Weekends from September to March, Jeannie Glennon of Laurel lives, breathes, thinks, eats and sleeps ice hockey. She spends hours driving from one game to another. She is a hockey fan's hockey fan. She cheers. She grieves. Never, if she can help it, does she miss a game. She has been doing this almost 10 years. Once she went to four hockey games in three states and the District of Columbia the same day.
Glennon is a hockey mother.
She has three sons playing on youth hockey teams, and it is no exaggeration to say that ice hockey will consume virtually all of her waking moments every weekend until the season ends.
It is a tiring, exhausting regimen, but it has its rewards, and it is with more than a modest amount of pride that Glennon recalls that winter Sunday two years ago when she made it to those four hockey games the same day.
"We started about 5 o'clock in the morning in Princeton, N.J.," Glennon recalled. "Our son Scott had an early game. We had to get back home in a real hurry because he had another game at Fort Dupont in Washington.He changed in the car, and we stopped at the house to get something to eat. Then we went over to Fort Dupont. We got back just in time to pick up our second son, Joseph, to take him to a game at Tysons Corner in Virginia. When Joe's game was over, we ran back to get Patrick, our youngest son, for his game in Bowie. I guess it was about 10 o'clock at night when we got back from Patrick's game."
What is unusual about a day like that is that, for the Glennon family, it is not unusual. That kind of investment in ice hockey -- 16 and 18 hours a day on weekends -- is standard for thousands of area families.
"I'm a super fan," said Glennon. "I get very involved in watching the boys play. They like to hear me screaming a little encouragement from the sidelines. I don't say too much when they do something wrong, but I get really proud of them when they make a good play. It gives you a real good feeling. I go to every game that is humanly possible to go to. It keeps the family together more."
Like thousands of other area families, the Glennons' lives revolve around the sports activities of their children. Since their eldest son joined a team at the age of 8, shortly after John and Jennie Glennon moved here from Boston almost a decade ago, ice hockey has consumed more collective energy in their family than any other single enterprise.
This year John Glennon is coordinating the coaching efforts in the Capital Boys Hockey League; in previous years he has managed teams, attending to a myriad of logistical details and seeing to it that the proper equipment is available. His wife has taken on the monumental complexities of scheduling practice and games, given the paucity of ice time, and the thankless job of bill paying.
The Glennons demonstrate that area youth sports are a far cry from the pickup, sandlot games of a generation ago. At their current level of organization and sophistication, they could not exist without massive input from adults.
But the adult presence in the world of children's sports has brought about a profound change, many psychologists believe, supplanting the spontaneity of children's games with a highly organized structure in which the parents carefully maintain team and individual statistics, record scores and monitor league and team standings.
With parental encouragement, children start organized athletics at an earlier age than ever, and their sports are played harder and taken more seriously.
At the age of 7, for example, Jonathan Oglebay is in his third year of competitive, organized ice hockey. Only partly in jest does his father Chuck say he wants to teach his 3-month-old son, Paul, to shoot the puck left-handed to achieve balance on the line with the two right-handed shooters he already has, Jonathan and Daniel, age 4.
When his eldest son was 6, Oglebay was already leaving the house at 4:15 a.m. to get him to hockey games.
"Watching kids play hockey is a real thrill," says Oglebay, director of administration and finance for the National Association of Counties. "They look like shrunken versions of the big guys. I wouldn't miss it for the world. We're totally involved in what they're doing. It's an all-encompassing interest on the part of the family."
It should come as no surprise that youth soccer, by far the most popular sport in the area in sheer numbers, is also the most highly organized, as far as parents are concerned. Bob Flint, who monitors expenses in the Medicare program for the Department of Health and Human Services, logs several hours a week as the volunteer soccer commissioner for the Braddock Road Youth Club, presiding over a vast administrative apparatus that runs a soccer program for 3,300 children.
"We have a budget of more than $100,000," says Flint, who has two children in the soccer program. "I have 19 directors under me, each of whom is responsible for a different league and age group. We have 440 adults involved in coaching, and most of our teams have at least one assistant coach. It's the old theory of keeping the kids off the street and out of trouble.
"We have 33 traveling teams and we travel to tournaments in Canada, Long Island, Florida and Europe."
"We have kids in our program who are 9, 10 and 11 now who, when they get to college, are going to be competing internationally."
There are also children who are 9, 10 and 11 who are already competing athletically at the adult level and doing it quite well.
Consider Jennifer Amyx. At age 10, she was the youngest female to finish the Marine Corps Marathon this year, running the 26-mile-plus course in 3:11.55 -- a time a college runner in prime condition might envy.
Finishing slightly ahead of her was her 12-year-old brother David. Their father Herbert, a research scientist with the National Institutes of Health's Cancer Research Center in Frederick, Md., finished almost simultaneously with his daughter.
"Jennifer has been running marathons since she was 5," Amyx says. "The Marine Corps Marathon was very easy for her. The day before that race, she ran in a cross-country championship. She ran in the Two Bridges 36-mile race this year. That was not a hard race for her, either. We live about 10 miles outside of Frederick, and we started out by running down to a park near the house after I got home from work. Gradually, we increased the distance. Now we do all of our running out in the country. After work, we do six to 14 miles. It's beautiful and really very pleasant. In the summer it's much cooler. The last several years, we get together on Saturday mornings and run out in the country, 25 to 29 miles at a pretty good pace."
As a parent-athlete, Amyx must be considered unusual in that he paticipates in organized competitive sports with his children. Most watch from the sidelines, deriving their satisfacton, thrills and even standing in the community from the exploits of their children.
In what is probably a majority of cases, it is the parents who supply the pool of coaches, with varying degrees of expertise and experience.
Oliver Thompson, former director of athletics at Federal City College, has been spending Saturdays this fall coaching 13- and 14-year-olds on a Capital Beltway League football team from Northwest Washington's Lamond Riggs Youth Club. His son Gary is a middle linebacker on the team, and for Thompson the effort has value both as an experience he can share with his son and as a way to participate in organized athletics.
"I know this sounds corny," Thompson says, "but athletics did a lot for me when I was young. I want my son and some of the other young men to have the same experience."
A burly, imposing figure, Thompson directs his team with precision and authority, calling plays with confidence. Sports is serious business in Lamond Riggs, and there is never a shortage of parents or supporters to help out with coaching assignments or handle such chores as keeping statistics and working on scheduling.
And as in other neighborhoods throughout the area, youth sports helps hold adult communities together.
Just go out to the Maplewood Recreation Center in Montgomery County, a scenic, tree-shaded field in a middle-class neighborhood near the intersection of Rockville Pike and the Capital Beltway. From midmorning until late in the afternoon, any Saturday between early September and the first weekend in December, the field is lined with parents, friends and neighbors as the young men of Maplewood, beginning at the age of 8, battle counterparts from other neighborhoods in Capital Beltway League football.
"You're looking at 26 trained killers," observes Toogie leibrand, a coach in the 75-pound maximum, 8-to-10-year-old division, as 26 young players holler and whomp each others' shoulder pads as they warm up for a game.
Youth sports are taken seriously in neighborhoods such as Maplewood, but their function is social as well as athletic. It is, of course, important to win, and in any given game, parents will exhort sons to "hit harder . . . knock his butt off . . . smash him." After one particularly close game against a black team from the Lamond Riggs neighborhood in Northeast Washington, one parent took a reporter aside and claimed that a black referee had made a "racist" face mask call against Maplewood on a crucial down.
"I've seen him do it before," the parent said.
But it is also customary at Maplewood for the parents to linger after games, socializing with friends and discussing details of the game while enjoying a cup of coffe, a soda or a hot dog prepared by a parents' committee, or later in the afternoon to sip a beer with a few friends. There is a small clubhouse, and there will be music as the day wears on. At Maplewood, youth football is socially important to parents, as well as to children.
"We're very family-oriented here," says Fuzzy Myers, athletic director at the center. "We're one big family."