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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Turkey Winner

If last year was any indication, Evan would be eliminated in the first round.

The little man spends at least three days a week flutter, dolphin, and frog kicking his way through swim practice, but ironically when it comes to soccer he does not have a power leg. So quite logically we were not expecting much when it came to the turkey shoot.

As it had been throughout the fall soccer season, the weather was nice. This was the final game of the year, and the high that day had been in the seventies. Since the sun had gone down so had the temperatures, but it was still comfortable with just a light jacket. We were playing under the lights. I used plural because two light standards stood watch, but the field was pocked with dark blemishes and areas of half-light that lent to the feeling that we were all sharing a waking dream. The parents sat on the side line only occasionally looking at the field. Expectations had withered under the barrage of shut-outs and disappointments. We had won exactly one game, and on a regular basis the boys were outscored on average by about four goals. Several of the parents chose to perpetuate the stereotype of Catholics and have a beer to hold back the chill and wash down the taste of defeat. For the most part the players were oblivious. A few of the more mathematically inclined would announce the score, but huge grins of excitement were worn by all as they chased the ball up and down the field.

Our guys scored a goal in the first half, but experience told us that this would not hold up. Evan had not been part of much of the game. He did have one nice break-away and pass, but nothing came of it. Most of us in the crowd were hoping that the clock would run a little faster and preserve our victory. The coaches facetiously promised a party featuring Justin Beiber, who happened to be in town that weekend. I don't know if it was the promise of the Beiber that did it or a lack of faith in the progression of time, but the boys of St. Roch scored a second goal, and the victory held.

The turkey shoot would follow the game, but Colette and I started packing our chairs in anticipation of an early exit. The turkey shoot is not elaborate. The boys line up a random distance from the goal, determined by where the official threw down a jersey, and shoot in a single elimination format. Each successive round the distance from the goal increased. We were so certain of Evan's inevitable elimination that we boasted about it to other parents, but he made through the first round. There was no way that he would continue.

At this point he was just shooting against other players on his team. There are players with much stronger legs. Some of them could kick the ball the entire length of the field, but this was not a game of strength; it was a test of accuracy. At this Evan excelled.

With each round the big kickers would fire rockets, meteors, and other metaphorical projectiles at the goal. Shots that I would not consider standing in front of. Though the currents created by these shots surely resulted in Tsunamis in Japan, one by one they missed. Some by only a fraction of an inch. During the third round Evan was last to go. Every other player had missed. If Evan made this shot, he would move on to the finals. Our excitement was such that we had stopped talking about the event and were watch intently. Our chairs lay on the ground and we started to lament our failure to bring the camera. Evan lined up with the ball, took several steps back, made a running start and missed.

The official recalled all of the kickers from the third round and tried again. Evan went first this time and made it. Every other player repeated their performance and Evan was the last man standing.

Colette and I thought that he had won. Not quite. He now had to face the winners from the other teams in a final shoot-out. There were four players; Evan, the orange guy, the blue guy, and the other blue guy. Those were the descriptions Evan gave later on a phone call to his grandmother.

Honestly, I have no idea why orange guy was in the shoot-out. He was eliminated in the first round. Blue guy went out next. In the third round other blue guy lined up for the kicked. It went wide right. All Evan had to do was make this final shot. The official placed the ball, and before he could remove his hand Evan ran up and kicked it. The official waved it off since the ball had not even stopped moving when Evan kicked it. If this had been an NFL game, I'm sure the opposing team would have asked for a video review, because this shot went left of the goal. However, since this was little league soccer Evan was allowed to kick again.

Evan made the universal sign for "calm the heck down." He placed both hands palm down at about chest level and shoved the anxiety down to his waste. I don't think I had ever seen him this excited. It was like a real life Lego Clone Trooper had shown up to his birthday party.

With the ball in place, Evan took a few steps back to get a running start. One . . . two. . . three, kick. The ball rolled straight on the ground. No lift. No air between ball and turf, and by turf I mean a lumpy, grass clumpy field that threaten to knock Evan's shot off course. But for each hillock and ant hill pushing the ball right there was an equal and opposite clump of soil making a course correction, and the ball trickled into the goal.

I ran over and grabbed Evan hoisting him into the air. A reaction that should be limited to winning the world cup or greeting soldiers returning from war. Feeling a tad embarrassed, I immediately put him down so that he could be swarmed by his teammates who tried unsuccessfully to do some hoisting of their own. And for the next twenty-four hours Evan was known as Turkey-Winner.

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