Wednesday, September 25, 2019

E is for Elite

Here we are on the rez. We have the leading goal scorer in Ontario Jr. B. He’s only 19 in a league of 17-to-21-year-olds. Our goalie is either the best or narrowly second-best in the league depending how you interpret the statistics. And he’s only 18. They are both too good for this league; destined to be surrendered to our Jr. A affiliate team next year almost certainly.

Our opponents are up two games to nil in the best-of-five conference finals. We are finally facing elimination after a great run. Our opponents have the game in their blood, some would say. They are loaded with a dozen 21-year-olds. The bulk of our squad are teens. We have a handful of 20-year-olds and one 21-year-old who we picked up at the trade deadline from a failing opposing team because he’s a class act; a young man of substance who deserves one last playoff run. And the guys here love him like family and did so at once because that’s just who they are.

Our affiliate team is going to the Junior A finals. We have not withheld players from them. Our stars are where they are for legitimate reasons. Our opponents have an affiliate too. Right in the same community. But theirs is not going to the finals. No one has pondered, at least not aloud, if their stars are here legitimately or not, and I’m not asking now. It doesn’t matter.

We’re up 3-to-2 on the scoreboard but I think we all know this is temporary illusion and we do not have any such momentum. We have the same fine tools as our opponents but not the same confidence. We have four gears to their five.

By the second intermission we are well down on the scoreboard and a lot of proud Scooterville parents are making peace with things, or else just resigning.

The players emerge for the third and final period. Our boys of August. It is still July but they will always be the boys of August to me though they will not play on that calendar. What you do and who you are, are two different things. August is who they are. They are that quality. No one can possibly doubt that.

I slip into the vacated dressing room and out the back door. I am parked right there. I load the two cases of bottles into the big cooler and then the ice. And I add a bottle of root beer for the VP; an abstainer. There’s enough for two per player and one per attending staff. I don’t give a shit about the government and their rules. This is family. This is the least we can do. I intend to be anonymous about it but if shit flies I will happily take the blame and probably do it again next year if, like this year, it’s the right thing to do.

God the sucker is heavy but I drag it through the door and into the dressing room where suddenly our star scorer is present and readying to shower. So much for the Santa routine. I’m busted.

“You’re ejected? What did you do?”

“I gave the refs some advice.”

I think for a second and nod. “Fair enough,” I say gently and head back toward the floor to give him his space and to watch the game. Not to work it though. Just to watch. And really take it in. There is still joy to be had. When will I see two such fine teams again? “Oh and have a beer,” I say over my shoulder.


The third period goes well for both teams. No land-slides. And it’s over. I’ve never elected to participate in the handshake all year but now I go. I have things to say. I praise what few of our players I have the chance to while the new guy holds things up with long embraces. Most of these players have known each other most of their young lives. This team is home grown. But it’s the new guy who garners their immediate concern. He’s 21 and this was his last shot.

In the dressing room I usually visit briefly and just inside the door where I study the brick wall while listening to what the coach has to say and who gets passed The Hammer.

Tonight I am looking and listening to a surprising silence. A few have grabbed a beer already and no one on the staff has said a word about it.

The coach speaks. He speaks well and is kind and full of praise but keeps it real. This team was designed to win it all and no one pretends otherwise. Still we have made Scooterville history and that will have to be enough for now. Coach opens the opportunity for others. The VP speaks with his back to me. He speaks from a historical perspective and I am impressed to hear his voice breaking. I put a hand firmly on his shoulder. Most staff pass on the opportunity. Of course I do not. I speak truthfully:

“It’s been two decades since I was last involved in lacrosse. I did not see many Junior B games back then. I was not a fan of the B game back then.

“When I came out to see you guys, you blew me away. I had no idea… It has been such a joyful experience watching you guys play lacrosse. Everyone in this room - and I mean everyone! No exceptions - has left me breathless at least once this year from something you did on the floor. Left me in a state of wonder. It’s been such a joy; such a thrill. I’m real grateful you all took me along on this ride. Thank you.”

I’m sorry they did not get what they wanted and worked so hard for, and made sacrifice for, so I don’t tell them how I, on the other hand, received everything I could have asked for. And thanks to them. They made me fall in love with this game again.

I had no choice but to write about the experience, but I deemed it unfit for publication. Too personal a perspective. Too sentimental. The players might feel it an invasion.

It sat on my computer a couple days until I knew that the piece, or some version of it, needed to be on the web site, at least for posterity. I gave it a solid edit: toned it down; eased in a little subtlety, and slipped it onto the web site with no links from social media. My two main media associates with the club were informed, and being coincidentally the last two team officials likely to tolerate sentimentality, they made perfect gatekeepers. If they wanted to plug it online then it had to be safe to do so.

They did.

Here’s the article. It’s brief. I hope you give it a look. Because I’m proud of these guys:

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