For some reason my parents decided that a sport would be a good way to remedy to my being picked on. My father had been a talented football player in his youth but at six years old, in the Jersey shore suburbs the only sport for me was soccer.
I was signed up for the Ocean Township Recreational Soccer League. We practiced within walking distance of my house at the Park Avenue Park and my coach was Jerry Van Brunt. Jerry’s son, Kevin, chose our team name. And so we were called the Super Smurfs.
The first game Jerry put me in the goal and my mother approached him. “Jerry, you are making a mistake,” she explained, “My son doesn’t like to get dirty.”
Jerry smiled. “We’ll see.”
I was a six year old animal in the goal. Our team was the worst in the league but somewhere deep inside I liked that. It meant I got more shots on goal to save. I liked to throw myself to the ground. By the end of the game I was a bloody mess.
Someone took count of the first game’s statistics and due to some quirk of grey matter I can remember that the final score was in the high single digits, seven, eight or nine but I had over thirty saves.
My carniverous high point was when the forward on the other team went out of bounds and came back in, shot and scored. I had stopped playing because I assumed the referee would make the correct call. When he didn’t I ran up to his knee and started screaming.
The six year old who had been beaten up on the kindergarten playground told off the ref. I called him, “four eyes” and told him to get better glasses. My parents gaped in horror from the sidelines.
They explained to me, after the game, why that kind of conduct wasn’t right but you couldn’t wipe my father’s smile off of his face. My mother complimented me on how well I concentrated on the ball all game.
The Super Smurfs never won a game. We played the Bears and the Hawks and the Spartans and never won, never even close. But I learned to catch and I learned to come back every week no matter what had happened the week before.
I started to take this entry into my high school years but it get’s complicated and I want this story to be simple. There is one high school moment that is important and is worth writing about.
I was a junior in high school, practicing with the varsity team. A kid named Vinnie kicked a ball at the goal and the morning dew that was covering the grass, spun off of the ball in a spiral pattern. For a split second everything slowed down. The droplets of water flew off of the ball in this beautiful geometrical circular patter. The panels on the soccer ball seemed to be rotating in slow motion as the ball headed at me. I could’ve counted the drops of water.
It remains one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
The catch wasn’t remarkable or dramatic. No one commented on it. The ball had been kicked right to me and I caught it. It was a simple catch during a simple drill that meant nothing.
I looked around at the rest of the team, wondering if they had seen it. Everyone continued with the practice, business as usual. It wasn’t that they weren’t watching or weren’t concentrating. Nothing had happened for them not because they weren’t as enlightened or didn’t have my Jedi powers.
I had gotten lucky and time slowed down for a two, maybe three seconds. That focus that my mother had complimented on, ten years earlier, allowed me to stumble on a beautiful image caught in between moments.
Tonight I played in a great game of soccer with a great team in front of me and a great team coming at me. I threw myself hither and yon and my knees are a bloody mess. It was fun and pretty football.
Our team is called the Gorge Hawks but some day, I hope to once again play on a team called the Super-Smurfs with blue uniforms. I think a kind of reverse psychology might take hold, inspiring the team to new levels of smurfocity.
Time hasn’t slowed down like that since but I keep concentrating, hoping for that goalkeeping satori.
My parents will be glad to know that despite a few terrible calls tonight, I never once told off the referee.