The Power of Sports

Phil Avalos, coach phil avalos, anaheim hs football

Today is a travel day. I’m on my way home – SoCal, to be exact. Buying last minute tickets stinks, so I went as cheap as possible – which has turned into long layovers and three plane changes. I’m hanging out with a view of the NYC skyline, at the moment. I’m heading home under less than positive circumstances, to say the least.

My dad – who was already not in good health after a previous heart attack/stroke, is in the ICU and on life support since Sunday morning. There’s a lot that awaits me when I get there.

My dad on Egyptian television

My dad was a football (also coached a few other things – like strength and conditioning – along the way) coach all of my life. Though he coached high school football most of the time, he also coached college football and several semi-pro, international teams (Egypt, Brazil, and Germany). It was his life’s passion and he left an indelible mark on the young men that he coached. In recent days, as I’ve shared updates about my dad, tagging him so family & his former players could see, I’ve received messages and comments like, “Your Dad is a great man that can take a group of boys, mold them into men, and champions on the field.”

I’ve known this about him & the power of sports, my whole life. People can easily misunderstand something that is “just a game” and view it as seemingly insignificant. I guess compared to some things, it probably is. Except when I see and hear about the impact a coach makes on teenagers who didn’t have anyone else believe in them or who simply needed to learn discipline, to believe in themselves, or to learn the value of a team. I’m sure there are many other lessons, but that sums it up.

Beyond visiting my dad’s bedside (early morning hours of Wednesday), this is how I choose to see him. Though I am expecting the worst, based on my conversations with the ICU – including moments ago, I just choose to see him this way.

When we were little, Matthew and I spent a lot of time in the summer, running around Anaheim HS and our autumn was a Friday Night Lights (and later Saturdays at Pomona College) kind of childhood. Life is hard & complicated. What lies ahead is hard & complicated. However many days of my dad’s life remain, I will always see him this way.

His last international coaching gig.

Football . . . It’s Not Just a Game


football,  Football, High School Football, Friday Night Lights

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Football season is upon us!

I’ve had a longstanding love affair with the game of football. You can blame my dad and nearly all the males and most of the females, on that side of my family. But . . . my dad is a high school football coach which means it’s kind of in my blood.

Growing up, my dad coached high school and college football {and now coaches high school again}. We were a football watching family – on my dad’s side. UCLA on Saturday’s, the Rams for professional football, and Friday nights during the high school season were all dedicated to the game.

But being a coach’s kid is more than just the season itself. It’s a year-round deal, though things kick up in the summer. When we were young, my grandparents lived within walking distance to Anaheim High School, where my dad coached. We would walk down from their house if he was already there. Occasionally, my Grandpa fed the players.

One time, he made a huge amount of his ridiculously spicy burritos. Everyone who was in the house that day wrapped burritos – for the whole team. We received our instructions on wrapping properly and went to it. No wonder I love feeding my Marines. 😉

During summer practices, my brother and I often occupied ourselves while the players worked out in the gym, while my dad watched tape in the office, or during practice itself. I remember my brother hiding in the coach’s office. I can still see flashes of memory – us crawling around and {probably being annoying} while my dad watched tape.

When my dad would take a break {probably because we whined so much} we would play “tennis” on the tennis courts or swim in the pool {which has sadly been closed since 2007}. Matt & I wandered all over that school. We played, fought, and made up games. And at least for me, I fell in love with football and Anaheim High School, in particular.

The team worked out under these bleachers!

Matt and I would eat super nutritious snacks {I’m sure my mom was thrilled with all the junk food we ate on those visits.} in the gym – Corn Nuts and Coke. I’m convinced I was prepared for working around a few hundred Marines from those early days in that loud, smelly gym, with . . . interesting language. These are among my fondest memories from childhood.

Anaheim High School was not only where my parents {and aunts & uncles} attended high school, but it’s also an old school {established in 1898} with a lot of pride. Our home games were played at Glover Stadium in Anaheim.


Those Friday nights, under the bright lights, will stay with me forever. We had some good Friday nights. And we had some not so good nights. When we won, I was elated and couldn’t sleep afterwards {good thing my Grandma let me stay up and watch TV with her}.

If we lost, there was no doubt about it . . . I was mad! During the playoffs one year, as the rain poured down on us {that never happened} and the Set Free bikers {don’t Google them…haha} prayed that our guys would pull out a win {literally on the microphone praying}, we lost. And it SUCKED. I’ll never forget that feeling. I was devastated – as if I’d played myself.

Anaheim High School, Alma Mater, Colonist Spirit

Football is not just a game. It’s a culture, it’s my childhood, it’s the cooling air of a SoCal fall, with Santa Ana winds sometimes blowing, the band playing, my Grandpa heckling the referees, the familiar voice of the announcers, and singing the Alma Mater at the end of the game. Football was as much a part of my life as anything else.

As an adult, football has changed a bit for me. I don’t find myself in the stands on Friday nights. But if you mess with my Panthers, I’ll take you out {Do not tempt me. Haha.}. But one thing that remains is the love for a game that is tied to nearly every good memory of those years with my dad.

football, Anaheim High School, For the Bell

Last year was a terrible season for the Panthers. So as the hangover from the crappy season wore off, it became clear that my team was getting back a little of the joy and fun they have playing this game. When they’re at their peak {team spirit wise} they remind me of all of the best things about football.

As the season has grown closer, I’ve gotten more and more excited. And bonus . . . I think my team has their heart back. This year feels like it could be a good one. 🙂 But even if it’s not, I’m still ridiculously excited.

Every year at this time, I start reminiscing about those early years of growing up with a coaching dad. And sometimes, when I’m standing in a room full of young Marines and I wonder how I’m not shocked by something they say or do {haha} it’s probably because I received enough training when I was eight, surrounded by a bunch of big dudes acting like it was no thing at all. 😉

This surely isn’t the best post I’ve ever written. There’s more I’d like to say – so much more. But I’ll leave it at this . . . my childhood would be drastically different without this game. It is one of my favorite parts of my elementary – junior high years.

I wouldn’t be the same person without football. Without football, I wouldn’t be me.