(Found a draft of this digging through some files this afternoon. I really should have posted this last year, heading into reunion summer. Here’s part one.)
I tried out for my high school varsity soccer team as a sophomore, earned a starting spot in the first game, and was so proud to be a starter at age 14 (might’ve been 13, my birthday was around the start of the season).
Unfortunately we lost that game 10-0, and it could’ve been worse because there was no mercy rule. One of those ten goals we gave up occurred when Yours Truly passed the ball back to the keeper so he could pick it up– which was still legal then– only to see him look away from the ball at the last second and let the ball roll between his legs and into the goal. But we had fans there, and they cheered us on anyway.
We were awful those first few years, but we improved. We ended up winning four games– and I’m proud to say I scored the game-winner in our school’s first-ever victory that didn’t involve the other team’s bus getting lost. The next time we played the team that beat us 10-0, we lost again, but by a much closer 3 to 1.
My junior year, we improved a little bit more– we again won four games, but this time we picked up a few ties– one against a state-title contender. We did lose a bunch of games, but the margins of defeat kept getting slimmer and slimmer. One of those losses was by a score of 4-3 to the state’s 10th-ranked team, on their home field. There was some promise, and the fans kept showing up.
My senior year, they decided to tear up the old field and start building a new one elsewhere on campus. Since the new field was under construction, we had to practice and play our “home” games at Jackson High School’s field, a few miles north. (I’m not sure why I wrote “had to” instead of “got to,” considering the cat skeleton and broken glass on our old field). The lights at this field weren’t that good at the time, so these games were played right after school. Happily, we only had four home games, so the rest were played at away fields that were Wembley-esque compared to Stanton’s original field.
Our first win my senior year was against a team which, like many, had put us on the schedule because they thought it’d be an easy win. We were up 3-0 after ten minutes and won 6-2. I scored a lefty, a righty, and a header in that game. Their manager (a player’s dad) later told me that when he called the score into the newspaper, the guy at the paper didn’t believe him.
It was our team’s best season yet, which admittedly wasn’t saying much since team history was only four years long at that point. But we had a winning season, we’d beaten teams we’d never beaten before, and locked up the top seed for the district playoffs despite (or perhaps due to) no true home games that year. Due to injuries and coaching decisions, I was the only senior starter left by the end of the season (might’ve been the only one left playing, too, there were only three or four of us at the beginning of the season). We ended up losing in the district final, 1-0 in overtime– we weren’t soccer-wise enough back then to call it “extra time”. Some of the fans gave us roses after the game, which they’d planned to do win-or-lose. A little odd, perhaps, but that’s what the old Soviet club and national teams used to do, and those guys weren’t lacking for gruffness.
In retrospect, the best part of senior season was that at all but one game,* “home” or away, we had more fans than the other team. We had good fans.
*The lone exception was the away game for which our opponents let their entire school out a little early to watch us beat them 5-0.