Joel Reichenberger: Keeping it fun


The "crazy sports parent" fascinates me.

You know the type - usually patrolling a sideline and screaming at a referee, or better yet, doing so from the stands. The kind of parent who spends a fortune on a child's sporting ventures, then pushes and pushes and pushes; the kind of parent who urges a kid to transfer high schools to ensure that a mythical, BCS-level football scholarship materializes.

Usually the scholarship never comes and in the fight for it, everything that made the game fun in the first place is blown away.

I thought that's what I was looking at this week when I sat down with Colby Townsend and his motocross son, Noah.

Noah is little. He's strong, intelligent and enthusiastic, but he's just a kid. And here was his dad, explaining to me the long trips he's taken his family on, the days of school Noah's missed and the sacrifices all the Townsends have had to make so Noah could be a motocross rider.

It sounded a bit crazy, a sensation ever magnified by both the sport and Noah himself. Again, he's just a kid. A kid who likes going fast on motorcycles? That hardly seems like discovering your child is the next Peyton Manning. It hardly seems worthy of a headline in the local newspaper.

The longer we talked, the more I realized how sensible the whole thing is, and how normally, the Townsends have tackled what must be a great and awkward situation.

Colby went from being as naive as I am about motocross - my experience is limited to an hour's worth of talking with the Townsends and the highlights you can sometimes catch on ESPN - to knowing all the stars and many of the details.

Colby went from planning on his son being a cowboy to purchasing 10 different motorcycles in the past three years. Michelle Townsend, Noah's mother, went from talking her husband into buying the first dirt bike to planning family vacations around Noah's races.

It didn't sound like it was a path either ever expected, but it sounds now like one they're venturing down with enthusiasm equaled only by Noah's, all the while maintaining a grip on reality.

"We informally had a pact when this all started and said if it's not fun, we're not going to do it," Colby said. "There is so much burnout. Kids have pressure from sponsors, other kids, from themselves and from parents. (Someone told us) just keep it fun, and that has been our emphasis from day one."

The Townsend's ordeal does sound fun, and that's not just the part of me that loves to go fast that's talking. It's the part of me that loves to spend time with my family and that loves it when they get interested in the same things I am.

I was fast to judge the Townsends, and maybe I'm fast to judge all the parents who sacrifice similarly for their kids. Maybe I've confused relentless concern with relentless pressure in other cases, too.

Maybe, maybe not. Routt County is a crazy place for kids' sports. I hope all parents approach such difficult situations with the same tepidity and consideration and eventual enthusiasm I saw in the Townsends.


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