When my parents brought me to the sign-up day for the Youth Soccer League, I did not know what "soccer" was. The athletic fields at the University of Rhode Island teemed with kids from ages seven and up who showed up to learn the game. Now, I will have to check with my mum but I feel as if this was the inaugural season for the YSO in Little Rhody. Meaning that I was in the first wave of Rhode Island kids to play the game.
By the time I was twelve I was pretty good. I played left fullback. Most of the other kids who played defense seemed to feel it was a snub. They longed to shoot, to score. I never felt that way. I loved being the fly in the ointment, the guy who ruined your chances. I wasn't fast, I didn't have great ball-handling skills and I wore prescription wrap-around goggles. I liked that I looked weird. I felt it gave me an advantage.
I don't remember being aware of wins and losses during the first couple of seasons. I do remember one game in which I scored two goals from my defensive position, going on long sideline runs and bearing down on the goalie until the angle was perfect and depositing the ball in the back of the net.
But when I was twelve I was placed on a team called Shore Supply. From the start we were a very difficult team to play. If I remember correctly we only lost two games all season long and wound up with a final record of 12-2. The league playoffs were hard fought and we faced one of the teams that had beat us during the regular season.
We prevailed, winning our division. Some sort of State playoff followed and that part is hazy. I don't remember how many games we had to win in order to get to the finals but whatever it was we reached it.
The State Championship was held on a Saturday morning at a soccer field on the East Side of Providence. The field was in rough shape, rocky, peppered with stretches of grassless dirt. It sat tucked in between industrial spaces on the edge of the harbor and the wind whipped in making long passing difficult to control.
I don't remember the team we faced. They seemed darker skinned than us and more city. I remember some of them spoke Spanish on the field. I played the whole game.
It was a close contest.
I have seen any number of championship celebrations in my life. I've seen the Boston Red Sox finally celebrate a World Series title. I've seen the Celtics win in two different decades. I was at the Patriots first Super Bowl victory in the Superdome in New Orleans.
None of them can compare to the thrill I felt when the horn sounded and my team, Shore Supply, became Rhode Island State Champions. We were the best team in the state. We piled on top of each other, hooting and hollering in a frenzy that was almost absolute.
Many of the players on that team would later play for the High School team that also took the State Crown. I'd been headed for a Varsity spot when I blew out my ankle tendon sophomore year so the title was bittersweet because I watched it from the stands with the rest of the student body instead of from the sidelines.
But for one day in my life I stood on a playing field and felt the thrill of knowing that we'd taken on all comers. We were State Champions.