MOVILLE, Iowa | With apologies to the Woodbury Central High School football team, the most effective stiff-arm at the school last fall came from a girl.
My daughter, Ellen Gallagher.
It came moments after she was crowned homecoming queen in the high school gym. Her mother, Jill, and I approached her, anticipating a photo opp with our "royal" daughter.
"I want one picture with Mom," Ellen said to me, arm outstretched. "You can wait."
And with that, she kept me at a distance, humorously relegating me to a place outside camera range.
She laughed, sure. But, she kinda meant it. She and her mother are close. Jill was home with our five children for the first 14 years of our marriage. She taught the kids to read, write, dribble a ball, pitch and catch.
You've read bits and pieces about our children through the years. I penned graduation send-offs for sons Grady and Paul when they sported cap and gown in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Today, it's Ellen's big day.
When I devoted time years ago to coach the older boys, Jill volunteered to direct Ellen's youth softball and basketball teams.
That's not to say the mother/daughter relationship of player-and-coach was always peaches and cream. We laugh now about a youth basketball tournament where Ellen, likely a fifth-grader, became so frustrated that she stiff-armed an opponent and knocked her to the floor.
Jill immediately removed Ellen from the game, and banished her to the bench with her version of a coaching stiff-arm.
The source of Ellen's frustration wasn't simply poor performance. Tears welling, face reddening, she said this on her way down the court earlier that afternoon: "It would be a lot better if we didn't have the worst referee in the world!"
I know that's what she said. I heard it verbatim. I was the referee.
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Ellen kept playing, kept learning. She stayed competitive. She matured and reined in her emotions, earning the high school's sportsmanship award this year.
She enjoyed athletics, speech and choir, and found an academic calling in the elementary classroom, an environment she served throughout her senior year. She'll continue that work while studying elementary education at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.
"My daughter cried on Ellen's last day of school," a mother of one of Ellen's students told me last week. "She was so sad Ellen is graduating. She loves her!"
If there's a story I love, it comes from the father of a student in a nearby town. The man tapped Ellen on the shoulder following a basketball game four months ago. He complimented Ellen for her skill on the court. He saved his greatest praise for the way she conducts herself on social media.
The man's daughter, he said, uses Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. The arrangement in his house, he said, allows him and the girl's mother to monitor her social network communication and that of her "Friends" and "Followers" at any time.
Good idea. There's frequent profanity, some name-calling, suggestive and questionable communication on Twitter, Facebook and more.
I realize there are benefits of social media. On the other hand, there seem to be millions of teens and young people wasting their time, unsupervised and fixated on a perverse world that presents itself through a 3-inch screen.
The man told me I had little to worry about when it comes to Ellen, who is a "Friend" or "Follower" of his daughter. Ellen's tweets and posts are consistently positive and constructive. When it comes to humor, Ellen shows sarcasm in a good way, poking fun at herself.
"You and your wife have done a great job raising her," he said. "She's not only a great athlete and representative of your school and community, I bet she's an even better person."
I told the man something I haven't said to Ellen enough: She is a great young lady. She's worked hard, accomplished more than I envisioned. She led successful teams, earned straight A's, educated children through her time and example.
She kept a winning smile, a sense of humor and some humility throughout her high school days. I trust I'll see all three at work today as Ellen delivers one of the commencement speeches for Woodbury Central's Class of 2014.
When it's over, Jill will join our graduate for a photo in the gymnasium. I'll be there, too. I might get in the picture this time!