Melissa Salter, the daughter of Upland High legendary football Coach Tim Salter, beautifully reflects on what football means to her. (Melissa with her father in 1986)
The Friday night lights are indisputably magical, bringing with them as much emotion and excitement as the stadium can hold. When the 4th quarter ends and the buses make their journey home, most of the crowd crawls into bed, putting football aside for another week. But when you’re the daughter of a football coach, the game doesn’t end just because you step off the field Friday night. Next comes tip toeing around the house the Saturday after a loss, or waking up Sunday morning to the sound of the coaches screaming at your living room TV, as they break down film. Good luck trying to watch cartoons or lounge around in your pajamas; sheets hang across walls and doorways, while projectors illuminate the hope of next week’s triumph.
As you grow older, the smell of sweat mixed with grass brings about fond memories and you find yourself reluctant to make any Friday night plans beyond pre-season. Forget pumpkin spice lattes and smores, my fall has been defined by football since I was 4 months old. When you’re the daughter, niece, and granddaughter of football coaches there is no off-season. Football is a year round sport; it’s a lifestyle. Even before spring ball and passing league would begin each year, my father, uncle, and grandfather would strategize new plays at the dinner table, using their utensils and cups as the X’s and O’s.
My siblings and I wouldn’t be the same without the life lessons we learned on and off the field. When I was younger and played softball, I once asked my coach to let me sit out an inning, after playing a double header and scraping up my leg sliding into 3rd. Never again would I make that mistake. I learned a lesson from my dad that day, something I’ve held with me for the rest of my life. “You never ask to be taken out of the game,” he said, and believe me, I never did again. I haven’t always been successful, but I’ve never again benched myself. Although I often yelled back at him, “I’m not one of your football players! Stop lecturing me that way!” My life has been a series of huddles that have contributed to my success in the next play.
Being a coach’s daughter means having sharp ears and eyes in the stands. My sister and I were the real life versions of Hayden Panettiere in the movie Remember the Titans. We cling to each other and to our mom on 4th down and jump up from our seats as the boys march toward the end zone. My brother rocked a jersey from ball boy to wide receiver and is on the field by my dad’s side to this day. Sitting in the stands can be hard for the coach’s daughters… we hear it all. And although he doesn’t need us to be, because his record speaks for itself, we are our father’s protectors, standing up for him when parents complain, because we know how dedicated he is to their sons and to the sport.
What the crowd doesn’t always understand is that when the season ends and when their kids have finished their high school football careers, our season continues. We cheer on the next batch of players as if they were our own brothers, because we know that in our dad’s eyes, they’re his kids too. Being a football coach’s daughter means that I get to be proud of my dad every Friday night, win or lose, because I witness first hand the integrity, grit, and determination he tries to instill in his team. I’ve seen him build a football program into a lasting legacy, from the ground up and with the same sense of pride one might feel in building their own home, board by board. Because of this, football has always been more to me than just a game.
Our grandfather always said the most important things in life are faith, family, and football. Football is our family, a family we’ve been blessed to be a part of. So when you see us in the stands clenching our teeth, losing our voices from cheering, or whipping our heads around when we hear a complaint, please understand what this sport means to us. While most families share Sunday night dinners, our family shares Friday night lights.