Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Last night my middle son's soccer team played their last game. They've been together a long time, most of them, since before this picture was taken. They've had some years when they won a lot of games and some years when they lost even more, but he loves soccer, he loves his teammates, and he's loved every minute of it.

When they started out, almost ten years ago, their coach told them how they lost was more important than how they won. He told the parents that too. Most important, he believed it and he lived it. He's still their coach, or he was until last night, and in all those years he never lost his temper, he never raised his voice at an official, he never treated his players, or their opponents, with anything but respect. And the team followed his lead.

God, my son loved soccer, though. If he could, he'd find a friend to kick the ball around. If he couldn't, he'd go by himself. If it rained or snowed, he'd play in our kitchen.

"Knock it off," I'd tell him. "You're going to break something."

"Nothing's broken yet," he'd reply.

"'Yet' is the operative term," I'd say.

Then I'd leave and he'd start bouncing the ball off the cabinets again.

That wasn't the worst though. The worst was his cleats. He left them in someone's car once and she thought an animal had died under the seat. Those damn shoes were always under our kitchen table or in the entryway or on the counter.

"Would it kill you to put them in the storage room?" I'd ask.

"It's not worth the risk of finding out," he'd say.

Every summer, there was an international tournament not far from here. He played teams from Norway, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela. Once, when he was about ten, he played a team from Brazil. A high crossing pass came his way and he went up, both feet extended, and punched it in. We still talk about that one. Part of the family lore now, I guess.

The players grew up, and so did their parents. There were some divorces, not all of them easy, and when that happened, the coach and the team would rally around, not saying a word, just forming a protective circle until things got better. Even for the adults, soccer was one of the places differences got put aside, somewhere everyone could cheer for the same thing.

When a kid couldn't afford the registration fee, there was always a scholarship, a chance to earn some money, maybe a few parents kicking in a couple bucks or a pair of cleats, and soon enough there would be another teammate, another boy playing soccer instead of watching TV or something worse. It wasn't the Bad News Bears, they took it more seriously than that, but it was a place where the only thing that mattered was how hard you'd work and how good a teammate you could be.

Eventually, high school soccer took most of them. That was good too, and my son loved that almost as much as the summer season, running miles every day to get in shape, pouring his heart into the game. In the winter, they'd play indoors, usually late at night without many parents around, and as a ref once told me when I complained about being out on a cold winter evening, "Hey, it's midnight on a Friday and your kid's playing soccer. Can't complain about that."

But time rolls on and the final year of varsity soccer ended, and one more season of indoor play, and then it was the last summer before the boys, young men now, headed off to college. In a few weeks, my kid is leaving for school in Arizona, 1,600 miles away. I won't see him until December.

But this summer, one more time, one last time, they played for the coach who'd been with them since elementary school, coaching his own son and all these others he's grown to know so well, and this was an ending for him too. No more Mountain Dew and cupcakes after a game to celebrate a birthday, no more water balloon fights while his wife shook her head, no more walking off the field having learned a little more by losing than by winning.

It was a good year. They played well, they played like a team, they played like a team that had been together for almost ten years, they played like a team that believed in what they were doing.

And last night they played for the state championship. Tied at the end of regulation. Tied at the end of the first overtime. Tied at the end of the second overtime. A shootout. Tied 4-4, with my son on the line. The last time he'll ever touch a ball for this team. It goes in, he scores, he's got the winning goal, and as the team celebrates, I swear he floats above the field and so do I, looking down at all that's been.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

you old softy.

....Now there's something in my eye.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Very nice, snag.

Pinko Punko said...

yeah, there is something in my eyes. TEARS. TEARS!!!!!!!

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

"It's not worth the risk of finding out," he'd say.

Totally his father's son.

Substance McGravitas said...

That is great.

Hamish Mack said...

Yeah, real good.That's the game.