Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Permanent Knee Bend, Or How I Go From Team- To Cheer-Leader

It is my freshman year of high school and I've successfully tried out for and made the soccer team. For me this is a huge deal. Steam is gathering in the soccer community of South Kingstown and everyone feels as if a State Championship is within reach. I hope to be a part of it.

Now, as I've previously discussed, I am not the most skilled of soccer players but I approach the game with the zeal of a suicide bomber. If I slide under you and take your legs out 72 virgins await. An elbow to your ribs as I target your shins with my cleats. A sly bump while the ref is following the action. I try to bait my opponents into frustration. They then usually try to gain revenge by overdoing it and then I have a tactical advantage.

Plus I wear big wrap-around prescription goggles and look like a sad extra sitting in the bleachers while the cool kids dance in a John Hughes film.

The Junior Varsity is made up of mostly freshman and sophomores with the occasional junior. If you are still on the JV squad as a junior, chances are you won't ever see much Varsity playing time. You are low on the depth chart. Sophomores who don't start on the JV squad are looking at being backups in their Junior and Senior year.

There are freshman and sophomores who start for the Varsity but not many. Most of the starting Varsity team are Juniors or Seniors with the occasional phenom stealing a spot.

I am the starting left fullback for the JV squad so I've already vaulted past a few disgruntled upperclassmen on the depth chart. As far as I'm concerned I'll be a backup on the Varsity sophomore year, and starting Junior and Senior years. It didn't work out that way because of The Torn Tendon.

The Junior Varsity season opens. Like the Varsity we are a team to be reckoned with. We do not lose often. We scrimmage with the Varsity who are one of the best teams in the state so when we come up against other Junior Varsity squads we feel very confident.

The season flies by. I improve as it goes. I've gotten faster, bigger, stronger. I've faced the ridiculously fast upperclassmen in practice and held my own. I've shut down excellent opposing teams on a regular basis and am a vocal leader on the JV squad.

By vocal leader I mean that I yell a lot on the field. I am never negative. I encourage the offensive squad from my post. I warn my fellow defenders of sneaky encroachment from our opponent. I am respectfully strident with refs. I do not trash talk specific players but I do keep up a steady stream of chatter reminding my teammates that we are better than these guys.

Well, maybe I occasionally whisper a sweet nothing to whatever offensive player I'm assigned to, but nothing a ref could ever hear.

A yellow card is issued in soccer for fouls that go just beyond the aggressive innocent play. I am a frequent receiver of yellow cards. My signature play is a sort of all out baseball slide assault. I know that once someone gets by me I don't have the speed to catch them so I prefer to simply bring you to the ground. If I get the ball with my feet I don't get a foul. If I don't get the ball with my feet I tend to get carded. But I prefer a card to a goal.

It is the last game of our season. The Varsity season continues for several weeks after ours, with key members of the JV being placed on Varsity for the playoff run. I know that I won't be on that roster because the starting left fullback is All-State and there are two very capable junior backups behind him. But I'll keep playing in practice and trying to give those guys a run for their money.

So. Last game. First half. We are leading but it is a hard fought contest. Our offense keeps the ball on their half of the field much of the game.

At one point I put my hands on my knees while exhorting my guys to put the ball in the net again. The action starts to reverse and come back over towards our goal. I start to come out of my gentle crouch.

But I can't. My knee has locked. I cannot UNBEND my knee. Thankfully the play heads down the other sideline and I signal to my coach that I have to come out of the game. It is rather obvious as I am walking like someone just pulled the toilet out from under me while I sat on it.

I am taken to the local sports doctor who would later help me rehabilitate the torn tendon that effectively ended my soccer career. He tells me I have something called "chondromalacia of the left patella". What this means is that my kneecap is pinching the tendon underneath it and locking it into place. Turns out I'm slightly bow-legged.

My knee stays locked in place for a week, as if I'm perpetually leaning forward, urging the rest of my team to pick up the slack for me.

I watch the last two weeks of the season from the sidelines on crutches, as vocal as ever, needing only a pom-pom and a megaphone to cement the transition that I didn't know was already inevitable.


Siobhan O'Malley said...

oh, bren.

Brendan O'Malley said...

thank you for your two word pity party siobhan. ha!