Sunday, December 2, 2012
My Soccer Adventure
A new faculty member at Western Reserve Academy, I know that I will have an assignment to coach for two seasons. I am marginally competent in basketball (All Portage County, 2nd Team, 1962--but I really sucked), baseball (batted .451 my senior year in high school; played in some subsequent summer leagues--and, eventually, sucked), tennis (four college varsity letters--but I sucked).
I get my coaching assignment for the fall. League Soccer.
Here's what I know about soccer in the fall of 1979: zero.
"League soccer," it turns out, is intramural soccer among the boys, upperclassmen all, who have not made a varsity team. They form teams. Play games every day after classes. I am to be a referee.
Here's what I really know about soccer in the fall of 1979: less than zero.
Okay, maybe not quite zero. Or less than zero. I know: the ball looks a little like a volleyball. The field is grassy. There are goals at each end. Players wear shorts. You can't use your hands.
I have never seen a soccer game in my life. I know none of the rules.
All of this I explain patiently to Dale Conly, the athletic director (and head boys' soccer coach), who smiles indulgently. I'll catch on quickly. He's sure of it. I go to the local bookstore and buy a couple of books about soccer, including a rule book. I read them. Underline them. And then appear at the first League Soccer game. Another teacher is there (he knows about soccer), so I am relieved.
Until he says this: We can alternate days. You take the first day. And off he heads for home and, presumably, a nap.
But my authority entirely vanishes, like my self-respect, after, oh, 2.5 minutes. The guys know I know nothing. So they just do what they want. Did you know that free-form soccer resembles nothing so much as a riot?
At some point I just blow the whistle, cry Game over! and head for home. If I had a tail, it would be between my legs. (Don't think nasty thoughts here.) The game rages on without me--for who knows how long.
Next day I go to see Dale again. I all but weep. I don't know anything! I've read the books, but I don't know what I'm looking at. The boys lost respect for me in a heartbeat. Please ... let me go be with the tennis team ... ?
And bless the kind heart of Dale Conly. He agrees. (Perhaps he's heard about the mayhem?) The other League Soccer adult is not happy. He has to go up there every night. I don't in the slightest way feel sorry for him.
Tennis season ends.
I get a note in my faculty mailbox from the other League Soccer adult: Now that the tennis season is over, I know I'll see you up on the soccer field ...
I write back: We are continuing to work out with the girls each night up on the courts. Sorry.
This is sort of true. Sort of not.