Sports have always been such a big part of my life.
I grew up in a sports crazy family with a very athletic father, who probably couldn’t hold a candle to my mom in her athletic accomplishments. My siblings all participated in some sport of athletic endeavor through most of our childhood and we even carried it into adulthood, some deeper than others.
It was a time when big brothers and sisters didn’t get punished for beating their younger siblings in race or a game, and never once do I remember any of my siblings “letting me win.”
One of my first memories with my father was when he came back from his last trip to Vietnam. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and couldn’t wait to show him how fast I had gotten. (People who know my athletic talents are probably on the floor right now hearing me talk about speed).
He was still dressed in his Army-issued green khakis and boots, and gladly took the challenge.
He smoked me. Wasn’t even close. But I learned a lesson that day, and my competitive nature was born.
I went on to play many organized and recreational sports, played soccer in college, enjoyed club lacrosse when I was home in the summer and then played men’s league soccer, both outdoor and indoor, until my body had enough of this “mind over matter” stuff and rebelled, reminding me of the wear and tear I’d ignored for so many years.
When it was time to hang up my cleats, I wasn’t happy and it was not really my own decision. But by the time that happened, I had been lucky enough to get what I would call my fair share of my time as an athlete. The time had long since come and gone when I was doing any kind of improving in my skills or athletic abilities and I was just playing for pure enjoyment and recreational activity.
Although I didn’t like it, it wasn’t heartbreaking to me when it was time to walk away. I had missed a season or two along the way due to injuries or personal interests, but had a good run.
I miss being able to kick a soccer ball with any kind of power or finesse. I miss running the basketball court with my friends at the armory on a Sunday morning, smelling of the places we had patronized the night before. What I miss most of all is the time I spent with my teammates in the adult men’s indoor leagues, and the overall camaraderie that participation in sports brings to the table at every level.
It breaks my heart for the seniors in high school and college that are missing out on some of the best experiences of their academic and social careers. I hear the pain in the coaches’ voices when they talk about what their kids missed out on by having the spring season canceled, and I think about the work and the plans that those coaches have put in to prepare for this season only to have to store them until we can get back at it again.
I connect to those senior athletes at both levels who have been looking forward to putting those school colors on one last time, jogging out to the center of the field during team introductions, and battling your opponents for one last time.
I’m missing the chance to work with an incredible group of young ladies, a team in every sense of the word, who I was looking forward to learning from.
But what I’m going to miss the most is what is going to be lost or damaged by this coronavirus.
An example happened this spring in the last tournament we played for club soccer. Shaking hands with the other players and officials was already disallowed by the league, but when the opposing coach came up before the game to shake my hand, something I’ve done for 35-plus years, I paused to remove my glove to shake his hand.
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I love the display of sportsmanship in our county soccer games, where each player shakes the opposing coach’s hand during introductions. I guess we’ll acknowledge each other with a head nod this fall?
What’s going to happen when a player scores a goal or the winning touchdown? We’re used to seeing our players hug each other in celebration, are they now to stand 6 feet back with a virtual high five?
Like everything, we’ll adjust to whatever our new normal is when the cloud clears, as I did when my knees finally said enough, but it doesn’t mean we can’t miss those things we held the dearest to us when we were still in the game.
Unfortunately, we’ll be taking a hiatus from Bird at Play for the foreseeable future. Like many others, the coronavirus has made its way in to the newspaper business. We’ll be back when the sports come back, but I’ll miss connecting with you each week. Until then, please say safe.
Jamie Ford, author of “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” wrote, “I had my chance, and sometimes in life, there are no second chances. You look at what you have, not what you miss, and you move forward.”
I hope our seniors can do the same.