It was a sunny spring morning, and the Tigers were playing the Sparks in a soccer match for those who are yet to be enrolled in kindergarten.
The Tigers wore navy blue and were coached by Chris Martin. Coaching the Sparks was Jay Erickson. The teams were coed, a fact which went happily unnoticed by the young players. There are no issues at kiddie soccer matches.
The length of time for the quarters is left up to the coaches. They usually start with five-minute quarters, but as disinterest sets in, they become shorter.
Cheers went up at the adjoining field, where the Bears were playing the Wildcats. A goalie stood motionless as a ball dribbled by him into the net for a score. No parent screamed bloody murder, and the coach only laughed. No berating by coach or parent took place, no one rushed forward with instructions on how to block a kick.
Same with the Sparks and the Tigers. With the game in progress, two of the Tigers were roughhousing off to the side. They were not reprimanded nor were they rebuked.
Sophie, who plays for the Tigers, left the game at least twice — once to play with her younger sister, Penny, and the other to retrieve her Sesame Street doll Grover. Heading back into the action, she kept Grover firmly in her grasp.
Nobody noticed and nobody cared. Distractions are allowed in this league and, besides, you aren’t supposed to use your hands in soccer.
Another incident took place when two kids bumped noggins, as kids are wont to do when they are racing about unbridled on a playground. Each retreated to the arms of their mothers and after a good cry were back into the action, pell-mell.
There are no more than six or seven players on each team, and each player wears single-digit numbers. Even if the players numbered past 10, double-digit numbers would not fit on their uniforms. As it is, only about half of the numbers are visible when the jerseys of the players are tucked into their shorts. Some players, like Sophie, prefer to wear their jerseys backward.
Essentially, the out-of-bounds designation is nonexistent, which leads to many kicked balls winding up in the laps of parents, who sit on the sidelines and watch the action.
If a kid wants to walk off the field and visit with a parent, this, too, is allowed without consternation from the coach.
I overheard a parent say, “Don’t you want to go back out and play?”
The child responded, “No, I want to rest.”
The parent’s reaction was merely an approving grin and a welcoming lap.
Some took breaks to fraternize with siblings in strollers. Some kicked the ball toward the opponents’ goal. When it came time for a break, most reached for their sippy cups.
Throughout the morning in the small glen down by a high school football stadium, there were happy sounds of laughing, squealing children who were unmotivated to win, coached by fathers who were not after coach-of-the-year plaques and hosted by parents who were overjoyed with the team pictures and the blue stars given to each player for doing a good job. Everybody went home a winner.
As the teams finished their games, giving way to a new group of parents and kids to play their games, a scene caught your eye.
Two young players, one wearing a Bears jersey and one wearing a Wildcats jersey — both no. 6 — left the field holding hands. The essence of true sportsmanship on full display. Unfortunately, you are not likely to find that anywhere else.
[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]