A Father’s Pride: Instilling A Love Of The Game

By Michael Tillery
Updated: August 4, 2005

Children and Sports

NEW YORK — In my opinion, there is no greater feel good moment than to see your children win athletically while succeeding individually. It brings you a strong sense of pride that will never leave you and a powerful, pervasive emotion that you hope will be heartfelt again and again.

I have a total of five children. Michael Jr. 14, Gaston 11, Javin 10, Taylor 9, and Joshua 6. Javin and Josh are my fiancee Brandi’s children, but I consider myself their father because I don’t do the step thing. We are known as the “Brandi Bunch”.

All five are athletes of mind, body, and soul. They all bring certain intangibles that you can’t really teach. Michael Jr. brings a thirst for learning that will bode well when his gifted athleticism matures. Gaston brings stealth, along with a confident physical and mental intelligence that produces steadiness in any arena, at any time.

Javin is my future coach that is always poised to make the play in the clutch and good for any team’s morale because he refuses to lose. His 10 yr. old Canal Little League (DE) all-star team went 3-2 in a tournament where I thought they were the favorite. Taylor, while beautiful, brings a track star’s speed along with potential that is limitless. Taylor’s regular season softball team placed second in the league.

Her Elkton (MD) softball team won a second consecutive 9-10 all-star state tournament recently in her first post season appearance. They went 8-0–while never being challenged–and winning 19-5 in the state championship game. Joshua is the family comedian. In his first year of football he is fearless and gamely mature beyond his years. His youthful enthusiasm may cause his coach to eventually need a neck brace from constantly wondering where he is on the practice field.

Gaston, the most accomplished of the bunch in terms of championships, was named after UCLA’s Gaston Green. I was watching the Freedom Bowl in 1986 with “cat in the dark” eyes while Green single-handedly demoralized BYU’s defense. He rushed for 266 yards, running for 3 touchdowns and throwing a scoring toss of 13 yds. to the current UCLA head coach Karl Dorell.

Green also had two runs for 45 yds. that were nullified because of penalties. I was affected by that game even though the Bruins beat my love, Michigan three years earlier in the Rose Bowl. Green went on to become UCLA’s leading rusher.

Future San Francisco 49ers’ teammates Steve Young and Ken Norton Jr. (17 tackles) were opponents in a game that the Bruins eventually won 31-10. It became apparent to me that day a future son of mine would carry the name Gaston.

Gaston, at age 11, has experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat at an age where most kids are just beginning to play sports. As a quarterback for the Elkton (MD) Golden Elks, he took an undefeated team to the championship game before losing 22-20 to a Perryville squad which Elkton soundly beat during the regular season.

His team was so disappointed and many were teary eyed from such a crushing season ending loss. I had the privilege of doing the chains. This gave me a great opportunity to see the game up close and seeing the fire in my son’s eyes. I’ll never forget him putting the team on his back–passing them down the field with crisp poised passes–and then feeling crushed when the drive stalled inside the twenty as time ran out.

The only thing on my mind was to help him thoroughly understand that this is merely a game and life goes on. There will be better days in sports and also life.

Recently, his Elkton baseball team won the All-Star MD state tournament with an 8-0 record. He hit a 3 run bullet out of South Baltimore’s field in the semifinal game. The shot drove his stepfather to tears and also had me jumping with exuberance and practically breaking my ankle.

During the tournament he threw two runners out from centerfield. One at third and another at home. Each runner was out by a mile. There is no explaining such a feeling from a “Pops” point of view. I still see the cannon being cocked and the surprising look on the faces of the respective runners.

His stepfather Todd, was an offensive coach for his football team and also an assistant on his Little League team, the Yankees. I have to admit that this was very, very difficult for me to handle initially. I coached many successful years and it was my dream to ultimately coach my children in some capacity. I had to reluctantly humble myself to keep the situation sane.

His mother, Heidi and I had a messy divorce in 2001. We both shared in the demise of the union, but it was hard for me to watch as another man did what was my job. Todd has turned out to be a good coach and teaches my son from a totally different and more objective approach. Gaston has acquired basically a balanced athletic personality as a result. Hopefully, one that will help him to become a great student athlete.

As a father, I have learned a great many things from observing my children play “games”. As I alluded to before, the humility I forced myself to experience has taught me patience. Seeing the game through a coach’s eyes, I’ve learned how to teach my children the nuances they need to equip themselves in the future. This is something every sports fan needs to experience.

Every pro athlete started somewhere. We as humans need to humble ourselves and watch the game through a parent’s eyes. I know there are greedy athletes and owners. This doesn’t mean that the Bimbo Coles’, Tommie Aarons’ and Eddie Payton’s aren’t affected by some fans deplorable behavior when watching pro-athletes play a children’s game. Let’s get back to purity. It has to start somewhere.

There is always cause for optimism. Understand that some athletes should be compensated now for helping their respective franchises win the big one. When that same said franchise can cut them in a blink of an eye. I agree that athletes make ridiculous amounts of money to play a game.

Watch the game without prejudice and the envy that comes with it. My kids are in it for the long haul. You never know, I might be writing on their accomplishments and failures from a professional perspective.

Chances are I won’t. If they do become pros, do you seriously think I’m going to bash them for losing even if they left my and their entire families spirits on the field?