Soccer Grandpa (c)

Sports prowess runs in our family. Way back in the mid 1800’s my great grandpa Bill financed his family’s trek across the plains to the Utah territory by winning impromptu horse races in and around Winter Quarters Iowa. Brigham Young didn’t like gambling so my great grandpa quit racing. After that great grandpa just used his fleet steeds to get away from Indians, bad guys, and Johnson’s Army during the Utah War of 1857-58.

My father worked as a blacksmith in Utah in the early 1900s. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem describes my dad:

“The smith, a mighty man is he

With large and sinewy hands.

The muscles of his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands.”

My dad used his brawny arms to win plenty of arm wrestling matches when he was young.

My mother, wearing long skirts, and using gut-strung rackets won many tennis matches against strong male and female opponents on the dirt courts of Tooele, Utah between 1908 and 1916.

Sports prowess skipped me—unless you count twenty years of second, third and fourth place finishes in 5K and 10K road races.

On my wife, Emmaline’s side of the family, sports prowess manifests itself in fandom. Her uncle Horace attended every home baseball game the Salt Lake Bees played between 1920 and 1940, and he yelled himself hoarse at every one.

Emmaline is a serious sports fan. Once when we lived in northwest Florida, Emmaline forced me into the car to drive to Atlanta where the Kansas Jayhawks were playing in an NCAA sweet sixteen basketball tournament. The reason she had to force me into the car was that a category four hurricane was steaming ashore right behind us. The hurricane came inland on the same course we were heading. Radio stations all the way north broadcast warnings: “get off the highways,” “seek shelter, now!” We just drove on through the storm. When we finally made it to Atlanta we had to wade through ankle-deep water to get to the entrance of the field house. The

Jayhawks lost, but because I got a chance to take her picture standing beside KU’s mascot, the Baby Jayhawk, Emmaline considers that Atlanta trip a great success.

When we watch sports on television I strap a pad to my thigh because I know Emmaline will pound on it with her fist if the game is close. When we watch regular television programs the dog lies on the couch beside Emmaline. But when we watch sports events on TV, the dog hides under our bed—Emmaline’s yelling scares her.

My daughter is a cross country skier, mountain bike rider and rock climber. My son is a softball player and epee fencer.

That brings me to the current generation. My grandkids Ariel, aged seven and Gorky, aged four, play soccer on Saturdays. That makes Emmaline and me soccer grandparents. It’s wonderful! The concept of “victory, victory uber alles,” doesn’t apply to the kind of soccer they play on the kiddie fields of Letongaloosa.

Gorky plays in the Hobbit League. The players, a dozen four-year-olds, wear green or yellow tee shirts that hit them at mid thigh, or sometimes at the ankle. Each player has his or her own ball. The players run around on mini soccer fields with mini soccer nets at each end.

Ardent, happy fans stand on the sidelines yelling encouragement to all the players:

“Great going, Turner, you actually kicked the ball!”

“Marvelous Gretchen, you got up off the grass really fast!”

“Hang in there, Thompson, lying on your stomach on the ground and pulling grass is lots of fun too!”

There’s a little more structure in the seven-year-old league that Ariel plays in. During the game there is only one ball on the field at a time. Seven-year-olds focus better and are a bit more intense than the four-year-old players, but the fans are just as positive and supportive as the Hobbit League fans.

“Go Red team,” they shout. “Go Blue team.”

“Good job Amelia, you kicked the ball right out of bounds.”

When either team makes a goal, fans on both sides of the field applaud and yell “Good job!” When the games end, scores are seldom mentioned. The players all give each other high fives and then run to the sidelines to get healthful treats.

In an age when sports competition is very intense, Emmaline and I have learned a lot from being soccer grandparents.

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