You know this if you’ve ever visited this blog. You also know that I’ll never paint my face at a game or defend a team’s honor with fisticuffs or waste any time watching ESPN SportsCenter. (Thanks, Disney.) No, my love of sports resides on a higher plane.
Give me rivalry and pageantry. Give me team colors, matchups, human stories.
Give me a team not expected to compete, in a state playoff game against a conference rival that’s taken them lightly. Watch them pronounce their arrival with spirited play and tenacity. That’s what the girls’ high school team did Thursday.
When they get in my car, if I turn my radio down a little – to say, 12 – I can keep NPR on and they won’t even notice. (If the Moth Radio Hour is on, I can turn it up to 15 or 18 even.) Every once in a while a word will pop out from the broadcast, and it’ll even spark a little conversation.
Race relations. Politics. Shit about the rain forest.
For humankind, at least. And at least for a week. You might have seen the hashtag #bk2hk on social media. There’s a specific kindness for each of seven days, from courteous driving to sacrifice of personal wants for others to Forgive Your Foe Friday.
Every month, I compile a post called 6 Words. Ernest Hemingway inspired it when he said any story can be told in a six-word sentence. I ask bloggers, friends, strangers, and a few strange blogger friends to respond to a prompt.
Endorsements find their way into every other bit of life, though. The girls cannot wear Adidas to practice because Nike sponsors our club. My former club went from Puma to Under Armor, and out went all that old gear. (Puma suited me better, by the way.)
In NASCAR, everything has sponsorship attached.
I’ve told the tales of my early days at Friday and Saturday night short tracks in North Carolina. I hoped the night’s sponsor made food. If they did, I ate. If not? Well, one Friday, I could have a free Wix filter if I wanted it.
One of them, anyway. They’re in a box of some of his things I keep in my closet. My stepmom gave it to me the Christmas after dad died. There’s an Old Timer vintage pocket knife in there, a bit rusty and well loved, from years of stick whittling and fish gutting.
A couple of days ago, in the week before the 15th anniversary of his death, I gave it to her.
She makes me nervous with it. I’m sure I made dad nervous with mine. She’s used it to whittle sticks (we just whittle until there’s nothing left to whittle!), but also used it to cut the excess string off a bracelet she made me.
Just the other night, I implored the boys I coach to “play like girls.”
“Wah Wah WAH!!!” one boy responded immediately. It’s not what I meant. I meant they should not fall to the turf every time the ball hits them at more than .25 MPH. That they should lift up their teammates when they make mistakes.That they should fight like hell, whether they’re up 8-3 or down 8-3.
It was an accidental commentary on the condition of gender in 2015.
This is the first boys’ team I’ve coached. It’s always been girls or coed. I have lofty expectations for the lads. I need them to channel their inner Carly Lloyds and Abby Wambach. I need them to keep like Hope and sweep like JJ.
The greatest moments in sports often come in the waning moments.
Hayden sent her U8 Firecrackers team to the Cabarrus County Invitational final with a penalty kick back in the day. This, while coaches questioned out loud why in the world I’d put a girl on the spot with the game on the line.
Camdyn twice sent her team to overtime in playoff games with incredible shots. The first came to tie the game with less than a minute to play in a first-round match. She ripped a free kick from just inside the midway line right through the keeper’s hands.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The girls know I’m quick to flip stations when many of her songs come on. That one about “you’re cheer captain/and I’m on the bleachers”? I like that one. But those others, especially the one that she makes a lot of the same noises … I Knew You Were Trouble!
Songs keep artists out of my inner circle. Katy Perry, with “Roar.” Ellie Goulding, with “Love Me Like You Do.” Pretty much anything by Nicki Minaj.
Not just because of the age of most of my co-workers. I’m not sure exactly, but I’d estimate 88% of my colleagues are young enough to be my little brothers and sisters. And that’s fine with me. A campus with a bowling alley, two food courts, bier garden and pool tables shouldn’t be only for the young.
Grace spent time with me recently at Red Ventures, and asked at least 11 questions.
She did the same on a visit to Wake Forest University for a soccer tournament. She dug the fact that you could live, eat, sleep, learn, and play all, right there. Just like at daddy’s work. She asked about everything, from “do college kids have bed time?” to … well …