Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sports Night: Number Twenty-Two

It's no secret that I am not a sports fan. There is much about it that does not make sense to me but I have always been able to appreciate the ideals for which sports stand: the dedication and work it takes to participate, the courage required to stand up and put your abilities on display, the devotion of the fans. And of course, a good underdog story is always heartwarming.

Much of my exposure to sports this past year has come through my walks with Duncan as we navigate the various teams which swarm over the fields in the park across the street. While I detest the surprising majority of parents who seem completely inattentive, talking on their phones while standing on the sidelines with their backs turned, or sitting in their cars reading a book or the paper while their children run and kick and jump and cavort for them, I genuinely admire the kids who give their all. I remember what it was like to stand there, awkward and fearful, praying the ball stayed as far away from me as possible 'less I blow my one chance. To this day when I see a ball I careening toward me across an athletic field I see a lifetime of childhood and adolescent anxiety. Duncan merely sees a ball bouncing across the grass and wants to join in the fun. On more than one occasion we've accidentally interrupted a kiddie soccer practice when he's charged into the fray to wrest control of the ball in a mad attempt to slather it with drool.

The football teams finally returned today. They appear to have lost some of their status along with the privilege to play on the main fields and have been relegated to practicing on the now abandoned baseball diamonds. While Duncan paused and sniffed the trunk of a bare Aspen tree, I watched the kids slam into each other, their pads colliding and groaning under the strain of their impacts, but one kid, rather thin and gangly, was a little more forceful than the others, running a little harder, catching a little more air just before crushing into the others, grunting louder but catching his balance and pushing on before his teammates did. It was only when he turned away and moved back into formation that I saw the long ponytail hanging halfway down his back, noticed the grace of his movements and realized that number twenty two was not a he but a she. And a damn feisty one at that. When it came time to rush her coach, squatting behind the small kiddie-sized tackle sled, she nearly knocked him over and moved right on past as he struggled to keep his balance and prepare for the next kid.

I could've stood there all night, watching this small, bird-like girl throw better than some of the boys, run faster, dance on her feet with much more agility and repeatedly push her coach back, gaining ground on him each time. I was never a fan of team sports, but she was the kind of person I'd definitely want on my team. I was always one of the last kids picked when it came time to choose teams (except at dodge ball!) but that's something number twenty-two will never have to worry about. I guarantee it.

1 comment:

Lori said...

You were good at dodgeball? That was a nightmare for me!!! We had Amy, a girl who later was on the Olympic team handball squad... they made her play with the boys, because she maimed too many of us fragile girls! And see... you noticed the girl. I never would have. Of course, I might have been too busy thinking about scanning the prairie dog town for bunnies!