In 4 of our first 6 seasons, prior to the pandemic, St Johnsbury Academy advanced to the State Championship game. Given the forecast conclusion to the season, we planned and executed a celebration of our seniors’ last practice. While we’ve made the playoffs in every other season, if we don’t make it to the championship, the playoff loss stops the advance, ending things abruptly, and without celebration.
During those years, when we knew it was our last practice, we established a tradition where we would all meet in the middle of our field and invite the seniors to go to their most memorable spot on the field. The underclassmen make notice of each senior and his/her location. Then the seniors are asked to return to the team and explain where they went and why it was so meaningful. For some, it is the spot of their first start, first tackle, or first score. One player went off the field to a spot just inside the stadium where he said he made his first friends after moving here. Another went behind the goalposts where he used to shag extra points for the varsity when he was only a freshman. One of my all-time favorites was a player who went to where we break down after every practice and say “brothers.” He went on to explain that location is where he first felt like he was a part of something bigger than himself. Part of a family…
After the last senior shares their story, the underclassmen line up in a gauntlet at the edge of the field so they can have one last hug and share parting words with each senior as they make their way through the line of players with eyes filled with tears.
This tradition is too special to only do on those years when we reach Championship Saturday, so now we come out to the field on the first Monday after our last game. Regardless of how far we advance in the playoffs, our seniors are celebrated, their legacy passed on, and the tradition continues.
Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at firstname.lastname@example.org and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!