With tears in his eyes, the player stood on the edge of the Canadian soccer field. His father had just left for a business trip back home in Virginia.
Some players might have taken it a little more calmly, but it is not easy to say good-bye to Dad when you are 9 years old.
"At first, it struck us as strange to see him cry," recalls the father of another player. "On the field he is such a hero that sometimes we forget he's just a kid."
The player is one of 16 young heroes who make up the Reston Roadrunners, a "select" soccer team of 8- and 9-year-olds who recently defeated 15 teams to bring home top honors from the International Soccer Tournament in Oakville, Canada. With the victory, the Roadrunners became the first American team in five years to win the prestigious Oakville tournament.
As a select team, the Roadrunners includes Northern Virginia's most talented players from the 8- and 9-year-old division. At Oakville, it was one of only three U.S. teams -- including one from Springfield, Va., and one from Bowie, Md. The other competitors included 12 teams from Canada and one from Mexico.
All the competitors were part of the 1971 Select Division, which gets its name from the requirement that all players be born in 1971.
Though the Roadrunners has been in existence for only two seasons, it has compiled a record that would be considered awesome for any age group. After a 14-3-1 season overall in the fall, the Roadrunners went 23-3-1 in the spring. Scoring 78 goals and allowing only 15 goals scored against them in the spring, the team won its league championship with an 11-0 record as well as the McLean Tournament championship.
Such impressive figures can be heady stuff for 8- and 9-year-old soccer players.
Robert Rugel, a professor of psychology at George Mason University, says neither he nor his son Adam "had any idea what was in store" when Adam tried out for the Roadrunners early last spring. After making the team, Adam soon learned what it is "to make a commitment," Rugel says.
The Roadrunners practice "at least four hours" weekly and played "at least one game" per week throughout the spring, said assistant coach Dennis McCormick. The danger of so much soccer and so much success, of course, is that youngsters will become tired of the game and unable to cope with losing. That apparently hasn't happened to the Roadrunners. can only happen once. Even if they win again sometime, I don't think it will be the same. And I do begin to wonder what will happen if they start to lose."
McCormick, who has spent 31 years playing and coaching soccer, credits players' parents with providing the kind of perspective about winning that team members need.
"I became involved in select ball reluctantly because I was afraid of finding a little league mentality," McCormick says. "But the parents of these kids have let us coach. They're not a bunch of semi-coaches on the sidelines yelling at their kids and telling them what to do."
In turn, parents praise McCormick and head coach Jim Nylund for their ability to teach the game while keeping success in perspective.
"Nylund keeps the kids happy," Rugel says. "He is serious, but he enjoys it and it shows. He respects the kids, too. Adam told me, 'Dad, all my other coaches used to tell kids they were doing good even when they were doing lousy; Coach Nylund tells us when we're doing bad and then shows us how to do better.'"
In Canada, the Roadrunners became celebrities. The championship game, in which the Roadrunners beat Chinguacousy of Canada, 4-1, took place in a college stadium and was broadcast on cable television.
Each player was awarded an individual trophy and offered a kiss from Miss Oakville. The 8- and 9-year-old champs accepted the trophies but rejected the kisses.
The Oakville newspaper praised the team particularly the play of rightwing David Jones, who had seven goals in the tournament; fullback Michael Brisson and leftwing Khary Stockton, who was awarded a special trophy as Most Valuable Player.
Carlton Stockton says his son Khary aged 8, has told him he would like to play professional soccer some day.
"My wife and I tried to emphasize to him that soccer isn't all there is," says Stockton, who admits it is difficult for his son to keep things in perspective. Khary began playing soccer when he was 5 and scored over 30 goals in one season when he was 6. "We tell him that his education is first. He's in the choir and chess club at school. So we're sensitive to the idea that this can be overdone. But I wouldn't want to change his program from what it is now." b