I get so stilted when I start to write a blog, which is made evident by how many blog posts I have made. None. To break the no-writing streak I will simply pick a random topic and jump right in.
First, credit goes to my sports-averse nephew for coining the word “sportsball” to designate all those sports that involve putting, punting, kicking, batting, throwing, catching, dribbling, and even hurling at others if one includes dodge ball: golf, soccer, football, baseball, basketball, field hockey, and on and on. Of course one might suggest to him that snowboarding is considered a sport—an activity that captures much of his love and attention—but to be fair although it involves a board, a costume, a rider, and a thick layer of snow it does not involve any round rolling objects. With a few snowballs one could invent a combined dodge ball and snowboarding event, but let’s agree he does not participate in a sport that requires balls.
Growing up with four brothers, it would naturally follow that I would be become an avid sportsball fan and participant. In fact the opposite happened. Not only did I come to adulthood in the pre-Title IX age—a time before sports was a typical activity for boys and girls alike—there were brothers and boy neighbors who repeatedly reminded me that sportsball was for boys and that no, girls may not play. The age of on-demand-multi-platform-instant entertainment was not even dreamt of and the one television in the house was tuned to sportsball games whenever sportsball was in season; and some type of sportsball was always in season. Even PBS broadcast English Premier League sportsball. Of course I would have preferred to watch something riveting like the Monkees, but with one television in the house it was sportsball on the screen.
When puberty hit, many an hour was spent sitting in the bleachers watching sportsball because inevitably there was someone on the field who made one of our feminine adolescent hearts go pittity-pat; throwing, pitching, kicking, catching, or tackling for both school pride and the giggling girls in the stands. Girls in turn watched with avid attention or studied indifference, depending upon the state of the relationship with the sportsball player on the pitch. In high school the Powder-Puff was a sportsball game where junior and senior girls played football on opposing sides; the boys on the football team served as everything from coaches to cheerleaders. Every painful and sweat inducing drill their coaches had subjected them to they served up to us with a great deal of smirking, dubious that we could endure a single session. For our part, we could not bear to be found wanting and did every sprint, squat, and squirm with grim determination. I was named team captain because of the 100% I received on the written test, demonstrating that I knew the rules frontwards and backwards. Apparently I inadvertently paid attention to all those sportsball broadcasts and bleacher sessions.
College went by without much attention given to sportsball save going to football games. The team was never at the top of the division and if full attention were given it might have been painful to watch. The fun was in being with friends packed in the bleachers with color-coordinated attire, cheering and laughing as the sun shone down and the books were forgotten.
My younger brothers were on some of the early soccer teams, their teams travelled far and wide to find opponents and their teammates were from all over the world. Perhaps it was because I had a drivers’ license and could get them to their games—or perhaps because it was something different to see—I was often on the sidelines cheering them on. But it was not until I was a few weeks shy of 30, with a toddler in tow, that someone at a party invited me to join a sportsball team for women 30 and older. I said I had never played, was out of shape, and was completely clueless. To that they responded that I would be perfect for the team. Completely out of character and surprising myself more than anyone, I said yes. The first game I chased the ball from side-to-side and end-to-end with no purpose in mind other than to follow that ball; to say I was soon sucking wind was an understatement. Eventually I learned about positions, strategy, and to my great surprise, competition. If someone were to tell me that years on I would have three knee surgeries and two ankle surgeries I may have stayed with my original assessment of sportsball, but the future was unknown and the present was filled with competition, camaraderie, and challenge. Sportsball, I was all in.
Meanwhile, our local sportsball team had this player called Joe Montana who started drawing just a bit of attention. When my daughter was born, we lived right by their training center and I would get caught pushing a stroller through a forest of massive sportsball players as they went to and from their practice facility. Pretty soon I was rolling over broadcaster’s cords and getting dirty looks as I wheeled an infant past their impromptu broadcast site, not the masculine shot they were looking for. Our mail delivery got later and later as the mail carrier joined the growing crowds peering through the fences. The excitement was contagious, and it was all happening right there in the neighborhood. It was then I made another discovery. Sportsball, when broadcast, can be viewed intently or viewed with almost no attention whatsoever. While baby clothes needed folding, food needed preparation, or a toddler needed chasing, sportsball droned calmly and quietly until something happened. With a great swell of noise, a play of note was announced and then replayed and replayed from every angle. It was nearly impossible to miss anything of importance in a sportsball game, even in my most distracted moments. Sportsball was perfect for a young mother.
Starting with the K-League Kickers, sportsball became a regular part of our life as parents. Practices, games, coaching, refereeing, cheering, transporting, scheduling, and taking it all so seriously; sportsball for every season. And if that were not enough, there were outings to college games and professional games. Then one weekend as all the mad mothers in minivans roared past us hurtling from one field to another, we suddenly found ourselves with nowhere to be and no one to see. Child grown and weekends on our own.
Now as a lady of a certain age with her varied knitting projects and household tasks, sportsball is still the perfect background accompaniment. The excited voices of the announcers and the roar of the crowds alert me to when I should take a glance; otherwise it is a gentle ambient noise that I can tune in and out as the spirit moves me. As the latest sportsball World Cup got under way I even made a few converts. A friend of mine asked, “Are soccer players like firemen? Do they all have to be handsome?” I do not profess to know the answer to that query, but if you would like to test me on the rules I just might get 100%.