Monday, October 18, 2010

UAA Soccer: A Family Affair

Keeper Scott Garfing of Rochester has a kiss for grandma  after the NYU match.
Without a doubt, most of the fans at UAA soccer matches are parents of players or grandparents of players or brothers or sisters of players.

Some travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to see their kids play or just to see their kids. They bring vats of pasta and plates with cakes for post-game meals. They bring hugs and hopes and grandma.

This is not their first rodeo, but for the parents of seniors it will be their last.

The family gathering after the Emory-Brandeis men's soccer match.
At the Brandeis-Emory soccer matches on Sunday there was nearly and equal number of Emory fans as those cheering for Brandeis.

Here's the routine after a match: Coach holds a brief (sometimes long) team meeting to go over the match while it's fresh in young minds; players gather up their gear bags and sweats and water bottles (some take off their jerseys, some put their nylon warm-ups back on); relatives gather at the spot that marks transition from field to family (there's a meeting place like this at each UAA school); the familes greet their kids and talk about the game or dinner that night or law school applications or plans for Thanksgiving; some of the kids stare at their feet, some look around to see where their teammates are,  some allow hugs, some eagerly accept kisses; then they disperse until the next game.
Sports is tightly stitched in their family fabric. Food, too. For years parents have driven children to soccer practices or volleyball tournaments or swim meets. Millions of hours together in vans and SUVs, sometimes traveling to distant events, sharing precious time.

Josh Richards
Sharon Richards' son Josh plays soccer for the University of Rochester. I meet her Friday in the concourse of Fauver Stadium, when the weather was so nasty that she was going to "watch" the match from a chair inside through the narrow tunnel that led to the aluminum stands.
She's attended hundreds of Josh's games and she sat through some pretty awful weather. Before the match Josh told me that she would be under cover if it was bad, and he was totally OK with that. (As it turned out, the rain that soaked the earlier women's game stopped for the men's match, and Sharon, with her heavy coat and and scarf and earmuffs, did see the game from the stands).
Josh has played soccer since he was 4, she told me. He's a totally focused kid (as are most UAA high achievers and chose Rochester because, among other more substantial reasons, he likes the cold. Go figure.
Wash U women chow down after match at CMU.
Rochester really needed a win that night against Chicago, but fell behind. They tied it up in the second half on a set piece, and Josh was credited with an assist. Afterward, in the dark outside the stadium, I could tell from his face and his stance that he wasn't happy with the tie, but it beats a loss. And he didn't think he should have gotten an assist. (As of Monday, he is credited with an assist in the boxscore.)

During UAA matches, the parents reveal how well they know the game. The more uninhibited ones yell at the refs. "You've got to make that call ref!" "It's a handball!" "That's a terrible call." "Let 'em play!"
They also appreciate good play and they die with every missed opportunity. "Good ball Chelsea." (Or Emily or Lauren or Ashley or Ben or Nick) "Go Blue." "Keep pressuring!"
Other, more distant relatives aren't quite as knowledgeable. Perhaps  they only come along for one game a year, like the man at the Brandeis match Sunday who yelled out "I got it, I got it" when a very high pass was made near the stands. He was promptly chided: "You don't do that at soccer matches."
Or the grandmotherly looking woman at an NYU game earlier this season was  complaining  via cellphone to someone that the field was "in the middle of a cow pasture. And they charge you eight bucks every time you have to cross the bridge."
I don't think the folks at the College of Staten Island, where the game was played, would agree with her.

NYU women stretch toward mom's post-game buffet. Note dog.
Beyond the bond of teammates, parents bond with each other. Wash U parents seem to be out in force at every UAA event that I have attended. They plan meals and gatherings and sometimes travel together from hotels or motels. They make new friendships built on their shared experiences with their kids.
Sometimes a dad will attend one road match and a mom will attend another to keep the cost down but keep the support up.
For the NYU-Rochester match, the mother of NYU's goalie, Matt Stieve, arranged her overseas trip so she could be there. An IT specialist who had to be in London, she flew from Chicago to New York and arranged to have a layover before continuing to London. Turns out that Matt had an incredible game in goal with two point blank saves in the first half that allowed NYU to tie the men from Rochester.
One week later, Matt's dad came to Cleveland to watch NYU play Case Western Reserve.

These final games are especially precious to those UAA athletes. Earlier this year, the parents of Jack Anderson,  the Carnegie Mellon basketball player, made plans to attend each of his final games -- home and away. They drove all the way to Washington D.C. in terrible weather for the game against Catholic University. They made it to D.C., but the game was canceled. Jack was the leading scorer for CMU in the makeup with 18 points.

After the hugs, kisses and pasta, it's study hall at a picnic table.
(Rescheduling a non-conference basketball game 400 miles away is typical, not unusual in the UAA. While the academics and research at each of the universities is Division I all the way, their athletic programs compete in the NCAAs Division 3. No scholarships. Strict code of operations. D3 includes more than 400 schools, most of which don't have the budgets or resources of the UAA schools. But the UAA programs operate in a way that reflects the professionalism and perfection of their member schools. Facilities are top notch, coaches are skilled and experienced, events are run as if they were Major League Baseball or the NFL. Their mantra: Our athletes, our programs, our events must reflect the quality of our institutions. As Sheryl Sousa, the Brandeis athletics director told me in her office Sunday, "We all want to make things perfect." Brandeis was hosting an eight-team round robin UAA volleyball tournament as well as the soccer matches on Sunday.)

Matt Stieve
Matt Stieve is  a senior. This is his last season of organized soccer.
Neither Matt nor any of his teammates or other UAA athletes will "go pro." That's not why they practice 20 hours a week or study in airports waiting to fly to St. Louis or Atlanta. None of them are pro material. But they are dedicated, high achievers, focused on training, team and winning. They know, however, that the classroom is where their future lies.
That's why they chose Brandeis or Case Western Reserve or Carnegie Mellon or Chicago or Emory or NYU or Rochester or Washington.

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