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Friday, August 7, 2009

My Taste in Sports - Early School Years

"Hey remember the Ei-ei-ei-ei-ei-eightees? I do." -Goat Boy, Saturday Night Live

To those of you that loved Goat Boy, you are welcome! To those of you that hated Goat Boy, sorry, it just popped in there. To those of you scratching your heads wondering what I am talking about, it does not matter. But it does indicate the first stop on this magical journey.

When I was born, Brazilian legend Pele had just retired from playing with the New York Cosmos and German legend Franz Beckenbauer stepped up to take his place. The North American Soccer League was at the height of its popularity. Soccer leagues were popping up all across the country. At long last the world's game had reached the United States in a lasting way.

The Des Moines area had its share of leagues as well; many of them are still in operation today. Influenced by my cousin Brandon's love of playing (Brandon is about four years older than me), my parents signed me up for soccer. Although we lived on the north side at the time, I joined the same league as Brandon - the Southridge Soccer Club (now Soccer South). By the time I went to my first practice, both Beckenbauer and the NASL were gone from the US.

Although I do not remember exactly when I started playing, I do remember that it was because of soccer that I first learned to tie my shoes. In kindergarten class I was struggling with the whole shoe tying thing. The teacher tried this special board with a shoe picture and laces; she tried giving me random shoes she had collected. Neither worked. Then one night before we left for soccer practice, I sat on the floor in my black and neon orange (gotta love the 80s!) Adidas cleats that I received as hand-me-downs from Brandon. I asked my mom to tie them and she refused. She told me that if I wanted to go to practice, then I would have to tie them myself - and I did!

My fondest childhood memories of my dad come from soccer. I can remember riding across town on the back of his Honda motorcycle worried about my cleats falling off on the way to practice. He used to tape my games (and Brandon's) with a massively complicated VHS camera system. I remember him being there for those games; something that fell away later in life.

I loved playing soccer for many reasons, one of which was the fact that Brandon played; he was my hero. Back then the league wore maroon and gold uniforms, symbolic of South Des Moines. I loved pulling on that shiny polyester jersey and jacquard shorts. These days the kids wear meaningless navy and red.

Our "away" shirts were merely white t-shirts, but Coach Barry (or his wife) got a logo printed on them. We were the Tigers and I played with the same team throughout my youth soccer career. Sure kids came and went, but the core group remained in tact.

I played midfield and defense, although our coaches referred to them as halfback and fullback. A few times I found myself as a froward and I was able to play goalie in practice a few times. I always wanted to play goalie and I do not know exactly why. But if I was to guess, I would say that it was the brightly colored or black (depending on the year) long sleeve jersey.

Eventually, like all good things, my love of playing soccer came to an end. While I lived on the north side, practice was on the south side. Unfortunately, it was on the wrong part of the south side for me. The group of kids I practiced with lived in the Park Avenue district (around mostly near Jefferson Elementary and Brody Middle School, both of which I would later attend). At that time I attended Studebaker, the southernmost elementary in Des Moines. Just like soccer, Brandon also attended school there. Both of us went there because of our babysitter/daycare being in Greenfield Plaza (a/k/a Township). None of my classmates played on my team, and I am not even sure that any of them played soccer at all. Fort Des Moines baseball fields were very close to the school and I believe that most of them played there. This was the first instance of peer pressure leading me to change sports...

Continue to Part 3

Tribe 7