A few weeks ago, an opportunity was presented to us for Jackson to meet the University of Tennessee, Knoxville statisticians – the guys who keep track of every yard, every punt, every point for the home football games – a career possibility that Chuck and I have encouraged for Jackson. He’s an excellent math student and has an unquenchable passion for sports. When Jackson realized that a real person was responsible for those recording numbers, all those tiny details that he loves to read and memorize, he latched on to the idea of becoming a statistician.
So, did he want to meet the UT Vols statistician? ABSOLUTELY YES.
Better still, would you like to meet him at the Orange and White Game and sit in the press box and learn all about being a statistician?
There were no words, just one huge smile and eyes that welled with tears. A definite YES.
Charles Child has been keeping the Vols’ stats for three decades, and in recent years he’s been joined by his son, Brian, and son-in-law, David. We met them a couple of hours before kick-off to get a tour of the press box and the field.
We watched the players practice and saw what the stands look like from the ground level. The stadium wasn’t full like it normally is on game day, but it was still impressive.
We met Tim Priest, the familiar voice of the Vol Radio Network and former Tennessee player coached by Doug Dickey.
We ate lunch and enjoyed ice cream and took our seats in the press box as Charles, Brian, and David readied themselves for the game. They were generous to give the boys plenty of media guides and record sheets – piles of information for Jackson to study.
Jeremy and I aren’t stats people, but we enjoyed the special treatment nonetheless.
Members of the U.S. Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, kicked off the game by landing on the field. It was beautiful! (Here’s a video.)
Steve Spurrier received the Neyland Award, a short ceremony that received both cheers and jeers. (More cheers, though.)
Then my favorite – Smokey – took the field and the game was officially on the clock.
They team was split into orange and white, but there were a handful of players in gray. Why? Because gray meant “Do Not Touch.”
Of course, it wasn’t a regular game but rather a scrimmage. A “let’s show them how we’re doing” sort of game. The view from the press box was great.
It wasn’t just about the perks. We learned all about how serious the statistician’s work is, how folks from ESPN hover over them on game days to get all the numbers to all the stations. Though the stats wind up computerized, they keep official records the old-fashioned way – pencil and paper.
While the game is going, all excitement and frustration is tabled. They are record-keeping, not rooting. Aside from high-level math, this is the hurdle Jackson will have to jump. He kept mostly quiet during the scrimmage, but that wouldn’t be the case in a real game. This is the kid who asked to leave the Tennessee-Arkansas game early last year because he was getting too emotional and knew he was going to blow.
On the way home on Saturday, Jackson said that the whole experience had been a dream come true. He didn’t stop smiling the entire day, and while most of us wouldn’t care about the mounds of stats and records, Jackson has been reading them at length and regurgitating random facts like revelations.
So many times I’ve looked at the face of this sweet child and wondered, “Where will you end up? Where will you go? What will you do?” Perhaps those questions got answered on Saturday.