The fellowship of the soccer pitch

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Now seniors at Malibu High School, locals Adam Fote, Zach Le and Jones Tidy have been playing soccer together for a decade. Top: Fote, Le and Tidy playing on the AYSO boys U8 team in 2003. Bottom: The Malibu seniors after competing in a varsity soccer game in December.

I just uploaded my last set of games pictures on the Malibu Sharks Varsity Soccer 2012-2013 Shutterfly website, and I am overwhelmed with the myriad of emotions that have found their way to my very core. This is indeed a huge milestone for me and for our family in our life journey. When we started Zach in AYSO soccer over 12 years ago, little did we know how blessed and enriched our lives would be by that very simple act.

Reaching this milestone has caused me to be quite nostalgic and reflective. I remember when Zach first started playing soccer down at the Bluffs, starting a year after many of his friends did. At the first U7 game, his coach pulled me aside and said, “Zach won’t do jumping jacks. I tell him to do it, and he just says ‘No.’ You need to tell him that he can’t say no to the coach.” I wanted to tell Coach that the reason he said “No” was not because he didn’t want to do jumping jacks; it was because he didn’t know how to do jumping jacks. Instead, I told him that yes, we would work on that with Zach.

As Zach learned to do jumping jacks and play soccer, I learned to be that Dad on the sideline… yelling at him to “get in there” to “get the ball.” When he kicked, I kicked.

I noticed quickly that Zach didn’t get into the action much. While his team was playing “bunch ball,” Zach would hang back. There were no assigned positions, except for the defense position that Zach assigned for himself.

During the second game, as I was yelling, “Get in there, Zach! Get in there!” like a “good AYSO dad,” he turned to me from the field and said, “That’s not how I’m trained, Dad!”

Stunned… “Trained?!?! Who trained you?!?!” I thought to myself. The only training he got from his extremely athletic parents included how to pretend to do jumping jacks when the coach is looking, having snacks, and being on time for practices and games. But someone, somewhere must have been training him to play defensively.

I gave up trying to get Zach to join the crowd, to vie for the ball.

We loved that season… not so much for what happened on the field as much as what happened off the field. It seemed like we were always having some kind of a party or potluck with the families of the team. About half way into the season, I remember talking with Zach and saying something like, “I’m really glad you’re playing soccer. Even if you don’t like it, just keep playing so we can hang out with these great families.”

It was a good thing he liked it!

That first season flew by. We weren’t supposed to keep score in U7, but we all knew going into the last game that they were undefeated. That last game was the toughest one yet. They were down 2-1 going into the last two minutes of the game. The boys were still fighting hard, but I was resigned to the fact that Zach and his friends’ undefeated season was not to be. I was talking to another dad about our post-game party that day when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a little leg in front of our team’s goal kicking the ball. I turned and watched the ball lob over the mob of 6 year old boys. And before I knew it, Zach ran straight through the mob, danced the ball up the field, into the box, in front of the goalie and chipped it over his head to the back of the net. It was his first goal of the season… of his life! J

I was stunned. The boys went wild, and the ref blew the whistle to end the game.

2-2.

They were undefeated, still.

Zach couldn’t wait for the next season to begin. We were thrilled when we found out that Nick Tidy, his assistant coach from the previous season, decided to be the head coach. That meant Zach would get to play with Jonesy, and we would get to keep having parties at the Tidy home!!! And then we find out that Zach would also get to be on the same team as Adam, and that Dom would also help coach! Wow!!!

At the first game, I overheard Zach asking Nick, “Can I play forward?”

What?!?! Does he know where a forward plays?!?! I looked at Corinne and asked, “When did his training change?”

What a season that was! I honestly don’t remember how well they did. I do remember the parties at the Tidy home, Jonesy playing on the sideline with Ben, and how much we looked forward to seeing each other every Saturday.

Our world was opening up, and it was being enriched powerfully. The more soccer Zach played, the larger our community became. As we celebrated Senior Night a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but marvel at the number of games that we have shared on the sidelines, the number of years that spanned, the number of blessings that flowed.

One of my most vivid memories that I still hold dear was from the end of Zach’s first U10 season, Team Spain. They had a great team filled with kids who had so much fun playing soccer. They made it to the final game for the season championship, in which they played against the first seeded team. It was a hard-fought game. They all played their hearts out. Before going in for the fourth quarter, Mikke Pierson, their coach, told them, “This is the last quarter! Leave it all on the field!” So they went out and did exactly that. The other team scored in the last couple of minutes and captured the championship. We saw the pain and disappointment on their faces. They were exhausted. Zach walked off the field, completely spent. His eyes met mine, and I can see the pain in those big brown eyes. He walked straight toward me, wrapped his arms around my waist, buried his face in my chest and sobbed. I held him and felt his body shake with gut-wrenching sobs. After about 15 seconds, he let go of me and pulled away. Wiping his eyes, he looked up at me and said, “Gotta go try out for all-stars.” And off he went! There was more soccer to be played.

It was his first year in U10. Nick Tidy put together a wonderful B-Team for all-stars. Post-season play was a new world for us. I will always remember that first game. It was really early in the morning. We met at the field; each player coming at different times, wearing different sweats and sweatshirts. All around us were teams that had matching warm-up suits, matching back packs, matching shoes, banners, and the whole works. Our boys looked like the “Bad News Bears.” They loved playing… and playing together as a team. Their lack of experience became quite evident. They lost every single game in the all-stars tournament. If losing builds character, those boys’ character was stronger than anything that year. It was hard for them to lose, but they kept playing and kept trying.

The next year, Jake Wexler and his family moved into town, and our lives were changed for good! Zach got to play with Jake and Cam Silbar on Team Portugal. At the end of the season, much of that B-Team from the previous year, along with Jake Wexler, became Malibu’s A-Team. Adam, Jake, Jones, Luke, and Zach were all on that team. They won everything, and in the final round beat Agoura for the Area Championship. Onto Bakersfield they went! I remember Zach saying to me, “We learned to lose really well last year. It feels good to finally win!”

When Zach was on Nick Tidy’s U8 team, Nick had told them that he would give them $20 if they head the ball into the goal. Two years later, Zach did that in a game during his second season in U10. Nick heard about it. A week later, Nick met Zach on the field and gave him a $20 bill. Wow!

The last time we saw Nick and heard his voice was during a U10 game when Zach’s team was playing against Jonesy’s team, which Nick was coaching. Throughout the game, Nick would be yelling encouragements to Zach. At one point, Zach had a great break away and shot on goal. The ball hit the near post and ricocheted out of bounds. Zach just hung his head in disappointment… until he heard Nick yell from the other side, “Great run, Zach! Keep doing it. It will go in!” I saw Zach lift his head and smiled at Nick. Those were the last words Zach heard from Nick. A few days later, we received the devastating news that Nick had died in his sleep. To this day, Nick’s words still ring in our ears and in our hearts.

That year, the all-stars A-Team became Team Tidy. They won the championship in Nick’s honor.

Throughout the years, soccer gave them a place and a time for them to grow as individuals and as a family. We grew together as a true community. We cheered together on the sidelines and eventually figured out what off-side meant. We shared in each other’s heartaches and celebrated with each other’s victories. Our boys grew and developed on and off the field. I longed for the wins not for the trophies as much as the joys of the moment. The losses wouldn’t have been so bad had the long, quiet rides home didn’t accompany them.

But win or lose, there was always more soccer to be played.

At the end of the game yesterday, I hugged my son and recalled that last game of Team Spain so long ago. Zach’s too tall to bury his head in my chest. There’s no ‘all-stars’ for which he can go and try out. But his arms were still wrapped around me and mine around him. And for that precious moment, I am thankful. I said to him, which I would say to all of our boys, “It’s been a great season! I am so proud of you!”

It has been indeed a privilege and an honor to be a part of this incredible community. Boys, you have done us proud! You have given us much joy and have enriched our lives more than you know. Each one of you has been a very important and an integral part of this team and this community. You have made this team what it is. Your hard work, your determination, your joys, your disappointments, your commitment, your tiredness have all been masterfully woven into an incredible tapestry that make us better as a community and a family.

To Lloyd and Ignacio who have given so much of yourselves to our kids and our families, we thank you and honor you. We know it has not always been easy. We know how much you do care for our boys. We know and are indebted to you. Thank you for being such a big part of our life journey. We will remember this as some of the sweetest times.

To all of the families who have stood by, sat by and cheered by us, we love you and will always cherish our friendship. This is yet another transition. Your loving care, your commitment and hard work on behalf of our kids have made them better and have made our lives richer. We are so grateful for you and for the blessings that you have showered so liberally on us.

Indeed, there is more soccer to be played… in different places… at different times… with different teams, but what we have had is good and precious, which we will hang on to and cherish.

I will look back on this time in our lives with much joy. Our hearts are full as we mark this milestone with prayers of thanksgiving and a profound sense of love and gratitude for all that each of you has given to us.

With deep gratitude,

Hung

For the Le Family