MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon High School class of 2017 is getting old. OK, “old” is pushing it. Let’s not get crazy. We’re talking 20 or 21 years old at the most.
Still, that’s an age where you start seeing shadows of life’s past. The Wiffle Park mound has been leveled in the Moores’ backyard. Kids are getting deep into college. That feeling of “being out of place” at home starts to creep.
“It’s different now,” said Tristan Wirfs, who was the designated “big kid” of the group. “We’re all off to college. Everyone comes back at different times, but you love seeing each other. Heritage Days is always a good time.”
The youth sports part of this comes with the ache of “rite of passage.”
Jan Moore is the mother of Sam Moore, who built Wiffle Park. She was the unofficial team photographer for the youth wrestling program, the Youth Sports Foundation football team and the Mount Vernon Copperheads travel baseball team.
She misses her job.
“I’d do just about anything to go back and relive the boys’ football days!” Jan wrote. “Although I certainly don’t miss the worry that comes from watching my kid and his teammates putting it all out there on the field week after week, season after season, for each other, their school and their community. I happen to be ‘a tad’ bit of a worrier in general.”
Jan actually responded in email. She knew she would get to “blubbery reminiscing.”
It’s OK, Jan, you weren’t the only one.
Jessica Wirfs, Tristan’s aunt and Sarah’s sister, hit enough of the kids’ events to get a feel for the families.
“I miss them so much,” Jessica said. “You worry about if you’re ever going to see them again.”
It actually went deeper than even that.
“We all played on the same baseball team. We all played the same sports,” Tristan said. “So, it was year-round with them and their families 24/7. It was like we were our own little family. We all had younger siblings in the same class. We were all pretty close.”
Tristan’s sister, Kaylia, ran down a list of siblings in the same class.
“All of us sisters were in it,” she said. “Kyleigh (Garcia) and Reagan (Light) are my best friends to this day. We’ve basically known them all of our lives.”
The youth teams didn’t go by the “one poor dad doing all the work” system, said Tom Bootsmiller, father of twins Jack and Ian, both of whom now play football for Simpson College. It was more like five dad coaches with some “dad vibe” mixed in.
The “dad vibe” was a conscious effort.
“Us youth coaches, we all knew that he (Tristan) didn’t have a father figure,” Bootsmiller said. “We tried to look out for him. We had some other kids in similar situations. We made sure they felt like one of the bunch. And it’s hard to not like Tristan. He was never mean, was never a back-talker, you just looked at him and smiled.”
Bootsmiller said the baseball team wasn’t about winning, but there was this one time ...
“We needed to win the game for the playoffs or whatever,” Bootsmiller said. By the way, the game is at Davis Park, which does have the municipal swimming pool about 270 feet away from home plate.
“Tristan launches it and I don’t even think I could hit the damn ball that far,” Bootsmiller said. “If you look at the pool, it has a giant mushroom in it. He hits the ball ... I don’t even say anything to him, I’m just watching the ball.
“He rounds first and I’m watching the ball hit the top of the mushroom and scares the crap out of the lifeguard who was standing there. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ That’s when I knew this kid was special. He was just a fifth-grader.”
Jan Moore shot pictures from the Mount Vernon sidelines. She wanted to stay busy and not fret about her son, Sam, but she also got to be close, got to cheer and see how the kids stood up during games.
“I’ve been asked numerous times if I was scared to be standing down there by these big, strong, sometimes fierce Mustangs,” Jan wrote. “Not at all! I actually loved standing right there beside them! Yes, I occasionally disagreed with some calls, or even some coaching tactics, but I truly felt as if I had my own place.
“The guys were so accepting of Sam’s mom being on the sidelines with them. I did have a couple close calls with cleats, footballs and actually players themselves, but I managed to get through all four seasons without an injury!”
The email had a “smiley face” emoji after the word “injury.”
“They were always so polite and appreciative regarding both my presence and photos,” Jan wrote. “Rarely a game would go by without words of ‘Thanks, Mrs. Moore!’ or if it was Big T or Sam, for sure an appreciative hug.
“Most significantly, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the encouragement and camaraderie that was evident between these guys. Their bond, as well as their athletic abilities, were evident from an early age. As a mom of one of these boys, I just had a feeling we were in for years of excitement, success and memory making. And boy, were we ever!”
Still, she misses her old job.
“Do I miss it? My gosh; like crazy!” Jan wrote. “But I am so proud of these boys and of the men they are becoming. And yes, their bonds continue to strengthen even as they go on their separate ways. They keep in touch, get together when they can and continue to support and care for one another!”
When you write your answers, you get to use exclamation points.
Editor’s note: A lot of the photos used in this piece were from Jan Moore. The payback is a plug for her husband’s band. Sean Moore is the lead singer of Rattlebox. They play in Cedar Rapids quite a bit (Chrome Horse and Rumors). Sean asks that the heckling be kept to a minimum.