A Magical Season: Redeeming my soccer wounds

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I am a football fan through and through. American football.  The kind where grown men go out and pound each other.  I love the complexity of the plays, the craziness of the fans, the size of the men, the sheer grit it takes to perform on the gridiron. Baseball?  Not enough action. Too many steroids.  Basketball? Stinky gyms and a short court.  And soccer? Not a particular favorite. But soccer in the Northwest is like football in Texas and 3 of the 4 men in my household absolutely LOVE it.  Regardless, I still hadn't crossed over to the dark side.  Until recently.

When Quinn was in 6th grade, he began what appeared to be a long soccer career with a competitive club team.  We poured our time, money and energy into his passion as we got sucked into the club sports lifestyle.  But it wasn't the best lifestyle for our family. I began resenting the fact that we were constantly apart because one of us had to accompany our soccer player all over the state for the better part of his middle school years. For most of the other families on the team, they had just two kids and their player was their youngest child. There weren't two other children being drug around to games. They were happy to have their family vacations be weaved into a summer soccer tournament. I wasn't. I felt like we were the only ones who struggled with stretching our budget to cover hotels, gas and meals.   I'm sorry to say I did not handle this situation with much patience, grace or kindness.  I was flat out bitter.  So bitter that I saw nothing good come from this adventure. I only saw it as taking away from the family life I envisioned.  Add that to the fact that my son's interest began to wane with each passing season. When he wasn't willing to start contributing his own finances, the decision was made, at the end of the 8th grade season,  to concentrate on high school sports.

As is a natural fit, most high school football team kickers have a soccer background. This worked in Quinn's favor in freshman football.  I secretly hoped his soccer days were behind us and he would fall in love with the best sport in America. But then, spring arrived and so did soccer tryouts. He made J.V. and was back in soccer mode. Three weeks into the season they gave him a shot in the second half of a varsity game and he scored the winning goal.  This secured his spot as a swing player (playing both JV and Varsity)  for the remainder of the season. HIs high school team made it to the first round of state that year and were knocked out in a 4-1 loss.  His sophomore year was a strong season again, in spite of graduating 8 seniors, but the team never made it out of districts in the post season. This junior year was a different story.

From the first pre-season game, everyone knew this high school team had something very special. The chatter was abundant before tryouts even began.  By the third week, even the skeptical were convinced. As the numbers increased in the win column and the loss column remained a big fat zero, the excitement began building. With each passing contest, we wondered if this was the game that would knock them off their perch. For the first time in school history, they won the conference AND were district champs. As they headed into the sweet 16 of the state tournament, all the chatter was about their undefeated record and 12 straight games without the opponent scoring on them. But this was state, after all.  They were likely about to meet their match aswe all know the cream rises to the top.

The first two games of state would be held at our home field since they owned the best 2A record. We scored in the 7th minute of the first game and followed with 6 more goals before yet another strong statement was made.  This was the team to beat.  The second game was on Friday night of Memorial Day weekend and garnered a packed house.  It was unbelievable to see the amount of community support in a soccer town with 3 competing high schools.  It didn't matter what school you were from, everyone was there to cheer on Squalicum. A parent whose son had played at the high school in the past, said to me, "this is better than watching the Sounders.  They are amazing."  Yet, they were more like the Seahawks.  Their defense was phenomenal and their roster was deep.  The 22 young men were so good that the coach could rotate players every 15 minutes and the second string was just as strong as the first.  They were making not only making history but bringing our town together.  The second opponent definitely presented a challenge at the onset yet they went into halftime with a 1-0 lead then sealed the win with two more goals in the second half. It was on to the state semifinals!

The final four teams were ranked #1, 4, 5 and 8, respectively. As we settled into our seats in the packed stadium 150 miles south of home, the energy and nerves were equally as charged.  The stadium was packed with friends, family and student section at least 250 deep. This was the big stage.  And they came to play.  The opponent was a physical, quick team from the eastern side of the state who also came to play.  Unfortunately for them, they had never seen the likes of this bunch.  We were up 3-0 at halftime and finished the game at 5-0.  Another shutout and on to the championship game.

The final game was a different story altogether.  The opposing team was 20-2 with a goalie the size of a linebacker and the speed of a sprinter.  Squalicum's timing was off and their nerves were getting the best of them.  We were all left wondering where our team went? Halftime: 0-0.  Whatever words the coach shared at halftime did not fall on deaf ears and lit a fire under them that couldn't be stopped.  Within 3 minutes, their freshman phenom broke free and scored.  Six minutes later, this same gunner put it in the net and the momentum kicked into high gear.  The opponent just didn't have the stamina to keep up with the fresh legs rotating in and with 9 minutes left and a 3-0 lead, the coach subbed in 6 players for their last high school game.  11 seniors: the exact amount needed to field a team.  Final score:  4-0.  Class 2A Washington State Champions!  As the headline read the next morning, it was "A Perfect Storm."

As I watched the boys hoist the trophy to a screaming crowd, my throat ached and tears streamed down my face. In that moment, I  realized that this magical ride was redemptive on so many levels. First, as much as I resented the competitive club program for all those years, the reality was that without it this championship would have never happened.  This team roster essentially had two complete club squads on it and their years of training and competition enhanced their ability to clinch the state title.  Second, as I was about to put my camera away, my mom started screaming "Quinn's getting an award!!!" I looked up and there he was with the director of the tournament and a player from the other team standing in the middle of the field.  The man with the microphone announced that each boy had received the Sportsmanship and Character Award from the WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association).  After the struggles of sophomore year, this showed me that despite what I see at home, what the world sees is a young man of honor, hard work and integrity.  And yet another stream of tears flowed.  Finally, as we snapped family pictures after the celebration, I looked at the images on my camera and thought, "Wow.  As flawed and fragmented as my extended family is, we were all there together supporting Quinn and cheering him on together."  A redemptive ride for sure.

Ready for the final

Announcing the award

State CHAMPS!!!

Bringing home the hardware.

Pure joy!