Over the years, Vince has had three interests that have been quite consistently near the top of his list…soccer, video games and reading. Others have come and gone, but these three have remained, for better or worse, important parts of his life. As a big kid always trying to catch up to his body, he has never been one of the kids for whom soccer has come easy, but he has always liked the game and has never had to be cajoled into playing. The group of boys that he has come to know through soccer make up the center of his social life.
As the academic challenges of the nation’s oldest public school have become more acute, the Parent Imperfect and Liz have wondered if the boy should be playing soccer four or five times a week on two travel teams. They’ve insisted that he miss practice a few times when a big test or class assignment loomed, but they’ve generally felt that the outside physical activity and social interactions connected to soccer were really important to his ability to survive in a difficult environment. Much better to limit his time on video games!
And so it was that preparing to try out for the school soccer team became an important part of a summer dominated by the relative misery of summer school. Having something to look forward to was very important as he did Latin while others vacationed, did one camp or another, or just hung out without homework. He spent two weeks at a pretty rigorous evening soccer training program sponsored by a parents’ group, The Friends of BLS Soccer. He then spent his one free week (no summer school) at a sleep away soccer camp with a friend from school. The tryout would be a scary and competitve thing, but he was as prepared as he could be, given the summer school commitment. The coaches at both the training session and the camp had been very encouraging to him, which left him with unusual confidence. He needed to pass summer school in order to try out for the team, and he managed to get over this last barrier with surprising ease.
The day of the tryout came, bright and almost too breezy for soccer (Hurricane Irene approached). A large number of hopeful boys gathered in white T-shirts and shorts on the former city landfill now transformed into Millenium Park. The coaches put the boys through two demanding sessions of 2-3 hours each before announcing the teams. In the past, they had conducted two days of tryouts, but this year apparently felt that they could do the necessary evaluations in a single day.
As luck would have it, the PI and Liz had scheduled dinner that night with friends in the distant (at rush hour) suburb of Arlington. Given that they had already backed out of the date twice, they didn’t feel that they could fail to show three times and still hope to call these people their friends. They arranged with a neighbor to bring Vince back from his tryout, but, as the 6PM approached, the PI began to feel that it would be important to be at the field for the end of tryouts, even if it meant arriving in Arlington a bit late. The coaches had moved the tryouts up an hour, hoping to avoid the first band of bad weather associated with the coming storm.
When the PI, Liz and Connie arrived at the park, many of the boys were already headed home. Vince was leaning up against a chain-link fence, watching the end of the first day of the tryouts for the girl’s team. The PI surprised Vince, who wasn’t expecting his family to be there. The look on Vince’s face immediately alerted the PI to bad news. When the junior varsity team was named, Vince’s closest soccer friends were on the list, but he was not.
Had the news been different, the family would have congratulated Vince and sent him home with their neighbor. But the day’s disappointing result required a Plan B. They drove Vince home and decided that Liz would stay there with him while the PI and Connie went off to Arlington. Given the boy’s gloomy mood, that was certainly one of the day’s better decisions.
The handbook that allegedly governs conduct at the nation’s oldest public school says that parents are owed an explanation for the non-selection of any student for an athletic team. The PI dutifully requested such an explanation and was assured by the coach that it would be forthcoming. To no one’s surprise, there has been no explanation. As a youth sports coach, the PI knows that coaches aren’t good at that sort of thing. Several other players, parents and coaches have provided Vince and his parents with many quite reasonable (if frustrating) explanations of what happened, but those who made the decision have not yet provided any sort of answer. Some parents have told the PI that he has been much too relaxed and understanding about the whole thing, but he can’t seem to reinvent himself as the demanding and insistent parent, even though Vince and Connie might be better served by such a parent.
Almost two weeks have passed since that unfortunate Thursday. Hurricane Irene has come and gone, with a large tree falling on the house next door. The family did not, of course, make any plans for these two weeks in light of the possibility (naively considered a good one) that preseason soccer practice would dominate their lives. Vince has cried, laughed, done a bit of his summer reading, disappeared into the strange world of Call of Duty, spent time with friends and fought with his sister and parents, as usual. If disappointment builds character, this summer will have been a time of major character construction. Perhaps it is time to turn the page on this one.