Watching a group of seniors head off to college
I remember when my son, Blake, started his senior football season last fall. It began a countdown of sorts. Eight games. Seven. Six. And then, tears, as the clock hit 0.00 for the last time in the playoffs. The same could be said about expiring innings, although to a lesser extent in terms of passion (at least for me), for his senior baseball season that ended earlier this summer.
It was over.
The good news was that we were going to have one final competition among his group of 18-year-olds, who are either heading to Madison or La Crosse in short order for college. I had either watched, or coached, many them over the years, so it was a blessing to coach them once more, but this time on how to catch bass on Okauchee Lake.
We had a very informal “tournament” where they measured the lengths of their longest five fish. The kid with the most overall inches of boated fish won.
The roster included Blake, Will Summers, Nate Darin, and Sam Braunschweig, all from Washington County. They had various levels of experience in golf, baseball, soccer, football and – this day – bass fishing in Waukesha.
We headed out for post-spawn bass that were still in the shallows, or those that had just slipped out to the first drop-off adjacent to spawning flats. While I tried to explain the reasoning for our tactics, I could tell they didn’t want to hear a lecture. They wanted to get casting. Plenty of time for listening and taking notes this fall regarding finance, biology, or physical therapy – the majors they will be focusing on.
The first person to hook up was the least experienced; Summers was on the board. He also was the first to begin the smack talk.
“Got another one,” Summers said.
Up two fish, you could tell the boys were beginning to get nervous. Then Darin landed one of his own. Then Blake – a double. As we fished thoughts drifted to memorable plays all the way back to youth sports. At one time or another, this group had all played together in football, baseball or both.
A QB sneak against Kewaskum for Summers. A clutch hit from Darin in U-10. A great run from Blake against Homestead. Braunschweig gunning down a kid trying to steal second.
The boys kept casting and Summers extended his lead a bit.
We made a couple brief moves, but with 90-degree weather the ski boats and pontoons were out with a vengeance and prevented some of my spots from being fished. I asked if they wanted to finish out at the spot we started, and they all voted yes.
We had 45 minutes left. Summers still had a good lead, with Darin in second, then Blake, then Braunschweig.
But then, Braunschweig set the hook on something big. Very, very big. The rod bent more than one of my newly-planted apple trees in a recent storm. Then a horrible sound occurred that could be described as the hissing of a Demogorgan from “Stranger Things,” lightning, maniacal graphite laughter, and sorrow. All at once.
Braunschweig’s rod shattered in two pieces. Folks, you don’t spit into the wind – and don’t win a battle with a stump.
Now picture back to “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie knocked the bolts into the snow when trying to help his dad change the tire.
Braunschweig channeled Ralphie.
“Oh no, that was my brother’s rod,” he said. “I didn’t even ask him to borrow it.”
At that point, the laughter and smack talk hit a peak and even some people on shore were laughing. There was no mercy.
The next couple minutes were crazy with Summers cooling off, but Blake and Darin getting hot. Blake landed one. Then Darin. Then Blake. With only 4 inches separating them, it was time for a last cast – literally, one last cast at 12:59 p.m.. One minute from “lines out.”
“Got one,“ Blake yelled. “And it’s big!”
The boys in unison began screaming, “GET OFF.” Or, “NO.” And, “No Way!”
Halfway back to the boat, a lead-changing 16-incher jumped and threw Blake’s hook, sealing Summers’ victory.
The day couldn’t have ended with more drama and fun. Yeah, there were prizes and bragging rights, but for me it was about just being out there with boys, um, I mean men, who weren’t too cool or too busy to hang with a 50-year-old.
For those few hours I forgot that Blake wouldn’t be lounging on floor with his dog watching the Packers with me this fall. Making breakfast won’t be the same when I’m not making his favorite omelet (bacon and cheese) before school. I wouldn’t get to tell him he did a good job at the game, or try to say some inspiring words if he didn’t.
At least I’ll have the memories of this trip with these “boys” to pick me up when I’m feeling down this fall from their absence.
Until next time, fellas. I’ll have the rods ready for next spring and my boat will always have an open spot.