The following is written by Guest Blogger, Jeff Moffatt.
Last weekend I attended the 2013 Antietam Cup youth soccer tournament, which I like to call Soccerpalooza. Over two days, kids aged 9 to 19 who were spread across 5 age brackets played a total of almost 150 soccer games. That amounted to about 24 total hours of chasing white balls across neatly cut grass. Wait, that’s golf. What I mean to say is, that amounted to about 24 total hours of kids chasing soccer balls; referees randomly blowing whistles; and parents yelling at their kids, the referees, and each other.
Of course, each team had a brightly colored uniform to distinguish itself from every other team’s brightly colored uniforms. The only other way to see this many different colors jumbled together in one place is if a bomb went off in a Sherwin-Williams store. My own son’s team wore nuclear green, a hue so piercingly bright that you risked retina damage by staring at it too long. Perhaps that was the coach’s strategy – blind the opposition.
In the midst of these prizmatic athletic endeavors, I happened to observe a classic bad-sports-parent moment. We hear about out-of-control sports parents from time to time, but they always seem to live in far off places like Peoria or Sacramento. Well, not any more.
I was watching a match between under-16 teams from Littlesville, Pennsylvania and Biglertown, Pennsylvania (town names changed to protect the guilty). The weather was sunny and hot, so I sat by a group of Littlesville fans under the shade of a tree on a small rise near the field. At the edge of the field was a line of parents and fans, mostly seated in folding lawn chairs. There were a few fans standing, including one woman who was shading herself with a large umbrella. She was a Biglertown fan and, as it happened, she stood mainly between the Littlesville fans and the field with her umbrella blocking the view from under the tree. She had chosen a spot near midfield, so it appeared to me that her goal was to find a prime vantage point from which to watch all of the action.
The Littlesville fans, who very much wanted to remain in the shade, thought umbrella woman’s conduct was a rude affront to their right to view the match from the shady spot where they had chosen to sit. Part way through the first half, one of them went to her, tugged on the edge of the umbrella, and brusquely asked her to put it down. Before I go further, I need to explain that the Littlesville fans in question were all Caucasian and the Biglertown fans in question were all Hispanic. I mention that only because Littlesville man spoke to umbrella woman in that loud halting tone people use when they think the listener can’t understand. Whether umbrella woman understood or not, she ignored him and left her umbrella up.
The game proceeded through the first half and into the second with Biglertown dominating the action despite a valiant effort from an overmatched Littlesville squad. The Littlesville fans under the tree, however, were largely ignoring the game they ostensibly wanted to see. Instead, they were focused on the Biglertown woman and her umbrella. They muttered amongst themselves about her rude behavior, and they carefully analyzed U.S. immigration policy. Umbrella woman appeared not to hear and instead closely followed the game. Frequently, she either cheered for her child or yelled at the referee. I can’t be sure which because she was speaking Spanish.
During the second half, the Littlesville fans had had enough. The same man marched down to umbrella woman, tugged on the umbrella, and began berating her for blocking peoples’ views. This got the attention of several other Biglertown fans, including an Hispanic woman who said, in perfectly good English, “maybe if you asked nicely she would do what you ask.” (That reminded me of the scene in A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson answers Tom Cruise’s request for a copy of a transfer order by saying, “Of course you can have the transfer order, Danny, but you have to ask me nicely.”) It also drew the attention of an Hispanic man, possibly umbrella woman’s husband, who gallantly came and stood next to her, and another Hispanic man who looked like he could play linebacker for most college football teams.
Unfortunately, Littlesville man was beyond asking nicely. As he confronted umbrella woman and the surrounding group of Biglertown fans confronted him, another male Littlesville fan, who was still standing in the shade, began yelling challenges at the Biglertown fans. This man had forearms as big as my thighs and was, overall, the size of a polar bear. If you had put him in front of the soccer goal, there may not have been enough room for the ball to pass by into the net. He happened to be standing next to his daughter, who was maybe five years old. Anyway, polar bear man, who had not been involved up to this point except to suggest immigration policy changes, focused his attention on the linebacker from Biglertown and shouted, with all the logic his meathead brain could probably muster, “why are you talking, you got no part in this” and then, “you wanna go, big boy, come on let’s go.” This witty repartee was not an invitation to leave, of course, but rather to fight.
By this point none of these people had seen at least the last five minutes of the action on the field. The head of INS could’ve taken over as referee and none of them would’ve noticed. Thankfully, reason or perhaps fear of a headline in the Gettysburg Times newspaper (“Parents Fight at Soccerpalooza”) prevailed. There was no fight, but neither was there an actual resolution. Umbrella woman went back to watching the game with her umbrella up thereby obstructing the view of the Littlesville fans who continued to grumble and critique immigration policy under the shade of the tree.
Why am I sharing this tale? To point out that with a modicum of thought a simple compromise could’ve been reached. What if Littlesville man had gone to umbrella woman with his chair in hand and, in a calm, friendly and gracious tone, said, “Hi, my name is Joe. It’s really hot, isn’t it? I can understand why you’re using an umbrella today. It’s the same reason I’m sitting under that tree. The thing is, your umbrella makes it hard for me to see the field. I’d like to offer you my chair. If you wouldn’t mind sitting, then your umbrella would be lower and we could all see the field and all be in the shade.” As an alternative, she could’ve just stood in the shade cast by polar bear man.
I have no idea whether umbrella woman would’ve accepted the chair, of course. Maybe she was trying to block the Littlesville fans’ views after all. Maybe there was bad blood dating back to a 2012 under-14 match. Maybe umbrella woman supports current U.S. immigration policy. Who knows? The point is that this irrational dispute over an umbrella – not a blown call or controversial play in the soccer game, mind you, but an umbrella – nearly led to fisticuffs. Soccerpalooza indeed!