When September rolls around it can only mean one thing in my house: soccer season. This marks my 19th annual soccer season, and even though my son and daughter are long gone from home, I still coach.
Ten years ago, I was reviewing the registration forms for my new team of ten and eleven year-old boys, and I noticed along with the usual details of height, weight, and school that one little boy had two dads. Under the “father” part of the form was written “Dad 1” and “Brian.” The “mother” part had been carefully lined out and “Dad 2” written in with the name of “Jonathan” underneath. I briefly wondered who got to be Dad 1 and who got to be Dad 2, but then got on with the business of figuring out how to keep a team of fourteen boys amused enough to avoid destruction of themselves or the field and teach some degree of soccer skills, tactics, and sportsmanship (sportskidship?) in the process.
Turns out, I had been gifted with a team of very enthusiastic, but very clueless and small boys. As one player cheerfully said, “We suck!” And as much as I had to publicly deny it, the truth was that the Mighty Bogmonsters did, indeed, suck.
Matty, offspring of Dad 1 and Dad 2, was the smallest and the most clueless of them all. He wore glasses with a little headband, and seemed to have some sort of learning disability that affected his ability to kick or move on the ball. Matty tried hard, but was always confused, and usually ran the wrong way with the ball or missed it completely.
I worried about Matty. This was back when gay parenting was not as common as it is now. Would the other boys make fun of him and do something horrible when my back was turned? How would the other parents of the Mom/Dad variety handle Dad 1 and Dad 2?
But each and every practice and game Brian, Jonathan, and Matty showed up. The boys turned out to be very protective of Matty, even though sometimes his non-skills frustrated them. We all got used to saying things like, “Matty, get one of your dads over here to help put up the goal!” or “Matty, are your dads bringing snacks this week?” Clearly, this was the first sporting event ever in the lives of Brian, Jonathan, and Matty, but Brian and Jonathan seemed to feel that sports were something one did with one’s offspring, and by golly, that was the way things were going to be. Brian and Jonathan sat in their matching lawn chairs with the rest of the parents and cheered wildly when one of the Bogmasters actually managed to make contact with the ball.
Then, one day, we won. Somehow we managed to win the first round of the quarterfinals. With a sinking heart, I realized that meant that we would be facing the first-place Blue Team in the semifinals, who along with everyone else in the league, had roundly defeated us twice earlier in the season. The Blue Team Boys were all bigger, better and much more confident than my hapless wonders. And the coach was a guy who kept asking me helpful questions like, “Did that little team of yours actually win anything yet?” or providing useful information like, “Once they get some height on them they won’t be so bad.”
I waited as long as I could to tell my team who we would be playing in the semifinals. Finally, in a swelling chorus of not-yet-changed voices, they demanded to know. “We’re playing the Blue Team,” I said.
“Oh, hell no,” said one of the players.
“Don’t swear on the soccer field,” I said back, but inside I was thinking “Oh, hell no... Oh, hell no.”
Hell Saturday finally rolled around. I tried every inspirational speech I could possibly think of and one family made a paper banner that all the boys could crash through as they ran on the field. That helped temporarily, and the Mightly Bogmonsters assembled for play, brave little warriors all, and prepared for the slaughter.
Fifty-five minutes later, the score was 11-0. Parental support had been reduced to a periodic generic, “It’s okay! Keep trying!” Three minutes left to play and I’m trying to think of what I’m going to say after this, our great end to the most colossally losing season ever.
Suddenly, there’s a wild scrum of boys in front of the Blue goal, and the ball, unbelievably, goes into the net.
There was silence on the field. I mean, real silence like the kind you hear in the movies silence. It seemed as though traffic on the nearby street stopped. Both teams stood shocked, the referees stood blinking in disbelief. Parents on both sides sat silent.
“Who scored?” I finally said.
“Matty,” someone answered. “It was Matty.”
It was like we had won the Championship of the World. We erupted into cheers. Screaming, yelling, jumping in the air, just like the movies only this was real life! Our team rushed over to hug Matty, who stood smiling, his little glasses knocked askew, knowing that something really good had happened but not sure exactly what.
Brian and Jonathan stood silently, equally shocked with little shy smiles on their faces, tears just starting to form. The other moms and dads crowded around them, shaking their hands, pounding them on the back, hugging them, congratulating them. Choruses of thirteen sets of parental voices called out: “You must be so proud! So proud!”
The referees smiled.
And the Blue Team just looked pissed off.
Two years later, I was at Matty’s bar mitzvah, watching him comport himself beautifully, reading and reciting with great composure. I learned that Matty was born in South America and adopted by Brian and Jonathan. They fought a mass of red tape to get Matty out of South America, and then fought more battles when they learned that Matty as an infant had serious health problems. But they never gave up on their son, and at that bar mitzvah I got to see them standing silently for a second time, shy little smiles on their faces, almost holding back the tears, the proudest two dads in all of the universe.
Ah yes, it was a great moment in sport. I still think that it was probably the best moment in sport in the lives of Matty, Brian, and Jonathan. I hope that Matty won’t forget his Great Moment, when he single-handedly saved the honor of the Mighty Bogmonsters.
PHOTOS ARE FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY
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Other images: Michael Steele, Getty Images