|Full entry to come about Jon's brief stint as a player in the U-14 under-the-lights pick-up soccer game in Flores, Guatemala.
So here it is, complete with the glory, the heartbreak, embarrassment and bloody toes...
After a fine meal of Hawaiian tacos and even a movie, we were wandering back to our hotel when up a side street we spotted the bright lights of the town square. Thinking there might be chance to witness (or maybe even get a kick in) we sauntered up to check out the action. Wouldn't you know, however, that as we got closer it wasn't a soccer game at all, but a girls teenage league basketball game. Not quite what we hoped for, but the energy the girls displayed was inspiring even if their skills lacked. The activity around the court, though, was enough to keep us around for a while as the game entered its final minutes. All around the court, which was essentially part of the town square, there was bustling activity. Old men were chit-chatting, young boys were kicking a ball against the church wall, older boys huddled under the overhangs perhaps trying not to look as interested in the ongoing game as the nuns who sat on the steps and clapped for each airball and double-dribble as they occurred. Parents looked on enthusiastically and intermingled among all these was the other population that captured my attention and made me think it might be worth it to wait for the minutes to tick off the clock. Scattered here and there were young teenage boys, a few maybe old enough to drive, who held a soccer ball or wore the appropriate shoes. They seemed to watching the game, but seemed more in that dwindling clock than anything else. And when the final buzzer did sound (not a buzzer really, but a fart of sorts) they didn't waste time in taking over the hard court. A few small goals were pulled from the shadows of the square and teams seemed to be in the making.
I wasn't really dressed for the game, but my desire to play was formidable. I tried to get Mandy to ask them if they needed more players, but she told me that if she didn't get to play she wasn't going to do me any favors. Also as a way to prove that my Spanish had improved a little bit I nervously made my way over to one of the boys. "Necessita una mas?" I managed to eek out, and he, noticing my obvious prowess, bad Spanish and physical stature, hesitated. He wasn't sure what to do. He didn't think they needed me. And they didn't. But the other team, one short, and somehow comprised of the younger of the boys seemed not upset to welcome me. So, with a little ambiguity, and already an enemy of the oppossing team's captain I had found myself in a soccer game. I was wearing sandals to my chagrin and a button down shirt, but I was happy for no other reason than the fact that they had welcomed me, and only with a little hesitation. I was glad I asked and the game began.
I won't bother any of you readers with the play by play, but suffice it to say that I didn't score any goals in this particular game. I kept myself in the back for the most part and for once enjoyed being the tallest player on the field (blacktop). That was going pretty well until our little goalkeeper (poor little guy must have been the youngest of them all at about eight years old) decided to leave his post. Either he had taken one too many point blank shots at his face from the older guys or his mom had called him from the rooftop, but in any event, I turned around to find him gone and from there on out I was the de facto goalkeeper. Yikes.
I did my best is all I can say. The goal kicks, which the boys wanted played to their heads on long runs, were the cause of my bloody toes. I was hoping some of them would notice these so that they could see my dedication to the team, but none did. In the end our team won three games before the mens' teams arrived at around 10pm and the hints were dropped that the boys were to go home. That meant me, too, and after thanking the boys for letting my play I took my girl, who was a great fan of mine, out for a cold drink. She felt sorry for me and my bloody toes. She said I had played valiantly and if I kept practicing I might make varsity in a year or two.
Somehow, this time, I think she's right. Somehow, this time, I know she is....