Well, the day finally arrived. What, may you ask, is “the day”?
Let me tell you all about it. For several weeks since the end of the regular season, the U11 boys team has had a challenge in to play their parents. Keep in mind here this is U11 boys challenging “old” people as compared to the kids they normally play against. That by itself adds to the seriousness of the event made even worse that the “old” people are the boys parents and there is always a fear in the back of the boy’s mind that if a parent gets beaten by his son on the field, he or she can always revert back to the parent mode and use threats of grounding or no TV if the kid does it again. I’m not saying for one minute that it happened but as we were not on the field within earshot, it’s hard to say one way or the other. Maybe it happened in the car on the way to the game. Who knows…
But, I get ahead of myself. Todd Shaw, was really the driving force behind the game actually getting played. He arranged for the field at Quarry and for Aubrey Daniels to come out and Referee and we thank both Todd for his work and Aubrey for being willing to be a part of this momentous event and to put up with the boos and cat calls for some of his decisions. The final plans were finalized a couple of weeks before the actual game date.
Then it started. I am not sure who threw the first barb but whoever did unleashed a flood gate of trash talking e-mails not from just one parent but from several. They contained all kinds of threats and promises of what the parent’s team was going to do to the boys. As I was the only Adult in the kids corner, I could not let that happen without some sort of retaliation and, I’m sorry to say, I had to resort to trash talking right back at them. I got in a few licks but was facing superior numbers. For every e-mail I wrote, there were 3-4 responses. Honestly, it was terrible and I was glad when game day finally came around.
That didn’t prevent the Parents still going at it with the trashy e-mails right up to the kick off as they were resorting to threats against their own kids, like keeping them up all night or feeding them ice cream or not waking them to get them to the game in time. Hanks Dad even had a plan where Hank was going to have to ride his bike to the game. Real desperate stuff like that. To make matters worse, we had a lot of rain on Thursday and more at my house on Friday so we were all up in the air as to whether the field would be playable. There were all kinds of Plan B and Plan C floating around and most of us were totally confused until Todd solved it all by taking a quick trip to Quarry to determine that the field was in fact, playable.
I took a chance on Todd keeping the secret and not divulging to anyone outside of the soccer circle of the time-tested method of checking to see if the field was playable. This is a well-kept secret among the soccer and Refereeing community and has been well protected for at least one hundred years so none of you can let this out or my name will be mud. I quote: “For those of you that don’t understand the very technical procedure used to determine if fields are playable after a visible inspection of obvious things like standing water and mud, is to place a foot on the ground and spin on that foot. If you tear up a chunk of dirt and grass, then the field is not playable. It is best done with cleats on as they provide a real test.” This took years of research to come up with this one…
By the time all of this had transpired and Tim had notified everybody that it was a go, I left my house almost 30 minutes later than I normally would and did not arrive at Quarry until 9:30 am, coffee in hand and ready to go. The kids were doing their normal thing kicking the ball at each other in the pretense that they were shooting on goal. As usual, there were three kids kicking the ball as hard as they could at the other nine or ten who were the goalkeepers. Hank came up to me complaining that they would not listen to him and he had tried to warm them up. I gathered the group together and they included additional players in Andrew Scott, Frankie Mauro and Lucas Dulitzky. Frankie is Andrew and Dominic’s younger brother and Lucas is Leo’s younger brother. This brought our team total to fourteen players in all.
I sent them for a run in the opposite direction to that of the group of parents who jeered and whistled at us as they ran by. I then made them do their dynamics all over again and reminded them that as team Captain, they should listen to Hank and do things properly, the way they have been taught.
While we were doing our thing, the bedraggled looking bunch at the other end of the field, some with cleats, others in sneakers, some with shin guards and others with their socks rolled down, were trying to emulate what we were doing except the dynamics which I guess may have been a much too sophisticated form of stretching than they were used to. They did manage to run the lap with some semblance of order but there was an awful lot of winded people when they were through. I think that is how Ariel Dulitzky who had been nominated as team captain by the rest of the group, mainly because none of the others wanted to do it, picked the starting line up. He figured that if the player was not sucking wind and breathing heavy after the lap, that meant they had enough wind left to make the first runs up and down the field. All in all, a pretty good plan.
I gathered the kids together and tried to explain to them that the motley crew on the other side of the pitch were NOT their parents but just a rag-tag bunch of people who had gotten together with the misguided perception that they were a soccer team and that we needed to play real hard, I mean REAL hard against them and show them how soccer should be played. I could see the wheels turning as those that knew how to slide tackle were weighing up the odds of not only actually doing it and doing it right but what were their chances of survival once the parents got them home if they committed to making one, especially on their own Mom or Dad.
I had some time to think about line ups while the kids were warming up and came up with the brilliant idea of having two teams and subbing them in and out every ten minutes. This gave everyone 30 minutes of playing time. I left the sweeper in for twenty minutes at a time for stability and Jack stayed in-goal the whole game as he usually does. Even though the kids knew the plan, it didn’t stop them from asking me every two minutes, “Can I go in Coach, put me in Coach, when are we going back in Coach” until I was almost ready to put all fourteen players on the field at the same time. I have never known the boys to be so up for a game as they were for this one. They each wanted to get their licks in against the parents and they didn’t care whose parent it was. In the boys eyes, they were all fair game.
The game itself started well with the boys passing the ball around as though they meant business. As one attack developed, one of the parents put his foot through the ball and it travelled the length of the pitch. That kinda sobered the boys up a bit and the parents began to get into the game and although their team skills were lacking, individually a couple of them had some serious soccer skills which they started to use on the boys. Give the boys credit though as they never shirked a tackle and it was not a bit unusual to see a couple of the boys chasing down one parent and in many cases, winning the ball.
Then disaster struck as one of the parents, Ana, Miguel’s Mom, got in a lucky shot from about 20 yds that whizzed into the goal like a rocket. I say lucky because the rest of the similar shots had missed by a country mile. Give the boys credit though as they still tried to play good passing football and as the half wore on, it was obvious that they had superior fitness as the parents were subbing out every 3 minutes. Heck, they didn’t even wait for it to be their subbing opportunity or the ball to go out-of-bounds and they were coming off even as the game was ongoing. Kinda subbing on the fly, so to speak. Sort of thing you do in pickup games not in high quality games with so much at stake like this one. The boys tried to make allowances for the lack of fitness because the parents were “old” as they put it.
Every time the boys had an opportunity to get close to the parents goal, there was this huge bloke with a red jersey, Kurt Sauer, Hanks Dad, that just frightened them to death. Talk about intimidation. Didn’t matter if he got the ball, he just had to make a move towards it and you could see our players backing off. No wonder he wore red. He knew it was a sign of danger. Very clever with a very dramatic effect. When I talked to them about it, they said they were afraid of hurting him if it came down to a one on one. To be fair, he had this huge clearance that almost put the ball out of the park and I think the boys were afraid that we would lose soccer balls or at the very least, they would be the ones to have to go and get them.Or maybe they were afraid that they would be ones flying out of the park…
Then disaster struck a second time only this time, there was this element of luck which went the parents way. One of the parents, was trying to tackle one of the boys who was playing defence on the top of the box and who should have cleared the ball. Instead from where I was, it looked like the parent managed to fall over bowling into the younger player and knocking him down. The ball rolled loose and Ariel Dulitzky on the other team managed to poke it into the goal. What I would call a very dubious goal. Not how Ariel scored it, which was a very nice finish but in the lead up to it.If anything, it should have been a foul against the original parent. I guess the Referee felt that they needed all the luck they could get and suddenly, it was 2-0 and the parents on the sidelines went absolutely nuts when the second goal was scored. I think that secretly, all of that trash talk had them a little worried and when they realized they were winning, it was like a big relief to them. The boys, at least those that were paying attention, were just booing and hissing at the Referee for not calling the foul. The rest was too busy pestering me to get them back into the game.
As the first half wore on, Ian made one of his famous dribbling runs starting inside his own half, beating the opponents and leaving them stranded and managed to finish with a rocket of a shot that was so hard, the parent goalkeeper, Kurt Sauer, who could only turn it into his own net. So at half time, the score was 2-1 to the parents. The boys came off all excited that we had pulled one back and were full of their own plans on how to play the second half.I gave them my usual pep talk which mainly consisted of “drink lots of water, listen to me, stop messing around, second string go out and do the same as in the first half, pay attention, someone needs to score goals”. The kids, who had heard this monologue for an entire season said yes in all the right places and wisely nodded their heads in unison as though to say, “We got this coach. We heard this all before”.
The second half started and went back and forward just as the first had with neither side scoring any goals. Then the parents managed to scramble one in. This one was a real family affair as Cristina Mauro passed to her husband Gary Mauro who beat one of the Mauro twins and suddenly, it was 3-1 to the parents with things not looking too good for the boys. Leo came close when he had a one on one with the parents keeper, Norm Boyd, only to hit his shot directly at him. Both sets of supporters were getting extremely loud and noisy and were harassing the Referee for the fouls he called and even those he didn’t call. The parents thought the calls were going against them while the boys were calling for the Referee to start handing out red cards for some of the tackles that were flying in. Aubrey handled it all with good grace knowing that it was all in good fun. One parent, Katie Skipsey, Taylor Mom, managed to trip up one of the boys and was so embarrassed that she had to exit the field in a hurry accompanied by the jeers and cat calls from the boys and to the cheers from her own team.
Then Leo had another opportunity and this time, he put this one away. Suddenly, the score was 3-2 to the parents and you could see them start to panic as they could see their lead slipping away. The boys were attacking time after time but could not score the tieing goal and with less than a minute to play, the boys that were on the sidelines rushed onto the field in one group, picked up the ball to the amazement of the players already on the field, played handball with it and carried it into the parents goal. Aubrey, the Referee hadn’t a clue what was going on and finally blew his whistle to end the game. The boys claim it as a legitimate goal to make up for the earlier foul on their player. I don’t know of anything in the rules that condone this method of scoring and the fact that we had fourteen players on the field was probably also illegal…
Both teams lined up for the customary hand shakes and this time, both teams really meant it. The game was pretty good at times and both the parents and the boys including myself, had a wonderful time. What was great about it as one of the parents wrote in an e-mail later was that this particular group of parents really care for their kids and have the kids interests at heart enough to make them want to join in with something that is a part of the boy’s life. They were willing to play in a game that brought them down to the boys level. The boys, on the other hand, were really proud to have played in the game and were full of admiration for the parents for giving it a go. This moment in time, will be forever etched in their memories.
Following the game, Cristina asked me to take the boys to do their customary post training thing of shooting on goal while she and the parents readied a gift for me from the Parents as a sign of appreciation for the past year. When they were ready, Hank as team Captain presented me with a card signed by all of the parents and a gift voucher for The Natural Gardener. Very thoughtful of everyone and much appreciated. They all know that I don’t do any of this for the money or for gifts. I do it out of a genuine love for the kids and knowing that I still have the ability to teach them how to play this wonderful game. The fact that working with these young minds also keeps me happy and healthy may also play a big part of it.
In retrospect, this game today is a reflection of the values that the River City Rangers places on trying to fulfill our motto of “For the Player”. We should add to that and say, “This is not only for the player but for all of the Parents that love their kids and want to spend time enjoying this game with them”. It really was a beautiful and humbling experience and I was proud to be a part of it. That is the beauty of life. It doesn’t matter how old a person may be, there is always something just around the corner that will make them happy.