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The Beautiful Game
Dedicated to the 2010 Boys Varsity Soccer Team
Not even several steaming cups of hastily made hot chocolate could chase away the cold of that evening. With the sun gone for a couple of hours now, many were prepared in several layers, scarves, hats, and mittens – save the Boys Cross Country Team.
Fans slowly filed into the stadium. In fact, most of us felt that the cold bleachers wouldn’t be filled before the ball started rolling down the turf field. But fans weren’t chased away by a nippy evening. Eventually, our side of the stadium was complete with a bass drum, cymbals, a sign created for each soccer player especially, and the state champion Boys Cross Country team (still on their runner’s high from earlier that day it seemed) with each letter of the high school painted on their chests by our fingers. Of course, they were feeling the cold night but surprised us all by refusing to be clothed properly and running around the stadium with charlie horses and cramping quads.
We fans, or some reason, enjoy being clad in all black to make statements. So, there we all sat, dressed in black from head to toe, war paint streaking our cheeks and zero sunlight to soak up. This time, the black dress took on a different statement than WE ARE HERE.
When tragedy strikes a high school, most are shocked and sorry. Some are regretful. But most forget soon enough only to be reminded a year later or by some turn of events that brings a conversation back to the subject.
But that Saturday night will not be forgotten by those who witnessed that great display of humility.
The excitement of the game itself was kept in check by cold cheeks and fingers and perhaps even abandoned by some after a penalty kick scored the only point in the evenly matched duel. However, as the clock ran down and the victors huddled together in anticipation of their next game, the Hereford soccer boys traded their exhausted uniform jerseys for simple white t-shirts. FOR JERRY was written purposefully in Sharpie.
As these young men walked forward, across the field and in front of the Hereford side of the stadium, students and parents were frozen. Each face along that line displayed grief mingled with courage. Grief from the loss of someone close enough that they wouldn’t only be reminded by unexpected turns in conversations, and for someone who was carrying his grief with each ball blocked from entering that net.
The courage of the team to walk through their dispersed and celebrating opponents determined whether many spilled their welled up, pent up, painful tears. Most did.
It was a quiet night after the opposing side of the stadium cleared out. Sniffling and sobbing was abundant. Quiet whispers were passed along to the grieving after the team returned from stretching.
Players would describe that final cool down together as something powerful. The red eyes weren’t for the could-be state championship, now out of their grasp. It was for their goalie, for their coach. They took on the pain and braved it.
It wasn’t the game; they did put their hearts into each and every kick, every sprint, every block. But their hearts exposed a maturity beyond their years, as if our boys were a lost generation to a war they fought too young. They touched the hearts of the people left in the stands as we watched a powerful beast slowly dissipate and smolder as we scanned the face of each player along that line. They were no longer smiling as they had been only a few days prior after a victory for their regional claim. Now, their chests were broader and their eyes open and expectant and their jaws taut from trying painfully to stop the trembling.
One night, one soccer game unified the people witnessing such a display as well as those performing in a way that cannot nor should not be analyzed and picked apart. It was a beautiful scene that could have been from a film, as it all seemed so perfectly orchestrated and completely surreal.
But it wasn’t. It was a beautiful display for the beautiful boys and their beautiful game.