Like many others, columnist's sons learn life lessons on the pitch and in the pool

It all started with regular soccer scrimmages in the back yard, my oldest son, then 4 years old, and I locked in battle well after dark, often in the pouring rain and yet having a lot of fun.

Soon, Brendon advanced to playing on park and rec teams. He did well, typically one of the top scorers on his teams, and his mom and I really enjoyed our outings to one field or another to cheer him on.

Then Brendon’s younger brother, Barrett, caught the sports bug after attempting a number of different disciplines. He settled on swimming and was soon joined by his brother to compete for the Chehalem Swim Team.

And so the years went on. Brendon, fed up with the politics and dysfunction of playing soccer in Newberg, chose instead to apply his swim skills playing high school and club water polo. Barrett competed for CST for a number of years before starting high school and also joining the school’s vaunted water polo program, legendary in Newberg for its success in bringing home multiple state championships.

By this time we had had one or both offspring involved in sports for a decade. That was nearly seven years ago. Since then Brendon played on three state high school championship water polo teams, traveled three times to California to join his teammates on Junior Olympic teams, won a couple of State Games of Oregon titles and developed into a player his coaches could count on to compete hard and smart.

Barrett has followed in his brother’s footsteps, starting for NHS the past two seasons as he learned the intricacies of a physically and mentally demanding sport. He has shared successes with his teammates, competed in Junior Olympics and the team recently took first in the State Games of Oregon, beating a squad of veteran players much larger and much more experienced then they.

And all the while, their mother and I cheered on the sidelines and sometimes, because I often covered the games for the Graphic, from the pool deck as well.

It’s been a privilege to watch our boys compete at levels I certainly never reached as a second-tier baseball and football player in high school. They have learned, as was my goal from the start, the value of team work, of working toward a common goal with a group of people. They’ve learned the importance of self-discipline and mental toughness. They’ve learned that no matter how hard you try there are going to be times when things just don’t go your way.

But now it’s done. Brendon graduated from high school in 2011 and, like many, commencement marked the end of his competitive sports career. His brother, who graduated from NHS in June, is off to California on Friday and his final Junior Olympics. When he returns his efforts will switch to raising cash and preparing himself to join his brother in seeking engineering degrees at OSU.

This is a bittersweet time for us. For the past 16 years we’ve supported our boys’ endeavors on the pitch and in the pool, but that phase of our lives is over now. Over are the days when we rose early and sometimes literally drug the boys’ into the Montero to get them to a swim meet or water polo tourney. Gone are the days of cheering our boys’ efforts when they won and consoling them when they didn’t. Done are the neverending fundraising efforts and the pinching pennies to pay fees and buy Speedos.

The backyard, where this journey into youth sports started, is now a refuge of plants, a hammock and a fountain.

It’s quiet — much too quiet.

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