This is one of the greatest nights of the year for players, coaches, parents, cheerleaders and media members alike.
It’s the start of the Texas high school football season.
For me, it’s a double-edged sword because it’s Aug. 31.
On one end, it’s easily one of my favorite nights of the year because everybody in the state has the same chance of reaching Arlington. I love getting to see coaches from across the area on a regular basis and, during the nondistrict slate, seeing coaches such as Georgetown’s Jason Dean and Lubbock Monterey’s Wayne Hutchinson, who were assistant coaches at Abilene High when I was there as a student from 1997-2001.
On the other hand, for just the second time since 2007, the season is starting on the last day of the month and it won’t happen that way again until 2029.
In the weeks leading up to the 2007 season, my grandmother (who I called Mei Mei) was in hospice care at Hendrick Medical Center here in Abilene.
Mei Mei suffered from dementia, which is a cruel disease. She had moved in with my parents and sister and one of the highlights of her week was when I would pick her up on my way to work for her to go to the hairdresser.
She looked forward to going to see Jimmie Kay Kennedy, a longtime family friend who did my mom’s hair for as long as I can remember.
As the season drew near, my grandmother’s health started to deteriorate quickly as she was in hospice.
The week that the season kicked off, both of my parents and I each spent a night at the hospital independently (and unknowingly) from each other to tell her that she didn’t have to hang on any more and that she didn’t have to fight it anymore.
I spent most of Aug. 31, 2007, at the hospital with her because there was nowhere else I wanted to be.
At the time, I was the webmaster for the Abilene Reporter-News, which on Friday nights did a live webcast hosted by local TV personality George Levesque. The webcast was 30 minutes and I produced it as we recapped all the area games from that night.
About 4:45 that afternoon, my parents told me that it was fine to go home, change and head to work, so I did.
Before I was able to drive 20 blocks across town to get home to change, Dad was calling and told me to head back to the hospital and to get there as quickly as I possibly could.
Mei Mei listened to us.
Less than an hour after we all thought she was going to hang around and fight for another day, she was gone. It was two hours before the season kicked off.
Longtime Abilene High team physician Shannon Cooke was her orthopedic doctor, and just minutes after she had passed, Dr. Cooke was the first person to come see us.
Like me, Dr. Cooke loves football season and when we asked why he was at the hospital with us instead of at Shotwell Stadium with the AHS football team, he had a response that 11 years later still sticks with me.
“This is where I need to be.”
That’s a quote that to this day I think about on the opening night of the season.
The start of the season is always tough on me because of the reminder of losing my grandmother.
The 2012 season started on Aug. 31 and was hard. I know tonight is going to be hard, too, but I’m going to have a chicken tender basket from Dairy Queen for dinner (it was Mei Mei’s favorite place to eat out with me as I grew up) and then I’m headed to the press box at Shotwell Stadium for the Keller-Cooper game.
Why? Because in the words of Dr. Cooke, “This is where I need to be.”