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40 T/D/Y #9: Soccer

Like most kids I enjoyed running around, riding my bicycle, playing kickball, and some other outdoor activities, but I was never much interested in organized sports, with one exception. When at the start of third grade my best friend, Andy, told me he had signed up to play soccer, through the YMCA league, I decided that I wanted to do that too. Andy was already signed up to Little League baseball, which I had no interest in, so I’m not sure why soccer was different; I think part of it was because baseball involved tricky coordination such as hitting and catching, whereas soccer was just running and kicking, which I knew I could do.

I think my parents were surprised at my sudden interest in soccer, and unlike with violin lessons, I was the one pushing for this activity. Still, they let me sign up, and I was able to join the same team as Andy—I don’t recall whether the teams were organized by neighborhoods or whether we were able to be on the same team for some other reason.

At the first practice, we had to choose a name for our team. The movie The Warriors was coming out soon; we’d seen the commercials and knew it was a cool thing, so there were many loud cries for “the Warriors!” to be our team name. The adults seemed to think that wasn’t a good idea, and we were eventually overruled and named the Bobcats instead. I believe our team shirt colors that year were brown with yellow stripes.

I may actually have the time frame wrong here. As I recall, I started playing soccer in third grade, which was fall 1978; The Warriors came out in February 1979, so that would mean we’d been seeing commercials months in advance. The alternative is that I started playing in fourth grade, fall 1979, but that seems like a long time after the film came out for us to still be excited to name our team after the film. I’m a little bothered that I can’t remember for sure which year I started; now that I’m puzzling over it, fourth grade sounds more likely.

I learned to eat oranges because of playing soccer. I’d always loved orange juice, but didn’t like pulp. However, there was always a supply of orange slices at the games to keep us going, but no water or other drinks. I reasoned that I didn’t really have to eat the pulpy part, I could just suck the juice out of the slices, and so I started eating oranges.

Earlier, I mentioned playing kickball: I started out playing it with my neighborhood friends, and it was the activity of choice during elementary school. The only thing that brought the daily kickball games to a halt was when one of the stronger kids would kick the ball onto the roof. I was never particularly good at kickball either, and about half the time I’d go play games of pretend with my friends instead. By fifth grade though, I’d developed a decent ability to pitch, and a couple of my friends, who I thought were both way better kickball players (and thus, cooler) than I was, encouraged me by saying I was pretty good and made a point of including me on their team; I still appreciate that kindness. However, one day during fifth grade or maybe early in sixth grade, our physical education teacher railed at our class for always playing kickball instead of a real sport like soccer. Our class collectively shrugged and switched to playing soccer at recess.

Andy and I were on the same team for at least a couple years, maybe three, riding bikes together to practices. He was always more athletic than I was, and better at soccer. I have a vague idea that was how we ended up on different teams: I think he was put with a better tier of players. Still, although I wasn’t close friends with any of my other teammates—in fact a few of them were among the kids always picking on me at school—I continued to play soccer into the fall season during seventh grade. Then, for some reason, I missed the sign-up deadline for the spring season of soccer, and that was that. I didn’t mind though, because I wasn’t enjoying it very much anymore, and I was pretty clearly outclassed on the field by most of the other kids; in fact, I may be misremembering a bit and may have told my mom I didn’t want to sign up for the spring.

I still like soccer, though I haven’t played since then and don’t make any effort to watch matches or anything. Oddly, at one point in my dreams last night I met some people kicking soccer balls around; I intercepted one and kicked it back, and then started ducking as soccer balls kept arcing toward my head and I didn’t want to head-butt them. Obviously this entry was weighing heavily on my mind…

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