"YOU'RE CRAZY," said the editor last week. "You're really going to take two boys? Why?" Why, indeed, would we take into our home two visiting 13-year-old Coral Gables soccer players here for a tournament. Well, this editor is a new parent. He doesn't know what's in store for him, and if he asks why, well, there were many times last weekend when we and several hundred other parents asked why, too. Herewith, dear editor, the report you asked for, the no-holds-barred account from the front lines of life, the absolute lowdown on the Sixth Annual McLean Soccer Tournament.
First, you should know this was no little thing. There were, according to tournament organizer Manville Christian, about 1,700 boys and girls involved, representing 88 teams from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Germany and Canada. Everything - invitations, scheduling, field maintenance, printing of programs, refreshments, housing - all of it was done by hundreds of volunteers. Only the referees and linesmen for the 190 tournament games were paid.
And many of the volunteers had confronted exactly the same question raised in my column last Wednesday: Is being a working mother a valid excuse for not volunteering to help with your children's extracurricular activities? Those parents had decided no, it is not, but that didn't make the weekend any easier.
The visiting teams arrived Thursday afternoon, not Friday as we'd expected, and it remained a mystery for most of the tournament just when they were leaving. Thursday night at the Pizza Hut, my son asks our guests Victor and Thad (aka "Thag") how long they are staying. "A week," they reply. My son looks at me, his mouth and eyes wide with fear, wondering what on earth I am going to say. But I say nothing. I had reluctantly volunteered to house two boys for a two-day weekend. Not a week. This could not be happening to us.
Friday: The McLean Green Hornets' game is scheduled for 1:30 and the players are ready. But coach, Jerry Smith, who directs ocean commerce regulations for the Maritime Commission, is late. "We lost a kid," he announces breathlessly when he shows up. "For two hours we lost a kid." It seems one of the Coral Gables soccer palyers went bike riding, was chased by a dog, and got lost in a subdivision. His hostess found a policeman but he was reluctant to help find a missing kid, claiming kids aren't missing until they've been gone two hours. Finally, the kid was found.
Friday night: Coral Gables plays from 6:30 to 8. They lose. I prepare a great feast of corn and hamburgers and salad and half of it is left over. One of the kids says the hamburgers are too thick. After they go to bed, my husband grumbles that they are used to fast food hamburgers and don't know a good burger when they see it. "You're witnessing the decline of a civilization," he declares ominously.
Saturday morning: Any suburban mother can tell you that you can see most of a swimming meet that ends at 11 a.m. and be on time for a soccer game 10 minutes away that starts at 11 if you are Organized. It's not easy, but it can be done. I left notes to the Coral Gables kids about what to fix for breakfast and precisely what time they should be ready to leave our house for the soccer game. Only I forgot to set their alarm. I rush in at 10:30 to find they've just awakened. I tell them to hurry it up and they look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. Florida has a different pace than Washington.
Saturday afternoon: The referee doesn't show up for the Coral Gables game. There ensues considerable yelling between adults. Coral Gables is insisting that no certified referee means no game. Finally, Manville Christian mediates, the game is moved to another field, a certified referee is found and the game goes on two hours late. When I go to pick up our boys, they have vanished. I drive to the first field. I drive to another field. No boys.
Now is the time for a decision: I am tired, annoyed, and I've used a quarter-tank of gas driving kids around. I can either keep searching for them and get good and mad at them and myself, or else I can decide that kids who can vanish from one field can materialize to another. I go home and make some phone calls. No one knows where the boys are but everyone has a suggestion of who to call next. Finally the phone rings. "I have two of your kids," Carolyn Palatt says cheerfully. She says she will feed them a late launch and deliver them to the field for their night game. Carolyn Palatt is a fine woman.
Sunday: The day of the final game dawns cold and clammy, but not wet enough to be rained out. At 7:05 a.m., my husband lifts the window shades and says, "Where the hell is the rain when you need it?"
We arrive at the field next to the police headquaters for the 8 a.m. game, loaded with drinks for the players, doughnuts and a thermos of balck coffee for us. We sit down on old Army blankets on the wet grass and watch to see who shows up. Parents straggle onto the field, clutching paper cups of coffee, newspapers, portable chairs. We are a weary, perhaps even haggard group, but we all feel rather smug. We, at least, showed up.
But the McLean Jornets are overmatched. By half time an Arlington team is leading 3-0 and the Hornets' parents have gone from being supportive to critical. About this time, my son the goalie decides to arrange a scrimmage with the Coral Gables team later in the afternoon. The parents practically boo him off the field . The game ends 7-0, and the soccer season is finally, mercifully, over. Coach Smith receives a token of appreciation, and gives a nice talk to the boys. Yes, he assures them, they will have a coach next year, and no, he says happily, it will not be him.
Sunday night: We dine again at the Pizza Hut, along with dozens of other families and soccer players. We don't have enough cash to get out. Someone we know lends us $2. It's been that kind of weekend.
I am relieved it's over, yet it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. I only lost the boys once. All of us got five or six hours' sleep each night and the house is still standing. But for most of the parents, the tournament was to some degree or another extra work, extra driving, extra expense for food and gas, extra aggravation in terms of noisy or lost soccer players.
We grumbled at mismatched games, referees who didn't see fouls, people who brought drinks and oranges for kids when it was our turn, games that started too early or ended too late, and people who refused to house visiting players or help out with the telephone calling. So why do we do it? Why is this the sixth annual tournament and not the first and only?
Manville Christian estimates he has spent 1,000 hours organizing the tournament since last February. He took the past week off from his job as an automobile salesman, which means that he's lost a week's worth of sales. Why, Manville?
"I think it's just in the blood," he says. "When you have children, your whole life changes. I grew up in the South where children could motivate themselves. they could go out hunting and fishing for a day. Here, you've got to plan your child's life from a very young age because there's nothing else for him to do. You either do that for your children or they sit at home all day." He says he won't run the tournament again, but then he said he'd never run the school's fair again either. "You say you won't, but after a month or two passes, you're right back there ready to go again."
Steady there, Marville. Let's wait at least a year.