As a player, one of my favorite things about being on the team was the first day the uniforms were handed out to the players for the season, and then every single time I put it on to compete on game day.
It was something special to be handed a jersey as it meant you were now part of something bigger than just you, part of a team with common goals and common workouts and practices, an exclusive club whose experiences were shared only among the members of the team.
It was that way from the first uniform that I put on as a 7-year-old second grader in Brazil, for my class’ futebol de salao team (now called futsal), and it remained that way all the way up until I hung up my last Wolves men’s indoor team T-shirt and called it a career.
As a board member for the Wolves I had some involvement in the contracts with our uniform suppliers and the design of our kits. It was always very exciting to go through that process and then to see the players’ excitement as they received their kits and put them on for the first time. And it wasn’t just the uniforms, but the sweatsuits, training tops, and backpacks that bore our club colors and logos.
A few years ago when I became involved with the Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club, the excitement once again came to the forefront as we switched our allegiance and wore the light and dark green colors of one of the nation’s top clubs that provided our Carroll County boys the opportunity to play at a very high level against some of the best clubs in the region. Putting that uniform on for these kids and for us as coaches again represented a connection to something bigger than ourselves, something bigger than our team.
A few of our Carroll County boys are playing in the national championships this week in Kansas City (as well as some girls from Pipeline Soccer Club that also represent Carroll County) wearing the same uniforms that are worn throughout the club.
When I began coaching back at my alma mater 10 years ago, besides the fact of feeling at home at the school and on Ruby Field, the satisfaction of being able to wear the Columbia blue and white that I myself wore as a player many, many moons ago was something I really don’t have words for. Handing out the uniforms to the players before the dreaded “picture day," putting together the “spirit wear” options for the players and their parents, and putting on my own coaches’ “swag” on game day are some of the things that deepen the connection between the player and the tradition and history of the school’s athletics program.
As parents, we’ve been collecting team T-shirts at the YMCA and local recreation programs and then club kits and swag wear for more than 20 years. We’ve watched as each of our boys beamed with pride as they slipped on their new jerseys, pulled up their socks, and laced up the new cleats that they had just purchased for the upcoming season.
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We bought the parents’ spirit wear whenever it was offered so our own closets are filled with Celtic, Wolves, St. John, Gamber Lacrosse, Calvert Hall, and Westminster gear that we will never be able to wear it all.
But something happened to me this week that again hit me like a brick wall. As our Celtic West teams began the uniform ordering process and I sent out the link to the parents with instructions on how to complete the new order, I realized that for the first time since 1997, my wife and I would not be ordering any uniforms, sweatsuits, backpacks or anything else that our kids needed for their fall sports. We wouldn’t be rushing around trying to find a pair of reasonably priced cleats that matched our budget and our kids’ style anymore.
This fall, when my season at Westminster High School kicks in and I’ll be back on the sidelines doing what I love, my wife will be in the stands only to support my players and me without any “real” stake in the game. My boys will be sitting in the stands along with her as spectators and fans but without any pointers for their brother on the field, because, well, there won’t be a brother on the field.
I was expecting the emotional difficulty that accompanied the last high school game where I coached my son and many players that I’ve coached for many years, the last club game of the last season of my 2001’s and the final game of the incredible run of my 2002’s, but not over something as menial as ordering uniforms.
Watching my boys play over the years has been some of my most enjoyable times but I’m also enjoying being with the adults that they’ve become. I’m not one to worry about getting older as I like the challenges that life throws at you.
As Doris Roberts of “Everybody Loves Raymond” fame once said, “The minute you’re born, you’re getting older.”
Why not embrace it?