Spending last weekend as a “soccer mom,” thanks to my best friend’s son (go PYSL Hurricanes!), brought to mind the time I was on a soccer team.
I was in my mid-30s and never even had seen a game of soccer in my life, let alone played one, when I was handed the jersey.
My friend’s teenage daughter (Hurricane’s big sister) talked me into driving her to a game with her friends and even kicking around the ball a bit with them. That understatement of the year led me to paying $330 in registration fees and, for many months, going to practices every Tuesday and Thursday behind Martinsville High School and league games every weekend at an 8-field soccer complex, every field full, in Winston-Salem, N.C.
We were given the jerseys of two girls who had promised to join the team but never shown back up: Her shirt read “Rodriguez,” and “Yamileth” was written across my back.
The main language everyone on my team and the others in the league spoke was Spanish. I knew regular Spanish, but I didn’t understand most of the things they said about soccer in Spanish because, shoot, I didn’t even know soccer terms in English.
Our team was made of local women ranging in age from high-schoolers to a grandmother or two. Some had been born in the United States, some had moved here from quiet, gentle villages in Central America, and one or two came from tough cities in California.
Attendance wasn’t consistent. It was common for someone to miss practice or a game because she had a lot of homework that day or her husband was in the mood for a stew which would take all evening after work to cook.
Sometimes during practice a baby would toddle onto the field, and his mother would run to the sidelines, sit down and breastfeed.
What united them all was an overriding love of the game. Their pure joy in both soccer and sharing the fun together was contagious.
One of them said, “I would rather my children say of me, ‘Mama spent many days out playing soccer’ than ‘my mother went to the night clubs a lot.’”
I had the reputation as an aggressive player, which my teammates often complimented. The swift and vicious way I would run after the ball, kick it away from the opposition, dribble it closely or kick it far with great might often got them cheering.
What they never seemed to realize is that I was that aggressive with my feet because I was compensating for my utter fear of the ball anywhere else. If it were coming at me from above, I ran like crazy away from it, because I was terrified of it hitting my head or chest, both of which are body parts you’re actually supposed to use to strike the ball.
I scored two goals during our league games. One was in the other team’s goal, because I had not realized that after the mid-game break that the teams switch sides. The other had something to do with the fact that my position was not supposed to score goals or to run where I had been running. Until they explained that error to me after the game, I had not even realized that each player had a specific role in the game other than, of course, the goalie.
Often when we would get to the league games, we’d see our opposing team and shudder. They were big, strong, swift girls and women.
One game, we were matched up with utter Amazons, lean and muscular teenage girls, each of whom looked like she could crush two of us at once like soda cans. They merely glanced our way like we were a few flies buzzing around the picnic screen. We lost that game by a whole lot.
We never won a single game, but we always had fun. Our victories were when we lost by only four or fewer points.
I can guarantee that no champion of record ever felt the utter bliss that what was felt by our motley crew. We simply enjoyed being together and would drive the hour and a half home cheering, “We only lost by 3!”
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.