don't know Texas, out of town can mean hours on the road, not just minutes!).

The game was a classic. The teams were tied at the end of the third quarter. With 4 minutes left to go in the game, our Senior quarterback was hit, and hit hard. No time for a trainer to call for the doctor; he was there in seconds.  The injury: a broken collarbone that meant the end of the QB's night and his season.  I knew that the young man and the team doctor had a relationship going back many years, both as friends and as doctor-patient. You could sense that the doctor took the injury hard.  The young man's parents came to the edge of the rail to see their son and speak to the doctor.  Everyone had tears in their eyes.

The team fought on without him, and with 17 seconds left in the game, had a chance for a tying field goal, but for a fumbled snap to end the game and their season. For most of the seniors, the final whistle meant the end of their football careers, but, while there a lot of long faces, their spirit still shone through.  The team gathered in the middle of the field one last time. The wounded quarterback just sat on the bench, stunned. The doctor encouraged him to get up and join the circle.  Two teammates helped him to the center of the field. The player from the opposing team, whose hit had knocked him out of the game, came over and told him he was sorry.  The injured player accepted his apology with grace, and the team doc shook the young man's hand.  Doc then grabbed the injured quarterback's gear and helmet and headed to the locker room while the QB joined the huddle one last time.

Though the game had ended, the night was not quite over for the team doctor. In the parking lot on the way home from the game, the head coach got into an accident. The team doctor was there to treat him.  On the long ride home, Doc fielded phone calls about the injured, and for the next several days he coordinated the coach's follow-up care. A tough year lasted a little bit longer.

Band(aid) of Brothers

My doctor friend has provided free medical care to our high school team for many years.  Another doctor has been on the side lines for more than 20 years. The reason, I believe, they continue to dedicate their Friday nights every fall to be on the sidelines is because  their gifts of time and their talent to the team - to this civilian "Band of Brothers"  - are repaid many times over.

It is fabulous to part of a team no matter what your age and what position you play. You can be hurt, but healthy in spirit at the same time. It is simple, and not just for talented doctors. It was obvious, even in the minutes after the game. The season was over, but he continued to give the gift of his expertise.

We ALL have something to give and gifts to receive in return. We just have to look for the opportunities. GOOD coaches are always needed at the youth level, fair referees who enjoy teaching and blowing their whistles, someone selling hot chocolate in the snack shack, and selling programs. They all make important contributions.  Our high school football team is so very lucky to have talented doctors standing guard on the sideline as the first line of defense against serious injury.

As the lights are turned off in the football stadium for the year, our community is already looking foward to the 2012 season. We wonder who will be coming back and whether the team will have another chance at a championship season.

My answer is a resounding "yes!" The reason is simple: because I know that this season's MVP (Most Valuable Physician) will be back for another season. The rest of the team will just have to step it up to play with the best.

Gretchen Rose is a wife and mom of a teen and tween in Dallas, Texas. She and her husband are owners of KidzMat, the premier organizational equipment for all youth sports teams. 

Posted December 15, 2011