It has been 15 days since this fellow stunk up the joint, yet I can't get him out of my head. I call him The Soccer Mom's Bad Dream.
The stink-creator was a soccer referee. I didn't get his name for two reasons. One, it was a Sunday, and he might not have responded well to a stubble-faced columnist in a T-shirt and moldy jeans. Two, after the display this ref had just put on, he might have responded with a lecture, not an answer.
Which was the problem in the first place.
There we were, two clumps of parents, sitting in the hot sun beside the field at Poe Middle School in Annandale. Veterans of the soccer wars, we had brought our lounge chairs, our baseball caps and our jugs of water with the retractable spouts. We had settled in along one sideline for a top-division game between two squads of 12- and 13-year-olds: the Cougars of Potomac and the Stars of Annandale.
One minute into the game, a Cougar forward made a hard run into Star territory. A Star defender cut his legs out from under him with a body block. The Cougar tumbled and fell hard.
The referee called a foul on the victim, not the assailant.
This brought hoots, jeers and snide comments from the Cougar crew. It even brought that soccer sideline rarity: concurrence between one team's parents and the other's.
"I do have to say that was questionable," offered one of the Stars' parents. He is no doubt a diplomat the rest of the week.
Then it happened again, just minutes later.
The same Cougar sprinted for the Stars goal. He had his defender beaten by about half a stride. The defender pushed the Cougar player hard, in the back, with both hands. The Cougar stumbled and lost control of the ball.
The referee called nothing.
More hoots, jeers, snide comments. No Cougar parent threw things or stormed the field. As I said, we are veterans. We have seen rotten officiating before. We will see it again.
But do we need to see officials reaming out parents? We saw it that day at Poe.
Late in the game, the Stars attempted a shot on the Cougars' goal. The Cougar goalie took a blow to the forehead -- perhaps from the ball, perhaps from an attacking Star, perhaps from both at once (it was hard to tell). He fell to the turf, clearly wounded.
His mother called out, "Goalie down!"
She didn't say, "Mr. Referee, please rescue my poor child from those meanies in the red suits." She didn't demand that the game be stopped. She didn't run onto the field. She didn't castigate the ref for failing to summon an ambulance. She simply pointed out what was obvious.
The referee did stop the game as soon as the Stars lost possession of the ball (exactly what the rules provide). He signaled the Cougar coach onto the field to tend to the wounded goalie (exactly what he should have done).
Then he did what he shouldn't have done. He marched over to the sideline and began to rip the goalie's mother, in full view of everyone.
He told her not to tell him how to call the match. He told her that soccer is "a tough game," and if she didn't like it, she should keep her son home. He told her that he was especially aware of injuries in youth soccer games, having once seen a child break his back.
He finished by telling the mother "not to lecture me." Of course, he had just done exactly that to her.
Egos run rampant in all sports, but they shouldn't motivate referees of children's soccer games. Referees are there to ensure safe, fair play and a fair result. They are not there to teach parents how to parent.
You haven't learned the true meaning of stomach churn until you see your child down on a soccer field. They still play this highly physical game without pads (when will this change?), so there's usually at least one sprawled-out body per game, sometimes more. When the body belongs to your son or daughter, it's all you can do not to charge out there to see if the child is still breathing.
Parents have it right. They root hard, and very vocally, but they know it's just a game. They know that nothing, not even a twisting header for the winning goal with three seconds left, can be more important than a child's health. They know that a referee who blows a couple of calls -- and hears about it -- shouldn't retaliate by egotistically attacking parents.
Would that certain referees knew it, too.
Stu Krasner got a piece of mail the other day that has him scratching his head.
It was a piece of garden variety bulk mail.
The envelope was stamped "Urgent."
Frank France has a friend who's a minister in Indiana. The friend passes along this gem:
A woman came to see him before Sunday services. She asked him to recite a special prayer for her. The minister asked what kind.
"I want you to pray for my gall bladder," the woman said.
The minister said he didn't usually pray for particular organs. He preferred to pray for whole people.
"But I heard you pray for an organ just last week," the woman said.
"When?" the minister asked.
"When you prayed for all the loose livers in our congregation," she replied.