One Graham's View

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Six Man, Texas: More than just a movie

Good morning,

A unique aspect of the Friday Night Lights in Texas is the small stage, namely six man football.

If you’re like many and unfamiliar with six-man football, let me share a bit with you. In small communities where they don’t have the enrollment to sustain a typical team with 11 players on each side of the ball, there remains a designation that allows for a school to have a six-man squad. In Texas, there are more than 100 such schools. It is a unique slice of the pie where the play and rules vary from the norm. First, many of the kids play on both sides of the ball out of necessity. Secondly, these games are frequently very high-scoring events with final scores resembling basketball scores. Finally, the specific
rule variations
are very different than what you are used to with conventional high school football.

Two rule variations that exist in six-man that stand out to me are: The field is typically 80 yards long instead of the standard 100; and, teams must advance the ball 15 yards in four downs to get a first down, instead of the usual 10 yards.

My reason for blogging about this today is that I just read about an upcoming movie, by Texas-based NEVERTOOLATE Films, about six-man football in Texas called, aptly enough,
Six Man, Texas.

I’ve been to one six-man game in my life and I’ll never forget it, even though it happened more than 14 years ago. It was in Silverton, TX up in the panhandle, where I was visiting with a couple of good friends. It captured the spirit of what the game is all about, and from what the film’s web site leads me to believe, exactly what the film is depicting.

The movie’s web site offers the following two paragraphs to describe the film:

“Although there are many similarities among the more than 120 Texas towns whose small public high schools play Six Man Football, the film highlights the story of two schools, Three Way School in the far western region of the South Plains and Aquilla in Central Texas. Both schools are metaphors for Texas' shrinking rural economy.”

“The film focuses on public schools because they are such a vital part of small-town culture. At one time in America, public schools were the backbone of the educational system; in Six Man towns, they still are. The film highlights the many similarities among the towns whose small high schools play the game. Those similarities seem to create a community of towns united by their common priorities, the school and a passionate commitment to their children. It is as if there exists a state within a state, the state of Six Man, Texas.”

Oh, and if you need another reason to check out their web site, there is a link titled “Free Stuff” that will get you just that for the asking. I clicked on the email link to ask for mine and was surprised that it was for Alan Barber, the filmmaker responsible for the project. I quickly wrote out my request and included my memories of the game I had witnessed in Silverton and how the sense of community was as obvious as the smaller team size. An even bigger surprise in this day of impersonal, corporate dominance was that I had a reply later that day from Mr. Barber himself thanking me for sharing my personal reflections. He also said they were considering creating a blog about the film and passing along some people’s stories and memories about six-man football. So, check out the site, send in an email and share your story if you have one as well.

As a big fan of Texas high school football and with the warm memories of my one six-man game, I can’t wait to see what the film has to offer.


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Monday, January 15, 2007

The things we do for our kids

Good Morning,

Yesterday, the Mrs. and I took the little prince to see the stars of one of his favorite television shows from the Disney Channel, The DoodleBops. The show was in Beaumont, which is just over an hour and a half away. Yes, there was a Houston show, but when Mrs. OGV tried to buy tickets, the only ones available were nosebleed. Besides, to see the show in the Bayou City would have taken about an hour to get to the theater from our home, so the drive wasn’t that much of a difference. When that show had been virtually sold out, Mrs. OGV kept checking on the pending Beaumont date to jump on the best seats when they became available. We wound up having second row seats at center stage—not too shabby for the extra 30-minute drive.

When we got to the show, there was about 15 minutes before show time. Let me rephrase. That was after we got there and then spent a little while and several bucks in the line at the overpriced souvenir table. When we made it to our seats, she decided it was a great time to let Mr. Austin go to the bathroom, lest he decide in the middle of the show he had to go. The worst-case scenario would have been that he had to go during the show, but was having too much of a good time to notice and only told us when it was too late. Supermom wasn’t going to let that happen, so she took him for one last stop before the show.

In the restroom, she overheard some of the other moms talking. One of them had a bunch of souvenirs and commented, “Oh, the things we do for our kids.” Mrs. OGV thought to herself, “Tell me about it.” No, she wasn’t thinking about her efforts in trying to get the best tickets she could. She wasn’t thinking about driving that extra 30 minutes or so to get to this show. No, it was the extra effort we had made as a family.

The other women looked at her neon pink hair, sprayed to match the female singer Dee Dee Doodle. They then noticed Austin had orange hair like Moe Doodle, the break dancing drummer of the group. Being I was seated in our seat during the nature break, the women didn’t notice I had electric blue hair so I could complete our family group by having locks that matched Rooney, the guitarist of the bunch.

Yes, I agree-- the things we do for our kids.

We heard several comments about our hair from the moment we stepped out of our Trailblazer in the Civic Center parking lot. Kids thought we were pretty cool. One mom at the show asked the Mrs. where we got this done, believing we had gotten our hair sprayed at some booth there at the show. She said she wanted to get her son’s sprayed like this, but I guess she had to do without as we didn’t bring the washable hairspray with us. Even when the show was over, people were commenting about our hair. It was a total hoot.

However, the truly coolest acknowledgement came at the very end of the show. The group was about to “Get on the Bus” (a signature song of theirs and also how they left the stage) and were saying their farewells to their adoring, young fans. While Dee Dee was bidding adieu, she looked the Mrs. right in the eyes and spoke into her microphone for the entire audience to hear, “Nice hair,” then winked at Mrs. OGV and hopped on the bus.

When we got home and got settled in, we realized we had beaten the cold front to Houston. Whew! We didn’t want to get into the wicked storms that were forecast to lead that front into town. We also realized we still had our colored hair and each of us went to wash it out. I must admit I was surprised how easily it came out in one shampooing. We’re all back to our normal hair colors.

In the past, we’ve taken Austin to a few different shows including two Sesame Street Live shows and the Ringling Bros. Circus, but this was, by far, the most he’s enjoyed himself at any of these. He was so excited when the show began. He was grinning from ear to ear, anxiously kicking the front/bottom of his seat when the Bops came out on stage. He sang along with many of the songs. (Admission: So did I! That’s what I get for listening to the DoodleBops CD with Austin many times over the past several months.) Austin danced and waved at the performers when they were right in front of us. It was a total blast for him.

Toward the end of the show, the Mrs. asked me if I was enjoying the show. My answer was simple. “They’ve made my son very happy, so I’m really enjoying it.”

On the way out of the Civic Center, Austin was walking about a step ahead of us. They had DoodleBops tunes loudly playing the songs without the vocal tracks over the loudspeakers throughout the arena, and the exiting crowd was talking, combining to create a din that made it hard to hear my son when he spoke to me. But, when he turned and proudly said, “I loved this show!” I heard him loud and clear. That’s what I needed to hear. I don’t know if Austin could see the huge, warm smile that came across my face when he said that. Those four little words made all the extra effort worthwhile.

This was one of those days that we’ll always have as a memory for our family. Thanks DoodleBops.



Friday, January 12, 2007

New year means new hopes for OGV

Good evening,

Soon, I’ll be undergoing a surgical procedure that will affect the rest of my life in one of two ways. Ever since my life changing accident thirteen years ago, I have had to deal with a nerve condition called Foot Drop. From the injury I received in my right knee, I damaged the sciatic nerve and it no longer works to raise the foot. Whenever I take a step with that foot, I have to raise the leg higher than usual because the foot cannot raise itself-- hence, the condition’s name.

I have worn an assistive brace on this foot for the past thirteen years that helps raise the foot when I walk, but, while it helps me walk safely, it has its downside as well. The brace, called an ankle-foot orthesis or AFO, is L-shaped and hinged with springs to assist in lifting the foot when I walk. It is kept in place by a velcroed strap at the top of the device, which goes around the top of my calf, and another velcro strap that goes over the top of my foot. The straps have to be pulled very tight to keep the AFO in place and this means that it can get uncomfortable after a long period, especially the one that goes across the top of my foot.

One more thing is that the brace causes my shoe size to go up on that one foot. This translates into buying two pairs of shoes every time I buy new shoes, one a size 13 to accommodate the AFO and also a size 12 for the other foot. This always leaves me with a pair of shoes that don’t match and that I can’t wear.

A recent Houston Chronicle article told about a University of Texas lineman who had received a similar injury in an auto accident that left him with foot drop. The first prognosis was that he would be lucky to ever walk again, and they offered virtually no hope that he would ever play football again. He and his family would not take no for an answer and he was able to connect with another doctor who had pioneered a procedure where a tendon is transplanted from a cadaver. This young man underwent a tendon transplant to restore mobility to the leg with Foot Drop and he played his senior year at full tilt this past fall.

After reading this news story, I followed his medical trail by contacting the doctor who had performed his surgery. That doctor’s nurse told me that I was not a candidate for that surgery, as it had to be performed within six months of the injury. Being I was thirteen years out from my injury, I told her I understood. She did, however, recommend another surgery that may offer hope for me and referred me to a specialist who performed this procedure.

Before I called the doctor’s office, I figured I should do my homework and see what this doc was about. It turned out that he is an ankle/foot specialist who works with many of the Houston Rockets and Dynamo, our professional basketball and soccer teams respectively, as well as the Houston Ballet. I figured if these professionals can trust their million dollar feet to this man, then I should be able to do the same. So, I called a made my appointment.

On the phone, I asked his clerk if she knew of any time line within which the surgery had to be performed. She said she didn’t know of any and that the doctor had performed the operation on some people several years after their initial injury. I told her mine was thirteen years ago and she said, “Oh. I don’t think anybody has been that long after their injury. But, come on in and let’s see what the doctor says.”

I went in to see the doctor to see if I was actually a candidate for this procedure. He checked out the foot and asked about my medical history. He said the key is that the muscle tissue has not been damaged and mine appeared to be intact.

He also explained the procedure to me. He said the sciatic nerve comes down to the foot and splits into two tendons, one goes to the inside of the foot and the other to the outside. The inside tendon causes the muscles there to push the foot down and pullit inside. The outer tendon raises the foot and pulls the foot outward. He said my outer tendon is not working and that this procedure takes the good tendon and transfers it to the other side to work the muscles. This explains why the muscles must be intact. He also said that the inside has other muscles and nerves that will continue to work to support the muscles without the moved tendon so there will be no lapse in strength what has been the strong side of the foot.

He deemed me a good prospect for this surgery, but cautioned that this isn’t a guarantee. They are having an 80-85% success rate with this surgery. I reasoned that if I didn’t have the surgery, I would be wearing the AFO for the rest of my life. So, if I happen to be in the 15-20% of the cases where this doesn’t work, I’m no worse off than if I didn’t have it. I told the doc I had one question: “Where do I sign up?”

That was right after Thanksgiving. I had my pre-surgery physical this week and will have the operation in a week and a half. The doctor who performed my physical is also another one associated with professional athletes. According to his Methodist Hospital web site, he is the team physician to the Houston Texans, Rockets, and Astros. Borrowing a sports metaphor, I’m batting a thousand when it comes to lining up quality physicians.

The procedure will take about an hour and a half. I’ll go home in a cast that same day and cannot bear weight for two weeks. Following this, I will wear a cast for another six weeks. After that, I will still wear the AFO for another 12-18 months while the muscles in the foot build up. The doctor told me that these muscles strengthen very slowly, so to be patient. Wearing the AFO will protect the newly formed connections that will allow the nerve to innervate the muscle and make my foot operate as it is supposed to.

As you can probably guess, I’m excited about the prospect of what this can mean for me. I live with some moderate pain every day. Its just something I thought I’d have to live with and have learned to tolerate the discomfort. From the time I get up in the morning to the time I lie down at night, I deal with discomfort and am constantly repositioning my foot throughout the day so that I can find some level of comfort. I hadn’t even thought about how much I did this until I read that article.

When I discussed this procedure with my various family members, I told them that, due to the pain, this Foot Drop bothered me more than being blind. Think about it. Being blind doesn’t hurt…unless I run into something. The Foot Drop causes me a constant pain daily. Besides, having the ability to fully use my foot will give me stability I have not known since being blinded.
I’ve had three surgeries since I left the Lubbock hospital in January of 1994. Two of these were to repair bone/joint problems that occurred from the same knee injury that damaged the sciatic nerve and caused the Foot Drop. Perhaps I’m minimizing how much these surgeries meant when they took place, but I don’t think I was as excited about getting any of those like I am about this procedure. Maybe that has to do with the settling I’ve done with for so long just to walk.

And, don’t worry too much about me. Mom is coming down for a spell to help out while I’m at the non-weight bearing stage. I’ve got a ball of energy named Austin and an equally energetic hound that will need some things I won’t be able to give them for a little while. Maybe I’ll be able to play on her sympathies and talk her into cooking one or two of my favorite meals that she makes.

I’ll be back with more after the surgery and keep you up on how I’m progressing.

Till I get back, stay safe and, with the coming cold front threatening to bring sleet and ice even to the Bayou City, stay warm out there!