It's the best of times and the worst of times.
OK, I'm no Charles Dickens and this isn't a Tale of Two Cities.
It's the postseason in prep sports, when the highs are exhilarating and the lows are excruciating, particularly for the seniors, many of whom have spent the better part of their young lives preparing for the moment. It can culminate in glory, but more often than not, it doesn't, and the end is abrupt, whether you lost by one run like Hebron and Clark or by 20 like Michigan City in Wednesday's opening day of baseball sectionals.
I can't pretend to imagine the feeling of taking off your school's uniform for the last time. I wasn't good enough of an athlete to reach that level — just a few varsity golf matches on my 'resume' — but any parent who has had kids play high school sports knows the pain. You feel it for them, hurting because you know there isn't anything magical you can say or do to make them feel better.
I only speak of baseball because it's personal to me, though it applies just the same to every sport from cross country to tennis. Mom and Dad do their best to make their children's athletic dreams come true, whatever they may be. It ends at some point for everybody, for the fortunate few at venues like Victory Field.
Then after that final out, the memories come flooding back. The image of that now-bearded 18-year old when he was 2, knocking a wiffle ball off a Fisher-Price tee with an over-sized plastic bat, putting the tiny glove on the wrong hand and tossing the ball about six inches. Doesn't seem like that long ago.
I still see the hurt in the faces of the players, but as I get older, I find myself searching out the parents more and more, watching their eyes and wondering what's going through their minds. This has been life as you know it for at least the last decade — depending on how many kids you have — and now it's done. Even if your child is among the select few to continue playing in college, it's never going to be the same as it is in high school, when you've been with many of the same kids and parents you've been with since T-Ball and juice box days.
You've experienced the roller coaster of emotions, dealt with all the peaks and valleys, and now the ride is pulling back into the station. It's all over. What do you do next? What's been normal isn't going to be the norm anymore. I've never stopped missing it. I've just been fortunate enough to continue to be around it and live vicariously through the people you get to know along the way.
For the rest of you, I don't know how you fill the void. You can have dinner at a normal hour that's not served in a box. You can get more yard work done. You can take that vacation that's been on hold since you were a young couple. Those aren't answers, just a few suggestions.
If you've got a few ride tickets left, enjoy them while they last. Buckle up, hold on, cheer until you're hoarse. There are no refunds, only memories that will last forever.