Inch Towards The Light
It’s time for an uplifting story. Several of my blog posts, of late, have been of a rather dreary nature. It’s the nature of the research I have to do for some of my novels I would imagine. The topics are serious and don’t lend themselves to joy and happiness.
On this day, however, I haven’t done any research. I’m not currently writing a novel about relationships, or violence against women, or the process of grieving. I’m re-writing children’s stories the way they should have been written if a parent were to set out to set their child up for years of therapy. That puts me in a good enough mood to share a personal story from days gone by.
My kids were raised in a small, somewhat poor, town in rural Oregon. It was a great place, with great people. The town was primarily a lumber town, and when the lumber industry took a dive so did the jobs. It’s not that unusual of a story… happened all across the country from one industry to the next. It’s the nature of changing times and changing demands, but needless to say a lot of the parents and kids in the town were less than well off. But the town was small, and close and somehow managed to take care of its kids the best way they knew how. Like I said. . . it was a great place with great people.
Why am I telling you all of this? To paint the picture of what the community was like. It wasn’t LA, or NY, or even Portland. It was a place where people just seemed to pitch in and help wherever they could, which is how I found myself being a soccer coach. For years I had been coaching baseball, softball and basketball through the local community center and for some unknown reason when the junior high soccer team ended up without a coach, they thought of two guys named Mike.
We had no idea what we were doing, not having played soccer or even really paying that much attention to it, but we figured we knew more than the kids… and a sport is a sport after all. . . it would be like basketball with feet. We learned the rules and scheduled a practice.
The first thing we learned on that fateful rainy day (It’s always raining in Oregon during soccer season) was that our kids weren’t very fast; they weren’t very talented; and Mike and I knew even less about the skills of soccer than we thought. But we trudged ahead… what else were we going to do?
Our first game was an eye opener… With the weeks of conditioning and daily practices we put those kids through, the pep talks, the strategy sessions and the drums of war playing in the background, we were gifted with one of the biggest beat-downs I have ever witnessed in sports. Not only were we out of our league, we weren’t even on the same field if you judged it by the score. I’m not sure the kids understood why two coaches named Mike were laughing on the sidelines, but really. . . what else are you going to do? Blame the kids because the other team was just that much better?
The following day, at practice, we had a sit down with the kids and explained to them that they simply had no chance of winning the next game, or the next, or the next against teams with matching shoes and bags and talent across the board. But they could get better. . . they could get beat by less, and maybe even score a goal. Did I mention our team was sponsored by the town mortuary? In retrospect. . . it was fitting.
Over the next several weeks, we worked those kids like demons and they never complained. Every game was a blowout, but every game the ass-kicking was a little less. Halfway through the season we actually scored a goal. I’m not sure how. I’m pretty sure it was luck, but it was a good day regardless. By the end of the season, we were winless . . . 0-16 if I recall, but by the end . . . we were losing by only a goal or two at most.
But here’s where the story takes an evil turn. The entire season was merely to find your placement in the year-end tournament to decide the championship for the league. It would be held on a real soccer field with turf instead of the converted football fields we were used to. Teams from around the State would show up to compete and showcase their talents. And their cool shoes. And their matching bags.
Mike and I figured we had a short weekend ahead of us, but it would be a good experience for the kids to play on a quality field. We were dead last in the rankings, so we pulled the first early morning game of the day. Which was perfect, because then we could have rest of the day to relax, and get a few things done around the house after we lost.
An odd things happened though, perhaps the other team didn’t take us seriously enough, or perhaps they hadn’t slept well the night before, but we somehow we won that first game. I’d like to say it was the coaching, but really, I think it was probably just luck and timing. Still, a win was a win and the kids were thrilled. We were still in the tournament, and that’s all that mattered.
Somehow we managed to win the next game as well, and the next… and the next. Each game we were winning more decisively. Each match we were getting better. All of the conditioning over the preceding months, all of the practice was paying off. As the other teams with amazing talent and identical shoes played match after match they began to wear out and get tired. Our boys were just getting started.
By the final game, we were faced off against the best of the best. They had skill, they had the talent… (did I mention matching bags?), but they didn’t have the heart and the drive of those amazing young men from a small town in Oregon. We won the final game by six goals if I recall.
Frequently, when I’ve given up hope or feel like I’m never going to win, I think back about those kids and realize that if I quit, gave up, rolled over and died, I would be doing the lesson they taught me a disservice. If a bunch of ragamuffin junior high boys knew that picking yourself up from failure makes you stronger, that working toward something even if it’s just one small step at a time, will eventually get you where you’re going, then who am I to argue? They were champions, each and every one of them.
Inch toward the light y’all and go check out my books… K?
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