Several months ago I wrote a piece on this blog regarding the interest in and possibility of Wetumpka hosting some sort of music festival. In fact I wrote about it three different times. There seemed to be a lot of interest but, as this type of thing often does, it sort of got shuffled to the back burner and has remained there…until now! I had someone approach me a couple of weeks ago about organizing just such an event. Someone who is no stranger to coming up with a new and fresh idea and seeing it through to fruition which is something I personally don’t always excel at. He had the idea of putting together what we’ll call for now the Coosa River Jazz and Blues Festival. I mentioned in my previous piece how much I used to enjoy going to Montgomery’s Jubilee City Fest but that I haven’t been in several years because the quality and type of music I enjoyed seeing there wasn’t being offered anymore. I think many others who used to frequent Jubilee don’t attend any longer for this reason and various others as well..
I know very little about soccer. My son played when he was six but that foray into the so-called “beautiful game” didn’t give me much insight into the rules or intricacies of the game. That experience taught me that if you put a bunch of five and six year old kids on a patch of grass(and a fair amount of dirt) along with a soccer ball that the result will look a lot like your typical t-ball game. A mass of short human-beings running around somewhat aimlessly, occasionally fighting over the ball, with some intermittent crying thrown in for good measure. In a word, chaotic. Outside of that, my most memorable experience with soccer was the time there were about fifty of us playing on the football field in high school. I got to see up close what it looks like when someone is hit in the side of the head with the ball because they were too busy talking instead of paying attention to the game. The ball, which was traveling somewhere in the vicinity of 211 mph, hit the guy so hard that he was actually in the air for a couple of seconds before he hit the ground with a thud. Memorable, to say the least. I know you can’t touch the ball with your hands unless you’re the goalie and you have to kick it into the net to score. That, in a nutshell, is the full breadth of my knowledge of soccer.
That is why it is so strange that I continue to find myself watching the FIFA World Cup matches taking place in South Africa over the next few weeks. I’m as patriotic as anyone and watched most of the USA vs. England match last Saturday which, judging from news reports, the USA won by a score of 1-1. Nothing unusual about wanting to see how the Americans stack up against the rest of the world in the rest of the world’s version of football. Yes, I know, I’m an arrogant American who thinks that American football is superior to the older, more widely played and watched soccer or futbol or whatever it is you want to call it. It is unusual, for me at least, to find myself firmly planted on the couch in my living room watching a match between Algeria and Slovenia, two countries I’m not sure I could easily locate on a map. Then, this morning as I walked into work, I picked up the remote and went straight to ESPN2 which was airing a match between Cameroon and Japan. Have I somehow been secretly brainwashed into becoming a fan of soccer? Does it have something to do with the constant drone present at every match that sounds like a giant swarm of killer bees has set up shop in the stadium? Hey guys, can we put the plastic horns away for just a minute? Dang.
I will admit that soccer does look like it would be a lot of fun to play. I get incredibly anxious when one team gets the ball close to the goal, inside that big box, and then kicks it around to each other looking for a shot. If I were the goalie I guess I’d probably pass out from the stress of wondering when the shot is coming and from which direction. The action appears to be almost non-stop though it does tend to be a bit boring when the action stays in the middle of the field. Speaking of the field. Is it just me or does a soccer field seem to be roughly the same size as Rhode Island? I’d like to give the sport a try but to my knowledge there isn’t a local over-40-never-played-the-game-before-in-my-life church league for soccer. I’m not even sure it would be okay for a church to have a soccer team. There may be something in Levitical law regarding a sport in which you can’t touch the ball with your hands. I’d have to check the rulebook on that. Considering the fact that church softball exists, though, it would probably be okay. I can’t think of anything that’s tougher on someone’s Christian witness than playing church softball. Even a handless, politically correct, “beautiful” sport.
I have a lot more I’d like to say on this topic but it will have to wait until later. Italy just scored in the sixty-third minute to pull into a tie with Paraguay and yet another player is pretending to be badly injured. Gotta go…oh, and GO USA!!!
Growing up, I was an average athlete on my best day, but I played both baseball and football for about ten years. I loved practicing just as much as I did playing the games. I had good games and bad games. My parents cut an article out of the Wetumpka Herald in 1984 about a game where I gave up only three hits in a game. That was an exception to the rule. Most games I played in were pretty forgettable. I never had the chance to be on a team that someone would refer to as a good team. The team that I played for when I threw the three-hitter won eleven games in three years. We didn’t even win one season’s worth of games over the course of three seasons but boy, did I have fun!
Never once, ever, do I ever remember either of my parents, particularly my dad, saying anything hurtful or even remotely mean to me either before, during, or after a game. Actually, there was the time when my coach moved me from shortstop to first base just before the first pitch of one game. I didn’t care for the move and was taking my time walking across the field until I heard my father’s booming voice yell, “YOU BETTER RUN, BOY!” I ran. Sprinted, really. I also prayed that he’d forget about it by the end of the game. Other than that he always accentuated whatever positives there may have been and then corrected compassionately wherever correction was warranted. He recognized that I didn’t make the mistakes and errors on purpose. He knew I wanted to do well and that it bothered me when I made mistakes. Therefore, there was no reason for him to make me feel worse by criticizing me or being angry. He realized that what I was playing, whether baseball, football, tennis, or any other sport I ventured into, was a game. I had such a positive experience growing up playing sports that I continued to play whatever I could well into adulthood. I broke my elbow during a church softball game about eight years ago which brought my athletic career to a screeching, painful halt(for those of you who were there on that fateful night and would make fun of me…I scored on the play and you guys ended up winning by one run so, NYAH).
I wonder how many kids who participate in organized youth sports today will be able to look back on their experience fondly. I hear too many stories of overzealous dads and coaches who push too hard and expect virtual perfection from children who aren’t even ten years old in many cases. I personally know of an instance when an eight year old boy who didn’t hit well in the cage before a game, not even during the game, whose father took him into the restroom and spanked him. Don’t you know that kid just can’t wait for game time?!? I’ll bet he LOVES baseball! Playing hard is a good thing. Competition is a good thing. Winning is a good thing and certainly makes an already fun game even more fun. However, those who coach the younger kids and teach them that winning is the most important thing are missing some wonderful opportunities to instill sportsmanship, patience, and perseverance among other character traits. Before someone calls me some sort of bleeding heart who thinks dodgeball should be banned from playgrounds all over the country, don’t. I love competition and I love winning. Just ask my older sisters. They’ll tell you that I don’t take losing well or lightly and I never have. In fact, I never will.
The difference now is that I have children of my own. I see that society doesn’t value a child’s innocence the way it once did and it seems that this world tries to rob them of that innocence at a younger age with each passing year. I don’t think that’s a good thing. As they get into junior high and high school then the rules change. Games mean more and so does winning those games. College scholarships and maybe even more await a select few. I’m okay with that. But those are older kids who are learning a different set of lessons.
I guess I said all that to say this: Let them play for the fun of the game while they still can. Sooner than most of us want, they’ll grow up and be thrust into a world that will heap upon them the problems, worries, and pressures of adulthood. They won’t be kids forever. Let them enjoy the wonders of life while they still can. That includes baseball.