Tuesday, February 13, 2024

On That Manicured Field, In That Giant Stadium, Under Those Bright Lights

About eight and a half years ago, when Will had just started third grade, he and I were walking to school when we passed two high school students waiting on the sidewalk for their ride. Will had just begun playing club soccer, and these two boys were wearing backpacks that indicated they played for the same club. I pointed this out to Will, and while he thought the connection was cool, he was too nervous to say anything to them. 

We passed the boys once or twice a week for the next couple of months. I always said hello, but Will tended to cower shyly behind me rather than saying hello himself. One fateful day, the boys happened to be waiting for their ride not just on our way to school, but on my way home too, when I was by myself. I stopped and asked if they played for the club, and then explained that my son was in his first year as a player with that club as well. One of the boys - who introduced himself to me as Jeremy - asked Will's name, and from that day on, Jeremy always said hello to me and to Will, calling him by name. And eventually, Will said hello back. 

Over the course of the next two years, Jeremy and Will ran into each other periodically - on the sidewalk, of course, but also at club practices, games, and tournaments - and every single time Jeremy acknowledged Will, even when he was with his friends and teammates. 

Six years ago I learned that Jeremy played for Consol as well as for his club team. When I heard that Consol had made the playoffs and would play their first round match at home, I decided to take Will...I wanted him to see someone he knew play on that manicured field, in that giant stadium, under the bright lights.

The game was epic. With a few minutes left in regulation, a Consol player received a red card. The team (they hadn't yet become the Lads) had to play down a man for the remainder of the second half, and when regulation ended in a tie, for all of overtime as well. When overtime ended in a tie, the game went to a shootout, which Consol won. The fans rushed the field, and Will followed somewhat nervously, hanging around awkwardly until the crowd had thinned and we could find Jeremy. 

It was such a memorable night for me, both because Will and I had such a fun time together, and because I LOVED watching him absorb the high school soccer experience. I could see him dreaming about what it would feel like to one day take the field in a Consol uniform, and while he would never acknowledge this, I think it was that night that he decided soccer was going to be his thing and his goal was to play for that team. 

At the beginning of this season, the Lads scrimmaged against a team made up of Consol alumni. The afternoon of the scrimmage, Will casually mentioned to me that Jeremy would be playing. To say I was excited would be an understatement.

After the game, I crossed the field and approached the alumni bench where Jeremy was taking off his shoes. When I said his name, he looked up, smiled, and exclaimed, "Will's mom!" I pulled out my phone, and at risk of embarrassing Will, showed Jeremy the picture below. (I then also showed the picture to Will's coach and all the players current and past who had gathered around.) Jeremy remembered that day well, and seeing the photo prompted him and a bunch of the other alumni - who had played in that game - to start reminiscing about their win. I asked Jeremy if I could take another picture of him and Will, and he of course obliged. 

I imagine that to Jeremy, those interactions on the sidewalk felt small and insignificant. And maybe, when looked at in a vacuum, they were. But when looked at as part of the bigger picture, they began a chain reaction that in part led Will to where he is today. I'm so grateful for that chance encounter, and the opportunity it eventually afforded me to watch my boy play on that manicured field, in that giant stadium, under those bright lights.

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