Having not played soccer in four years, my oldest son, Spencer, signed up on his own for local city league “recreational” soccer.
On Saturday, his team played its fourth game. They are a mix of kids, several of whom took several years off like Spencer, and several of whom appear to be playing on a team for the first time–none of whom are likely to compete for a spot on the hyper-competitive high school team.
Not a good sign if all the boys wanted out of this was to taste victory with some frequency. But with the help of a great coach who loves the game, they are improving every week. And getting in shape and learning about competition and having fun–I hope.
Apparently not many other kids signed up for the city league because my son’s team was meeting the very same team they had played mid-week. Let’s call them the “Blue Team.”
Not only did they lose that first game badly, they lost their best forward when a player on the Blue Team kicked him hard right below the kneecap, hyperextending his knee.
Our injured player also happens to be our coach’s son. As the game began, the young man was limping on his crutches back and forth along the sidelines near me, alleging (and not quietly) that his injury was perpetrated intentionally by an overzealous member of the Blue Team in the previous game.
The Blue Team parents far outnumbered the rest of us where I was sitting because I started hearing editorial comments all around me about how the injured player was blowing the knee incident way out of proportion.
Somehow that set a contentious tone for the game that ended up spiraling way out of control.
First there were the refs. One boy and one girl; both were physically smaller and appeared younger than any of the players they were there to officiate. Size and age matter not for a referee if they know the rules of the game and how to use their whistles with authority. But neither was the case.
In the first 10 minutes, the Blue Team scored three goals, all of which were accomplished through blatant offsides violations. No calls made.
When my son’s coach called the young refs over to calmly explain what offsides looks like, the coach from the Blue Team ran across the field to inquire about the stoppage of play. My son’s coach has a disability that requires him to wear an oxygen tank at all times.
He’s a good man who has just the right touch with the boys and I feel fortunate that he is willing to volunteer his time and passion for soccer on behalf of my boy and his team.
As the Blue Team coach walked back to the side where his team and all the parents, including me, were sitting, someone asked what was going on. He replied, “I think their coach has his oxygen turned up too high.”
Now he didn’t yell that out, but parents of Blue Team kids passed his comment down the sideline with a good chuckle till it got to me.
Problem is, I didn’t find it funny. In fact I was appalled. But strangely I was the only one.
I gathered up my wife and youngest son and we walked 70 yards down the sideline where I didn’t have to overhear muffled taunts about our disabled coach and his faker son.
Instead I got to overhear the Blue Team coach yelling taunts across the field. Now granted, when they scored their fifth unanswered goal our coach yelled, “Go ahead and pour it on while our best player is injured!”
To which the Blue Team coach yelled back, “These are my second-string players. If you want, I’ll put my first string back in and really run it up against your boys!”
Other yelling continued as the game progressed so that by the time my son jumped up after being tackled and gave his Blue Team tackler a push back, the flashpoint was pretty close.
The young refs puffed softly on the whistle, but I was unable to hear what they said because the Blue Team coach was yelling to my boy that if he does that again, he will come out there and throw him out of the game.
At which point I introduced myself as Spencer’s father and asked if he was the referee. “No, I’m the coach!” he said indignantly, genuinely puzzled as to why I would be confused.
“Then why don’t you just worry about coaching your team and leave the ref’ing to the refs?” I asked. After which he told me that my son took a cheap shot and he was not going to simply stand by and watch it. And then he asked me if I saw what my son did, as if he had brandished a handgun on the field or something.
That kind of aggression is so rare to Spencer’s nature, believe me when I say, I noticed the push. I also noticed that he had been taken down himself several times during the game and that there was a lot of taunting going on between these “recreational” players.
Blue Team coach went back to his area and I went back to mine. Both of us a little fired up.
Then in the waning moments of the game, their star player got another breakaway. “Get him” was all I yelled. My son went into a full sprint and caught the kid just as he was getting ready to bend it like Beckham.
Problem is, my son blatantly used his hands to pull the kid down from behind. Now he knew full well that was going to draw a penalty, but he apparently wanted to be absolutely certain they would not score yet another unanswered point.
But his aggressive move cleared not only the Blue Team bench but the bleachers as well. At least five parents immediately sprinted onto the field with the Blue Team coach leading the crazy train. The Blue Team players ran from downfield toward the action too, one of them cursing like a trucker the whole way.
My son who has never had enough interest in anything athletic to watch an entire game of any sort, including the Super Bowl, stood there dumbfounded by the reign of fury that was charging toward him with a blood lust more characteristic of lynch mob than of suburban soccer moms (yes, half the mob was women).
Soccer is a physical sport. People get tackled and hurt occasionally. Sometimes it is incidental and sometimes it is by design. Why this tackle from a team that did not score a single goal in two meetings brought out all kinds of crazy in the Blue Team parents is a mystery to me. But it did.
As the crowd of kooks sprinted toward my son, he turned toward them, squared up his shoulders and stood his ground as if to say, “okay then, bring it!” It was a proud moment for me.
For my own part, I too stood my ground on the sideline. Spencer is 16 now and I figured this would be a great lesson in consequences. However, when the Blue Team coach reached my son and his star player on the field, who were both standing now and not having so much as a discussion, he immediately grabbed my boy’s shirt and started screaming at him like a raving lunatic.
A dad can only be expected to endure so much. Apparently my line is somewhere around when a half-wit, who thinks making jokes about a person’s disability is funny, lays his hands on my boy and starts to yell at him in a threatening way.
I bolted onto the field and yelled “Get your hands off my son” in a way that Blue Coach and everyone else understood clearly that I was way past the joking stage and I meant right now.
He unhanded my boy but I was immediately swarmed by other parents, including the mother of the boy my son tackled–all of them confessing my son’s sins and telling me what a bunch of sore losers our team is.
Finally the young refs found their whistle and blew it like they really meant it. “Game over!” (We had at least 5 minutes left to play.)
This scene was almost unreal as it happened in slow motion. Yet it’s even more surreal as I write about it now. I never wanted to be that crazy Little League Dad. But there I was, acting like I was ready to rumble with the rest of blooming idiot parents, over nothing.
I personally regret running onto the field and raising my voice, even though I feel justified. My wife has let me know I could have handled things better, and I’m working on that.
I would never encourage Spencer to do it again, but I was happy to see my son process everything that had happened during the course of those two games and make the split-second decision that no matter what else goes down, he was going to prevent that final goal.
And he did.
Good luck in your next game, son. I unfortunately will not be there. The commissioner of Brown family sports has given me a two-game suspension.