BRANDON — As I stood on Field 5H at the J.C. Handly Sports Complex, the sun long gone and the wind adding real bite to the increasingly chilly temperatures, I watched my 9-year-old daughter practice with her soccer team with only one thought.
Who came up with the brilliant idea to sign her up for soccer?
Then I remembered — it was me.
Granted, standing by as the Lancers went through their paces couldn't compare with what Minnesota Vikings fans endured Monday night as they braved temperatures in the teens.
But in all honesty, it doesn't take a lot to make this Florida native shiver.
And I was shivering.
When time wound down toward the end of practice, I began dreaming about the warmth of the car until the coach joked he wanted to extend practice until the temperature dropped into the 20s.
At least I think he was joking.
This was the coldest practice night we had endured since starting in November, but it wasn't the worst — at least not for me.
On another cold night, I made the mistake of showing up in short sleeves as the thermometer dropped from a balmy 60 to a blustery 49 in a matter of minutes. One of the parents laughed as goose bumps covered my arms.
I laughed, too — to keep from crying.
It hasn't been much better at Armwood High, where my younger son played football this season on a landing strip they call Lyle Flagg Field.
With trees on the west side of the field and the school on the east side, the stadium can quickly become a wind tunnel with thundering semis on Interstate 4 whipping up the air.
So when my son asked to get an Under Armour shirt before one particular frigid Friday night, I obliged. Until he brought home the receipt.
What? Forty bucks? For a long-sleeved T-shirt?
Of course, the company would say it's not a T-shirt, it's performance gear. But as far as I'm concerned, I can get some Fruit of the Loom performance gear for a lot less.
These wimpy stories constitute just a small part of the sacrifice parents make to promote their kids' participation in sports.
For the truly committed mom or dad, chauffeuring kids to and from practices and games, enduring all manners of weather — not to mention insects — and shelling out an unending stream of cash is standard operating procedure.
Why do we do it?
Some may be reliving their own sports glory days through their kids. Some may be pushing their children with visions of a college scholarship dancing in their heads.
A lot of us, however, simply cherish those time-honored lessons we gain from sports: teamwork, sportsmanship, effort and all those other positive intangibles that sound cliched but remain true for young athletes.
Don't get me wrong. The smart parent doesn't promote athletics over education, but as part of it. The intrinsic value of sports participation should work in concert with all those other academic activities we deem worthy.
By no means have my three kids been superstars in any of their respective sports. After all, they have the genetic disadvantage of being my kids.
But snapshots of their most memorable competitions remain etched in my mind. From Matthew's arm-pumping finish in an 800-meter run to Madelyn nearly scoring a goal to Ethan's somber look after Armwood came up one victory short of a state championship, the images symbolize what they gain from playing.
And what they give — to their teammates, to their coaches — and to their mom and dad.
Without their commitment to something bigger than themselves, I would be left sitting on the couch trying to buy a vowel and solve the puzzle. Or phrasing all my answers in the form of a question.
When you look at it that way, freezing at the field or the stadium doesn't seem like such a sacrifice. In fact, it's no sacrifice at all.
That's all I'm saying.