Back in my day.

Back to high school soccer:

My sophomore and junior years, our home field was horrific, and looking back there’s no way I’d’ve let my kids play on it, whether for varsity sports or for phys ed class. If it was a regulation-sized soccer field, it was just barely so. The penalty box is 44 yards wide and the minimum width for a field is 50 yards, so that means the touchline should have been at least three yards beyond the side of the penalty box. I don’t think it was. In fact, the penalty box might not even have been the right width. It was narrow enough that with a single-step run-up, I could chip the ball with the outside of my foot from the corner flag into the center of the goal box. Fields shouldn’t be that narrow.

But that’s not what made it horrific.

A little bit less than half of the field was a fine, grassless, gray sand. It was hard to run through– imagine running on the softer sand at the beach, but with patches of grass every 5-10 yards or so, and people kicking at you. Dribbling through it was hell, so you’d have to rely more heavily on passing even when dribbling was the right thing to do. But if you tried to pass the ball thorough those lumpy patches of sand, it could end up anywhere– just probably not wherever you meant to kick it. And at the end of a practice or game, your cleats and socks were probably going to be full of sand.

But that’s not what made it horrific.

What made it horrific was having to rake the sand before the beginning of the season to find any potential hazards. You know, chicken bones, cleats that had separated from shoes, the plastic spines that slid into shin guards, broken glass, hypodermic needles. One year we found a cat skeleton.

We were pretty certain we got all the sharp stuff out of the sand, but slide tackles and diving headers were still more of a gamble on our field than on others.

We thought that the field would give us a bigger home field advantage than usual since we’d be used to playing on it and other teams wouldn’t be. Nope. The field was bad enough that our practices were almost always unproductive, so we couldn’t improve much as a team. We got more practice out of our games on real fields (which is usually the case anyways) but Lord knows we needed those practices.

Our home games were right after school– 4:00 kickoffs after a 3:10 dismissal– because we didn’t have lights. That meant students and teachers usually stayed after school, stand along the sidelines due to the lack of bleachers, and watched at least part of our games. They usually saw us lose, but we fought hard and defended our field’s dusty, biohazardous honor as best we could.

They should probably have nuked it all long before they finally tore it up my senior year, but now that a good bit of time has passed, and as the field grows deadlier and the home crowds grow larger and our efforts grow more valiant in my memory, I suppose that field had its charms.