Note: The following was submitted by friend Roger Walker as he reflects on the end of his son Chance’s soccer career. Chance was both a college All-Conference and Honorable Mention All-American Goalie (in addition to numerous high school awards) at the University of Illinois at Springfield. As an student, he also made the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll and graduated in the standard four year time frame.
I think it was the fall of 1993 or 1994 when I attended my first youth soccer game. We had signed our oldest son up to participate in the Prairie Central Soccer League. I had over my years of driving around the Bloomington/Normal area seen all the kids dressed in their blue and yellow uniforms playing soccer, but had never really given it much thought. You see, I was a baseball player, and that was what my son was going be, or so I thought.
I remember my first soccer game very well for two reasons. One, I didn’t have a clue what was happening on the field, because I didn’t know anything about soccer. And two, I’m pretty sure the kids and the coaches were in the same boat I was. Wherever the ball went, so went 20 players, except for the goalie. He or she was most likely picking dandelions or swinging from the crossbar of the goal. The other memory I have is we were only there an hour. I remember thinking as we got in the car how thankful I was that attending my son’s soccer game had not eaten up much of my precious free time. For the next three or four years we continued to attend soccer games. Somewhere during that time my baseball player started to grow into a soccer player. That’s when the real trouble started.
I place full blame on family friends who had three sons of their own who were all soccer players for what happened next. They talked me into allowing my son to try out for TRAVEL SOCCER!!!!! Well of course he made the team (said with lots of dad pride). I quickly learned that the commitment to travel soccer was much greater than an hour a week for practice and then another hour on the weekend for a game. Practice was at least two nights a week, each for no less than two hours. On top of that, they practiced as far away from my house as they could and still be in the same zip code. Now my precious free time was eroding faster than I ever could have imagined. I haven’t even mentioned the entire weekends spent at soccer tournaments watching a sport I still didn’t entirely understand. My son did start to excel at the sport, and in fact decided he wanted to play goalie. It is the one position on the field that could cause a parent to have nervous breakdown in front of god and everybody. So now in what spare time I did have I was going to a shrink for stress related issues. Not really, but I probably should have.
The first year of travel soccer past and I started to understand some things about the game. Not the rules, the politics. I once again place full blame on the previously mentioned family friends for what happened next. We decided to switch from the current soccer club we were with to play for another one. The catch with this was, that our home field was in Deerfield IL. Yes, the Deerfield that is up in the Chicago area. And yes, we still lived in Normal. The saving grace was that the entire team was from the area we lived in, so the practices were still local. Every Saturday in the fall and spring myself, a couple of other fathers and our son’s headed to somewhere in the Chicago area to play a soccer game. The good thing about these trips every Saturday was that the “Soccer Dads”, as we became to be known, were able to solve all the problems of the world. We just couldn’t get anybody to listen other than our wives, and I think they only listened to be nice. There were also tournaments sandwiched in between the weekend games as well as during many weekends in the summer months. My precious free time had now eroded to the point where I looked forward to Sunday night, which of course is the time right before Monday.
A few years of going to Chicago came and went. During that time I finally came to the realization that my son was not going to play baseball. In fact he didn’t even really like baseball. Also during that time his skills as a goalie were growing. He began receiving accolades from coaches, players and parents of teammates (once again said with a lot dad pride). The summer before his freshman year of high school he was invited to go on a trip to Germany with a team mainly made up of University High School (U-High) players, which was where is was going to attend high school. He went to Germany for two weeks. During the two weeks he was gone I didn’t have to go anywhere. Not to a practice, not to a game, not to a tournament. I had some precious free time. Much to my surprise though, I missed going to practices, I missed going to games, I missed going to tournaments, and this was only a two-week time period. I determined I had some type of temporary illness, and dismissed it knowing that I would get better.
The high school years were filled with many memories. One of my fondest is my son’s first high school game. He had been selected to start for the varsity team as a freshman. I of course couldn’t stop bragging about it. I never once thought about the pressure that he may be under because of his selection. He was still to young to drive, so I took him to the game. We pulled up to the U-High soccer field and I stopped to let him out. I glanced over at him and said the little saying I said to him before most games, “ play good… have fun”. I then looked away assuming that he would get out of the car. After a few seconds of not hearing or noticing any movement coming from my son, I looked back over at him. There he sat, staring straight ahead, and he was as pale as if he had seen a ghost. He was as scared and as nervous as I had ever seen him. I told him that I loved him, and that as long as he did the best he could do, the results of the game didn’t matter. A little smile came over his face, and without saying a word he got out of the car and headed to the field. The whole event probably took one minute, but it’s a minute that to this day that I think back on when I need something to make me smile. By the way, they won the game 7-0, and he only touched the ball once.
The high school soccer season runs from roughly mid-August through mid-November, depending on how far you go in the State Tournament. They practice every weeknight, unless they have a game, and play a game most likely every Saturday. Because he was unable to drive his freshman and sophomore year that meant he had to be picked up from practice each night. If they had an away game he would have to be picked up at the school once the bus returned him form the game. My precious free time continued to dwindle. Oh by the way, have I mentioned indoor soccer yet; it’s played in the winter. There is something else I should tell you, my son also plays basketball. Guess what, that takes up precious free time also.
His high school years were very successful. His senior year he received several team awards, as well as recognition from the Illinois High School Association. I was very proud, but by the time he graduated I think I was down to about ten weekends a year where I had time to do what I wanted to do. But, for some odd reason (I think that illness I had earlier was still lingering) I was hoping with all my heart that he would go on to play college soccer. My wish came true. He was recruited by and decided to attend the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) to play soccer.
He would leave in early August for the start of practice each year he was in college. I thought I would have more precious free time since he was away at school and I was no longer responsible for getting him to and from practice, or home from games, or any of the other stuff that was associated with transportation. But, did you know that colleges play games out of the state of Illinois. In fact, UIS plays games in Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri; I think you get the point I’m trying to make. It takes time to get to these places, They also had the nerve to schedule these games on weekdays, when I not only had to use my precious free time to get there and watch, I had to use vacation time too. What kind of world has you use vacation time to go watch your son play soccer? For four years I had to put up with this type of infringement on my time, but I endured.
The college years have gone by and my son graduated in May of 2009. Much like his high school career, his college career was very successful. He received many accolades and awards for his play. On top of the awards he also earned respect, not only for his play, but also for his character. Many proud dad moments occurred during his college years.
It is late August 2009 as I write this blog. I can’t count the number of soccer games or practices that I have watched since 1994. I don’t even want to think about the number of miles I have driven, or the number of hotels I have stayed in. The money was never an issue with me, but I certainly don’t want to think about what I have spent on my son’s soccer career over the years. There were also probably a few years taken off my life due to stress I put on myself because of him being a goalie. What I do like to think about is the joy I had when I watched him play. The relationships I built with other parents. I can’t count all of them, but there are three that I will be forever grateful for. The weekends I spent with my wife and my younger son at tournaments were wonderful for all of us. In reality, the only thing I lost over the 16 or so years I watch my son play soccer was my precious free time, which I have lots of now that he no longer plays the game I grew to love.
The fall soccer season has started for both high school and college. For the first time in many years I don’t have a calendar on my desk at work with my son’s soccer schedule. I didn’t have to save seven or eight vacation days for travel. I don’t have a folder full of MapQuest directions to towns and soccer fields I have never heard of. Those are a few of things I don’t have, but I do have a lot of precious free time do whatever it was I thought I would be doing with my free time. But evidently I was never cured of my illness because…… Now I miss not having any precious free time.
Photo: Chance Walker in game action during Illinois-Springfield’s upset of then #3 nationally ranked Hannibal-LaGrange.
Credit: Jeff Findley