Forces of Nature: My Weekend Adventure at a Middle School Soccer Tournament
My sense of home is rooted in the hills of northern New Hampshire. My geography of place was formed here… the house that has been our one true constant, the river behind the house where we splashed on summer afternoons, the rugged hills we hiked as a family, the small-town lifestyle I’ve both found solace in and fled from over the years. Returning for a weekend visit with the tribe of friends who are my touchstones centered around a middle-school girls soccer fest.
Playing in the tournament were my 12-year-old goddaughter, Ella, and her 13-year-old cousin, Finn, the beautiful daughters of two of my dearest friends. Saturday was a cool and windy morning, the sky made deeper blue by the backdrop of golden and orange leaves and the billowy clouds. A perfect late-fall day in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, it was so good to be outdoors bundled in sweaters and jackets, ski hats and warm gloves.
There were eight local teams playing and the Profile Middle School girls had an undefeated season to defend, they were hungry for a win. Small armies of family and friends encircled the playing fields, clustered in lawn chairs and groups, clutching coffee cups and breakfast sandwiches. The many familiar faces of friends there to root for the team made me feel like I was home again. This day was everything I love about life in a small American town. The cheering crowds, the ecstatic shrieks of these adolescent girls as they bounded toward victory, the winey October scent of moldering leaves mingled with faint traces of wood smoke and chili wafting from the snack tent.
During a break, we met the girls at the tent. A host of potluck crocks of chili, nacho cheese and corn chowder offered warmth and sustenance. Trays of homemade cookies and cupcakes, bins of candy bars, coolers of Gatorade and a tree of tootsie pops stood at the ready to refuel the hard-playing athletes. Small-town mamas know how to feed their teams.
As the games progressed, we moved from field to field. The sun warmed the afternoon and piles of coats and hats dotted the sidelines. By midday, the Profile girls were tied going into the semi-finals and we screamed and cheered as they battled their way to win their place in the finals. The girls hugged and shrieked with triumph, their coach Jack Bartlett was beaming, it was a heady moment for both the team and fans. The finals began at 2:30, the girls’ fourth game in as many hours. The excitement and suspense were palpable. The girls flew up and down the field unstoppable with the opposing team hot on their heels, the goalie thwarting their many attempts to score. Then came one goal, then another, and another. The crowd roared, the girls screamed, the coach shouted direction and encouragement. When the 90 minutes were up, the conquering score was three to one for the Profile win!
Coach Bartlett ended the tournament saying, “these girls made 129 goals this season and only gave away 3. They ended the season undefeated and now stand as district champions. This playoff ended just the way it should have!” Ella told me, “Our soccer team is such a cohesive group. I believe that the reason we did so well is because of our ability to work together as a team. We are all such good friends and we laugh a lot… ”
So many enduring life lessons are made on playing fields. Youth athletics build core values like sportsmanship, selflessness, hard work, and the solidarity of a close-knit team. The kindness and encouragement of a good coach generates memories that last a lifetime. Sports teach our young people to follow their passion, to persevere when things get tough, to power through disappointment and losing streaks. It teaches kids to take chances and have fun, to be brave and be generous and to have each other’s back. It gives them self-esteem, the sheer physical pleasure of play and the good tiredness that comes after a hard game.
The girls I cheered on last Saturday are true forces of nature…they are full of energy, they are unstoppable, they are unforgettable. My fear of the future is soothed by them. Their bright banter, their camaraderie and spirit, their sheer joy for life is a balm against the barrage of bad news and ugliness that so often floods the media these days. They will grow into fearless women, they will cause the world to sit up and take notice. Ultimately, they will become women to be reckoned with. I’m glad I could be there to witness all of that on such a glorious fall day in the place that will forever be home for me.