Excavating American soccer fields, uncovering buried layers of sport

I quit soon after high school and never smoked that much. Of course, it slowed us down. The fastest runner on the team smoked. She was like a gazelle streaking down the wing. A few years ago she died of breast cancer. Her mother died of the disease as well at a young age. We didn’t think about cancer then. It was not until several years later that the health fairs would haul out the blackened lungs for you to touch and ponder or that public campaigns would kick in to prevent kids from buying cigarettes. In high school, some parents even shared their cigarettes with their kids. On road trips, we knew which parents would let us smoke (really only one). But the cigarettes contributed to our “laid-back” approach.

On one road trip, our goalie, a serious smoker, sat in the far back of our Ford Econoline van. Seat-belt laws were unknown and many a team traveled packed sitting on the floor in the back of that van. Hot and bored, she took off her bra, hung it out the back window. She added to the effect by pressing her face decorated with cigarettes up to the window. My father had no idea why drivers in others cars were honking and waving at him.[3]

And then there was the underage drinking. It is old news perhaps, but playing sports does not keep teenagers from breaking rules. We didn’t drink because of soccer. Most of my friends from school drank before we were 18, the legal drinking age then. On the state-championship wrestling team, there were several champions who were connoisseurs of “partying.” There were alcohol-related traffic deaths among the teens in my school, including the boyfriend of our gazelle. Drugs, mostly pot, were also available, although they weren’t particularly related to soccer. PCP became a scourge around that time, coke was coming onto the scene, and amphetamines circulated, but few of members of the team went much beyond basic pot, if that. But there were alcohol episodes related directly to the team. Early on, I remember a teammate stealing one beer from the adult bin at a soccer party and four of us running off to a field nearby to drink it. More of a thrill than a buzz.

The most memorable incident was the slumber party for one player’s 16th birthday. We waited until her parents were in bed and then broke out the booze—from rum to Boone’s Farm apple wine. Because time was short, we imbibed it rather quickly in large quantities. Soon girls were pontificating philosophically, vomiting and crying to God (a streak of evangelicalism ran through us as it did through the community at large.) We woke grandma and soon mom and dad up. Dad happened to be our assistant coach, and we had a game the next day. Not all the partiers were on the team, but the game, on a cloudy day, was low-key to say the least. He made it clear to all of us that by early that afternoon all of our parents had to call him after we had told them what we had done. Teammates who didn’t drink were disgusted with us, and those who did, but were more discreet, laughed.[4] Later that year, the assistant coach died of a massive heart attack. The whole team turned out to support the family. He was even more like a father to us after that party.

Our coach, Dr. B., was a father and mentor to us all. Even after our team, including his daughter and my friend (a nondrinker and nonsmoker), moved on to college, he continued to coach teams, including those of my younger sisters. Dr. B. had a Ph.D. and was a scientist with a federal agency. He was smart, tough and had a good sense of humor. His wife, Mrs. B, was always rooting us on loudly from the side. So were other parents, but her cheers were memorable. We all had a home with them. Dr. B. once arrived at practice late and very shaken. He had been first on the scene on an accident on Route 214, then a notorious, windy two-lane road with a 50mph speed limit. The steering wheel had gone through the woman driver. That road was an indication of how far out in the boonies we were, but yet only 17 miles from the Washington border.

Dr. B learned soccer with us. I don’t think he was very familiar with the sport when he took up coaching. But like the other parents involved in building the club, he dug in and worked hard at it. He took it as seriously as getting his Ph.D. I remember when we no longer could call him Mr. B, but now it was Dr. B. The “Doctor” rings so much more truly with him. Some of the players would make fun of how he would try to teach us to weave with three players or some other concept he brought back from the camp in North Carolina or another clinic. As a coach now, I really appreciate his efforts and just how much he did teach me.

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