Revisiting The Past - High School Soccer
Revisiting The Past - High School Soccer
Junior year soccer banquet. That's where the story begins. What happened that year?... You don't realize that something is transpiring at the time until you relive it in retrospect at the end of the transpiration. Not a word but you know what I mean. I unexpectedly get the "Most Improved Player" award. I am truly stunned. Had I gotten that much better...or did I just have that much room for improvement. I shake my head as I walk up to accept the award as if I didn't deserve it. My Mother tells me later not to react that way. Lesson learned. Good advice. She should be a Mom. What do you know, she's mine. Next up on this night I obviously remember. One of the cutest girls in school, who happens to be a cheerleader, sends her liaison, also a cheerleader, my neighbor and my friend over to my table. My friend says "Guess who wants to go out with you?!!!" Oh to be an up and coming jock. My life is getting good.
So reliving in retrospect...during the season, the cheerleaders started coming out to cheer our soccer games, not just the football games. We were apparently pretty decent and our expectations for the following year were big! Soccer had arrived at our school. I just didn't know it yet. I would soon. I loved playing soccer. I started playing after my midget football career ended with the Spartans. That's what it was called back then, midget football. I think after stewardesses became flight attendants, midget football became pee-wee football. Politically correct and all that. Wasn't my problem. Anyway, I forget how football ended. I think I just stopped being midget. That was the end of that part of the program. You had to go on to the next level. The big boys. I was a skinny, sugar eating, might get hurt at the next level kid. So I just started playing soccer. I was not a natural. I was one of the better players by the end of grade school. But then Junior high bought in many more kids from all the different grade schools and I was back to being an average player again. By the end of Junior high I was again one of the better players. I was always good by the end of...so the story continues. On to high school. I was on the freshmen team as a freshmen. The better players as freshmen were on Varsity. Sophomore year I was on the sophomore team. The better players as sophomores were on Varsity...and there were quite a few of them. Junior year I HAD to be on Varsity. I wasn't a starter right away, but as per usual,...by the end of,... I became a starter my junior year. How predictable. But by the end of my Junior year, not predictable. Not predictable socially...not predictable big picture. Senior year I hit an apex. Our team hit an apex!
In retrospect again, our expectations were high because of all the freshmen and sophomores that had been on Varsity for three years...and some up and comers like myself. When we started our Senior season, our soccer schedule was posted in a trophy case in the main hallway through which all must pass. As each game passed, a "W" and the final score was posted by our announcer and biggest fan in the trophy case for all to see. The year went on and the W's piled up. We started wearing our jerseys to school on game day, white for home games, dark for away games. We started getting individual nicknames. Mine was "White Lightning" due to the fact that I was fast and I had white hair. These nicknames were shouted over the mic as we were being introduced at the beginning of each game.
Then, and I don't know exactly when, rumors of an undefeated season started echoing through the halls and in the media. I was a starter on a possible undefeated team! How did that happen? I suddenly realized that I was pretty good. I had again become good by the end of...Anyway, the hype had arrived. I couldn't wait for game day! None of us could. Wearing the jersey down the hall to all the shouts of support. Knowing a lot of your classmates from freshmen to Senior were cheering you on...living vicariously through THEIR high school soccer team...knowing they were going to show up to cheer us on to high school immortality. If we win, the whole school wins! Nobody can ever take that away from you...us.
I remember warming up on the side of the fieldhouse before the games. The fans crowding in, the hootin' and hollerin'. Then the jogging into the stadium to the roar of the fans. Priceless. And then, the best part...the introduction of the players! Starting at...number...nickname...real name...Each guy sprinting out there with adrenalin to spare. High five, low five, I forget. Another win, another "W" in the hallway. More speculation. More hype! I got a feature story in the local paper about my soccer skills. I was the up and comer. The many more that were better than me and much more deserved everybody already knew about. My nickname should have been "Good by the end of." Our team was kicking on all cylinders. We weren't really having a hard time with any of the other teams. Until that mid-season date with our rivals...the team that always had our number.
The game was an away game. Still our fans showed up in numbers! They knew the rivalry. This was a big game for us. Let's get this monkey off our back! We had them 3-0 at the end of the half. We were going crazy, the fans were going crazy............. The monkeys won 4-3. That's the way monkeys are. One "L" on the board. Not just any one "L" either. The rival's "L." Weeks go by and the "W's" resume overwhelming the board. We finished with one loss that season...one hurtful loss.
The playoffs arrived. I'll keep this short. We won...we won...we're going down state!! Heavens to Betsy! Tell me your Grandmother didn't say that. Friday night was the first game. Friday morning is the Pep Rally! School shuts down and it's everybody to the gymnasium to get the team all jazzed up...unless you're ditching. Irregardless...the principal steps up to the mic for his ceremonial "Boooo" following which he announces the coach who gets muted applause...says some things about the season...AND NOW, as the famous boxing announcer shouts, let's meet your soccer team!! Standing ovation as the gymnasium erupts with cheers. Now at this point you know that some team members cheers are going to be louder than others. Where will I stand? I have a girlfriend...that will help. Her and her friends surely will be loud for me. Hope I was nice to everybody this year. We'll see what my cheer assessment reveals. I get a rousing cheer that comforts my insecurities. That's all I remembered at the time. Whirlwind and all that. Some 30 years later revisiting my old high school and standing in the gym, I remembered the scene at that pep rally as clear as a snapshot. I remember exactly where certain people were sitting that day in my mind's eye.
Pep rally is over. Our team is headed to the bus and off to the State Playoffs! School is out so the students can go to the game...or not if they choose. Buses for the students are lining up behind the gymnasium...it's actually "the gym" but I like Metallica and gymnasium sounds like Sanitariuuuum, dum, dum, dum. Exciting! We're the first game on Friday. It's mid afternoon. We're on the field warming up when all of a sudden what starts as a low noise gets louder and louder with no distinction as to what it is. We're all kind of turning in the direction of the noise which is coming from over a hill. All of a sudden, what still gives me chills of joy to this day, come buses full our student fans over the hill into sight yelling their heads off! They kept yelling over the river and through the woods...no, but they yelled from the top of the hill all the way to the parking lot. They yelled from the parking lot to the stands. They yelled in the stands until the announcement of the our players. Then somehow they yelled louder during the announcement of each individual player. Then they went completely silent for the announcement of the others team players. Then they erupted again up until the end of the game. Near the end of the game with the score tied and going into a shootout, our fans started inching closer and closer to the field. Good thing there was that wood slate fence held in place by wire...that'll keep 'em out should we win. The final shot in the shootout gets us our first down state victory!! Our fans trample the fence in a V shape. First one guy...I remember exactly who it was...another snapshot in my mind...followed by three more, then even more as the fence went down like dominos from the middle all the way to the end of both sides. The party on the field had started. Unbelievable!! We're winning down state! I was part of this. When I think about the line-up of our team now, we had an all-star team...no weak links...and talent on the bench! Next game was later that night. Win and we play for the title.
The story, alas, doesn't have the happiest of endings. We lost that night...to a better team. No excuses. They won 3-0. Any loss is hard. We were that close. The team we lost to won the State Championship. There is some consolation in that.
The memories from that season made for a great Senior year, a magical year. The picture of our team from that special year hangs in the hallway of our high school to this day. A reminder of the memories for our team, our fans, our school and our families. Memories that last a lifetime...that have lived a lifetime! :)