Admittedly, my daughter Bailey’s first foray into the storied Genoa youth sports scene wasn’t, err…as storied as I would have liked.
We signed up my 4-year-old newbie for U6 co-ed recreational soccer. Her first time out, rather than pass the ball with the rest of her teammates, she instead picked it up and took off with it while laughing hysterically as if she were getting her inner-rugby on.
When it came to dribble the ball the length of the pitch and kick it into the net, our little Mia Hamm-to-be performed the drill exactly once, kept right on running past the net, and through the stands of flowering trees at Allen Park and on towards the parking lot yelling “Juicebox! Juicebox!”…as if she had just exerted about every ounce of energy she could muster and knew that a cold libation awaited in the car.
|The next sports superstar, in something,
someday-Bailey Christina Norwalk.
About the only thing she did love about the game in the run-up to the season was the running of laps once practice was over. She enjoyed it so much, that often times she’d keep right on running, and running, around the perimeter of the field while her bemused teammates gathered at center circle for a little post-practice huddle. She’d finally light out for the giant twisty slide at the opposite end of the park – again, fueled by carefree laughter.
When that magical day came when I helped Bailey put on her first sports jersey — in reality, a t-shirt with a black No. 7 emblazoned on the back — I couldn’t have been prouder than when I first pulled on my own Comet’s No. 86 jersey at Bergman Field on a Friday night.
You see, I was often told before Bailey Christina Norwalk came into this world that when a person has a child for the first time, everything changes. I’ve discovered that I’m no exception to this rule.
These days, rather than reading just one more article in Sports Illustrated before bed, I instead find myself opting for one more “Curious George” episode, followed by a bedtime story or two, followed by falling asleep in our favorite chair.
Instead of getting together with a good friend for a relaxing game of catch and a few cold beers, I’m working with Bailey on how to ride her Minnie Mouse bike or hit a baseball off a tee over a couple of juice boxes.
Her first kickoff, her first assist, her first goal, her first skinned-up knee, her first tears over skinned-up knees…I want to be there. Let’s face it, there’s no greater, more-precious gift in the world than one’s child. Although let me tell you, sports fans…Bailey’s rookie season on the pitch has definitely been no holiday.
First, there was the carefree meandering in the opposite direction on the field, as the play, the ball, and nine other excited, snotty-nosed footballers went scampering by her while she lackadaisically picked dandelions and softly sang the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” theme to herself and whoever else cared to listen.
Oh, and who could forget that Saturday afternoon in the middle of the season during “Soccerpalooza” weekend when Bailey Christina refused to participate at all.
Instead, she hid in the trees. Every now and then she let out with the beller, “I want to go bye-bye in Grandma’s car,” even though her team was playing our next door neighbor Wendy Combs’s team. Virtually everyone was in attendance from both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and in-laws. I wanted to hide in the trees myself.
Other highlight-reel moments include tipping over the team water cooler with a few other culprits, then proceeding to churn it into a sloppy, mud puddle mess under the bench with brand-new Umbro cleats. She was picking up every random rock, stick, leaf, and slab of bark laying around the pitch, and then gifting it to her cousin and teammate A.J. Hill. And of course running towards a newly-discovered patch of dandelions; running after a tractor some 300 yards away in a neighboring field, or running, running, gasp…and running.
This kid wouldn’t even sit still for the team photographer without being bribed with a snack pack of Oreos just to remain copacetic for 30 seconds.
But, ohh…that day when we got Bailey’s first sports photos back and I looked down at my little girl – a soccer ball twice the size of her head clutched in her hands — it brought tears to my eyes.
Only three games left, and suddenly I felt sad that her first season ever with the “Mean Green” team was almost over. In turn, that meant one season of her young life was also already over.
It was a season during which she took her first steps onto a field of play and began developing crucial socialization and teamwork skills with other children her age.
Solidarity? Love for her teammates? I can remember multiple occasions when she actually hugged, high-fived, or shrieked “Good job!” to our two top scorers and perhaps the team’s best athletes in Brock Matthews and Emmy Hayes.
Sportsmanship? Let’s say she couldn’t get into the post-game handshake line fast enough after the final whistle to dole out even more “Good jobs.”
Bailey’s final stat line might read something like three kickoffs, two or three assists, two “near” goals, and one nasty strawberry on her left knee.
So what if she didn’t score a single goal. She’s learning the game, had fun, and is enjoying the vigor of life.
Big deal if her rookie season wasn’t storied. Maybe one day she’ll go on to become a Northern Buckeye Conference cross country champion, a 4.0 geology major, the first cheerleader for the Pittsburgh Steelers, an award-winning botanist, or the next Mia Hamm.