My Shins Still Ache

High School Soccer

My years playing soccer in school were a blast. Before sixth grade I had never even thought about soccer. I enjoyed playing baseball, but I didn’t play on a team, except for one year in little league. But it was the only sport I followed. Soccer was foreign to me when I joined the JV team, but with a decent coach, that soon changed.

My sixth grade year was not stellar, obviously, but I learned the ropes. I got to try a few positions, including goalie, right wing, and halfback, but by eighth grade I had settled in to fullback and made the All League Team.

In high school, I made the team my freshman year, and I was okay. But I wasn’t a starter in the fullback position and I again tried different positions. I got some time at halfback and fullback, but I didn’t stand out, even though the team wasn’t very good.

Unfortunately, I could not play in my sophomore years because I was working during the practice time. I got a position cleaning the school, and the pay went straight onto my bill. It helped my financial situation, but not my academic or sports standing. But I was riding my bike 6.5 miles each way to school and back home the first four months of the year, so I was getting plenty of exercise.

My junior year I made first string on the team and got my permanent position of left fullback for the next two years. I got good at intimidating the other team’s right wing, which was often the strongest player they had. I was never afraid to go for the ball, even if it meant colliding with the opponent.

Our team stunk that year. We had no good scorers, so we counted on defense. But it is hard to win games that way, and our standing was 2 wins, 10 losses, and 1 tie. 2-10-1 is not a good season, but I still had a blast. My playing was good, and I was out there for my personal enjoyment more than anything.

The coach just dealt with that. We got credit for team sports and the coach had to evaluate my performance. In the review, he complained that I was not a good team member. I told him the truth; I was just having fun. I guess he couldn’t think of any way to change my attitude by that point, so he just said okay. I played every game and for my junior year only sat on the bench five minutes in one game.

I have a vivid memory of the one game the coach took me out of. I went to kick the ball at the same time my opponent did. We both kicked as hard as we could. Our shins met, perpendicular to each other, with a loud crack that you could hear across the field. We both went down, and even though we were wearing shin guards, we had to hobble off the field.

My shin guard had broken in the collision and it bloodied my shin. But I didn’t break any bones, so a grabbed a shin guard from a benched player and told the coach I was ready to go back in. The player who was standing in for me was a halfback and everything was getting past him. So, coach made me prove that I could walk and run, then put me back in.

Five minutes was all that I was out of play the whole season. In my senior year, I never sat down. Not because I was a soccer star like my hero Pele. But because I wanted to play as much and as long as I could. I knew it was my last chance. My choice of college had no team, and by that time I was realizing I was unlikely to be attending college the next fall, anyway.

Our team had a 10-2-1 record for my senior year. Everyone played up to their potential. Our goalie, Kent, made amazing saves. Our front line learned to play well together. We added some small, quick players. And somehow we got the potheads to wait until after the games to light up. Even I learned that I could have fun and work together with the team at the same time. It was a winning season for everyone.

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