Music & Sports by Sharon O’Donnell

My youngest son Jason’s track out break from school is over, and I think it was rather productive and fun. There was that trip to the NC mountains where he and I had a blast snow tubing, and Jason took some snowboarding lessons (although he went from the bunny slope to the next biggest hill a bit too quickly resulting in a rather embarrassing fall — like mother, like son, I guess). The trip was fun, but most of Jason’s track-out time has been centered on music. He has really gotten into music lately, primarily due to the his good experience in the 6th grade band at school. Jason played clarinet the first part of the year, and then he switched to tenor sax in late December. It’s really cool to find him looking at YouTube videos of some of the great jazz musicians. He’s been taking piano lessons for the past year — only 30 minutes a week but it provides that spark that he seems to need to continue and get better. A few weeks ago, Jason and I both volunteered at the county middle school All-County band auditions, which his school hosted. Since Jason was only in 6th grade, he was ineligible (and too inexperienced) to try out, but he wanted to go to hear the others. Afterwards, he asked if he could take private saxophone lessons so he could get as good as those other kids. Luckily, I found a wonderful teacher near our house, and so Jason’s taking saxophone lessons from him 30 minutes a week also. I love the fact that he has this interest. A lot of it is because his school band instructor is very good; he inspires and encourages the kids, and he makes music fun. My middle son played trombone for two years in 6th and 7th grades, but he gave it up, due in part to the teacher he had who yelled and belittled, instead of encouraging. Makes a big difference.

The other reason my middle son quit band was because he was so into sports, particularly baseball and basketball. And I have to say, I truly enjoyed watching him and my older son play sports in high school and middle school. Jason has played baseball and basketball too, but it is getting to the point now that he likes playing music more than he does playing sports. He is deviating from the path he saw his brothers take, choosing his own interests, becoming his own person. Of course, that is fine with me. As I told Jason, I’ve never once in my adult life watched a pro basketball player and thought to myself, “Wow, I really wish I could express myself in that way.” But there have been thousands of times I’ve heard someone play music and thought to myself, “How I wish I could play like that!” Musical skills are something you can use the rest of your life and are incredibly fulfilling.

On the flip side of that is that participation in sports is good for one’s health. And to be honest, I simply love to watch my sons play. Yet, if Jason is losing his inner desire and motivation to play, then he should stop and pursue music or whatever his passion is. He told us last week that he doesn’t think he wants to play baseball this spring because he didn’t enjoy it much last year, even though he’s played since he was 5. He also said he’s becoming scared how hard some of the pitchers throw, which I can understand. But my middle son who played baseball in high school and the American Legion stopped playing ball when he entered college in the fall, and I miss seeing him play so much after so many years. On a beautiful spring-like January day, I texted my husband and wrote, “On a day like this, I really miss going out to see David play baseball.” My husband wrote back that he felt the same. But David had chosen not to go to a smaller college to pursue baseball, as some of his friends had done; he was ready to focus on academics and move on. A mature decision indeed. But it was still a hard one. For him and for us as parents.

So it’s tough for Jason to say he wants to give up baseball this same season that David won’t be playing for the first time since 1999. After years of rec ball, travel AAU ball, summer Legion ball, high school ball, weekend tournaments, etc., it was all gone overnight. Jason showed some talent for baseball too, particularly with hitting. Just last fall he was taking pitching and hitting lessons and seemed to enjoy it. He got his first expensive, state-of-the-art bat last fall too. And now suddenly, he wants to give it up. I know he needs to do what his heart tells him to do. But man, it’s difficult for parents to see their kids make these decisions and — at the same time – to give up part of their own lives.