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Giving thanks for kids in sports

Driving with my 16-year-old son in the passenger seat, earbuds in, listening to his version of hype music. Some of it is classic rock, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC. Thank goodness. The other is this modern techno and this new, mundane rap. My eyes roll as we progress forward.

Few words are said, Erik and I have been on this drive before. Basketball, tennis, but on this day, and most drives, involve the beautiful game, soccer. All I tell him is to have fun when I drop him off to be with his high school team.

I tell my daughter, Alexa, the same whether the drive is to softball, basketball or volleyball. It’s different with her. There is plenty of talking, with her telling me about her friends and her day. She’s always been a chatty one, full of life and smiles. She’s the first one to encourage her teammates, always aggressive on the floor. She has a fighting spirit, especially with a deep, intense stare on defense. It’s fun to see her passion for the game.

Gathering together, huddling up after a point, volleyball is much different. I’ve covered this sport on the varsity level, but seeing your own child out there, having fun with her friends, is one of those soul-touching moments — almost like cuddling a soft, fluffy dog.

I see Alexa on the slow-pitch softball mound, sending an arcing throw toward home plate and seemingly into the night sky on the west side of Youngstown with lights illuminating the playing surface.

It is her stage, a great singer and actress in her own right — two talents straight from my wife, Michele, on that sandy platform.

Meanwhile, Erik’s 6-foot frame fills up the 8-foot by 24-foot goal dimensions on the pitch, trying to protect every inch of that space — not letting the ball swish through the netting in the background.

I’ve been to many soccer games in the past, but it’s difficult watching your own flesh and blood sacrificing his body as his team’s last line of defense in the midst of the flurry of the opposition trying to score.

Anxious moments, can’t sit in the stands. Yelling at the officials is not my jam. I’d rather be on the sidelines capturing moments on my camera or be the team’s public address announcer during home games.

Seeing Erik dive and save attempt after attempt was nerve-wracking to say the least. I mumbled under my breath, “C’mon Erik, let’s go.” I breathed a sigh of relief with every save and was ecstatic he upended an opposing player on a breakaway in the second half inside the goalkeeper’s box. Quick fist pump from his father.

There was one attempt that slipped past Erik after two amazing saves in the waning minutes of the first half. Though my heart sank, I was well aware there were 40 more minutes remaining in this hard-fought game between two of the better boys soccer teams in the area.

Eventually, it became a 1-0 loss; season ended. I’ve seen it so many times, high school players crying at the game’s end. Much different when you look through a camera lens and it’s your own child pouring out his emotions.

I was a parent, not a sportswriter that night. It’s a luxury I’ve been afforded — to see my children excel on different fields of play.

For these moments, I truly give thanks.