GRAYSLAKE – This is how you make a bracelet.
First, you take a request from one of your beloved Johnsburg Skyhawks players.
Second, you get some extra-stretchy string and some blue and yellow beads.
Finally, you – well, here, take it from the expert.
“You have to have all of the beads completely by themselves,” said Madi Maloney, the 5-year-old daughter of Johnsburg coach Mike Maloney. “And then you have to add them to the bracelet.”
That sounds like a lot of work.
“Yeah,” Madi said with a nod. “It’s a lot of work.”
So is building up a football program.
Johnsburg’s latest loss was heartbreaking, gut wrenching, hair pulling, you name it. The Skyhawks scored first, then allowed 28 straight points, and then rallied with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to knock on the door of a wild comeback.
And then the clock hit 0:00, and the Skyhawks lost, 28-21, to Grayslake Central.
But the real story here isn’t about a nearly 3-year-old losing streak that stretched to 24 games on the rubberized turf of William C. Eiserman Stadium. It’s not about the thin roster featuring 27 players or the coach still waiting on his first career win.
It’s about a family.
Family is what happens when the Maloneys – dad Mike, mom Sarah, 5-year-old Madi and 2-year-old Kaile – host Skyhawks players during the week to sit down for dinner and then watch game film.
“I can’t get them to sit still for more than five minutes at a time,” Sarah Maloney said with a smile as she looked toward her daughters. “But when coach is watching film, they sit intently and watch it with the boys. It’s kind of cool.”
It’s really cool.
Family is what happens when Madi distributes bracelets to all of her football player friends, such as quarterback Nick Brengman. In fact, Madi is so great at making bracelets that she also made one for Nick’s girlfriend.
Brengman is beyond grateful for the support of his young fan club. That makes losses such as Thursday’s extra difficult to accept.
“I feel like I’m playing not just for a team, but for a family,” Brengman said. “I feel like when we lose, it hurts all of us as much as it hurts coach and his family.”
Family is what happens when Madi and Kaile sprint from the front row of the bleachers to give their dad a big hug after the game.
Their dad, who played nose tackle at Illinois, smiled and scooped Kaile into his arms. Madi hugged his legs, which looked as if she were hugging a giant redwood.
“She idolizes the cheerleaders, she loves being around the game, she loves the kids,” Mike Maloney said with a smile. “She’s mature beyond her years.”
So are the Skyhawks, it seems.
Family is what happens when a group of football players, in the face of crushing disappointment, decide to come together rather than break apart.
“Actually, our theme this week, we talked about unconditional love,” Maloney said. “It’s funny, a football coach talking about love. But we’ve battled through so much together that those guys are like my sons and vice versa.
“I’m not trying to replace anybody, but we have a relationship and a bond that’s been battle tested through a lot of disappointment and loss. And I’ve got to ask them and expect them to get up tomorrow and prepare again.
“Now, only somebody that is involved in a committed relationship could do something like that. Knowing that they gave everything they had and have thorough disappointment with the outcome, they’ve got to come back from that, and I’ve got to come back and work them in a position to compete again next week.
“And they will. They will. Because they are a family.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.