Above the Dynamics of High School Athletics
Columnist Sean Walsh tells us about Andrew Ellis, a special Barnstable High School senior athlete.
The dynamics of high school and high school athletics never cease to amaze me.
There are the hangers-on. The groupies. The wannabees.
There are the BMOCs. There are the BWOCs, although, I must confess, I am not certain I have ever actually heard that term before.
There are the manipulators. There are the pretenders. There are the fans, in both good and bad ways, and there are the complainers. There are the duplicitous has-beens and the feigning heroes of yore. There are the "Jocks," still, and there are the bullies and then there are those whose glory fades as quickly as the setting sun.
Bruce Springsteen sang about them. Robert Frost, in part, wrote about them. Almost every person I know, has some sort of story that hinges upon the modern dynamic of high school sports.
Then, sort of hovering in the mists between reality and heroism and idle banter, there exists a sort of lone soldier. A young, rough and tumble teenage man who has readily earned that mantle, then earned the title of manhood, and he has done so without caring one iota about his "press clippings" or the false bravado of testorone-fueled adolescence.
His name is imbued with humility because it is a name as old as Cape Cod itself. His name harkens back to a day when the day's work was half-done before sunrise and every male physiologically able would cart bales of hay, milk cows or hoist sails high above wooden masts on stormy seas.
His name is Andrew Ellis and he is a top student and athlete immersed in his senior year at Barnstable High School.
Andrew is a young man I first remember seeing when he was but 8- or 9-years-old, blonde, flat-topped, hulking, brooding... even then. It appeared even at such a precocious age that this tank-bodied tyke was destined for something special and lest we forget, that something special came at Gillette Stadium not more than a few weeks ago. It seems like years already since Ellis' Red Raiders hammered and scrapped and battled against the foe of all foes, Everett High in the MIAA Div. 1A Super Bowl.
And as Everett High screamed and hooted and hollered and celebrated midfield on the magic carpet of the New England Patriots, slowly walking into and up the concrete stairs was this magical, special young man, Ellis.
The son and grandson and brother of so many heralded Red Raiders before him, this captain of the Red & White Eleven ignored even then the searing, undeniable pain in his knee he had carried along with him all season long.
Countless news clips. Seemingly innumerable awards and honors. Incredibly uplifting victories in every type of imaginable weather. Still, this young captain and one of the greatest linebackers in the history of Barnstable High School football, refused to give into the pain. His knee was torn since August. The black mechanical knee brace adorning his leg, an almost useless, vestigial appendage. He forced himself to be immune to it. He forced himself to overcome every nagging doubt. He refused to give in and en route to Barnstable High's first Super Bowl visit since 1999, he sacrificed his body, his well-being and his future to attempt what often seemed unattainable: a football state title for the vaunted Red & White.
The tears flowed. The sorrow sank in. The pundits questioned what his team had done wrong to lose such an enormous opportunity.
But as he limped away into the night, his head held high, there was no shame in a simple score on a digital scoreboard. In a world entrenched and bemused and bewitched by technology and statistics and scouting reports and corruption, there was nothing more pure, nothing more real and tangible than the performance this young man gave that day at Gillette Stadium, or in any game he had played in since he first donned the Red and White jersey of his forebearers.
If the ghosts of ancient sea captains and soldiers and blacksmiths and farmers and every possible past American could be summoned and represented in an image of a limping, stoic young man's exit from the hallowed stadium in Foxboro on a snowy, bitter December afternoon, then it was his.
Proud. Resolute. Undaunted. Sacrificial, and representative of all that remains pure and holy in a simple game played for simple reasons by sometimes exemplary young men who possess all that we hope remains in a bitter jaded world.
When you could hear above the din of the crowd amid horns and howls the deep resonation of his grandmother's voice to "hit 'em hard, hit 'em hard," it was as if the voice of over 300 years of sacrifice had not yet perished or faultered and it was as if this young, unselfish, unassuming, fire-branded young captain had grown from the tow-headed young scrapper he once was into the quintessence of what it has always meant to be a member in good standing of the Red Raiders.
But why is Andrew Ellis so worthy of mention in an online column? Why should he stand out, alone, worthy of so many words and phrases and comparisons? Why not the estimable Nick Peabody, Ivy-League bound and brilliant and handsome and ambitious? Why not the relatively unheralded mastodon of the Red Raider offensive line, Tom Grimmer? Grimmer is rumored to be the strongest young man in the town of Barnstable, let alone at Barnstable High? Why not the diminutive, lightning-fast touchdown-scoring machine, Tedaro France? Or even the bright, Cornell-bound defensive stalwart Ryan Litchman? Why not fellow hard-hitting linebacker and Bentley-bound Bryan Hardy?
Because not too many people realized when they cheered and shouted and rooted for this year's Red Raider Eleven that what they were witnessing was a living, breathing example of what all Americans once prided themself on and what some of us still hang onto.
What few people may know is that this young man, this last in a long line of Ellis's to serve the constant fight for, some might be so bold to say, American values, was the embodiment, the physical representative of what football was meant to represent. He embodied what Vince Lombardi said so well and in words we cannot duplicate other than to repeat here.
Walking up those concrete steps into the snow-flurried night, his body exhausted and spent and battered and in intense pain, Andrew Ellis glowed with an aura he could not have felt or discerned in consciousness.
Lombardi said “Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him. It’s something we call heart power. Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop him short of success.”
The scoreboard may have said Everett 21, Barnstable 20, but in this writer's heart and perception, no living human being in that stadium that bitterly cold and heart-breaking day, could have represented "heart power" more than that displayed by one of the most inspiring young men he has ever met in his entire life.
Sean Walsh is an award-winning journalist, author, coach and father who lives in Marstons Mills. He has been a writing professionally since 1981. He is a teacher at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School. His column appears here, on The Patch, from time to time.