I remember vividly, for some strange reason, the day when my parents gave me the option to play soccer.
It was in the backyard, and I was on the swing set, and my mom said something to me about a league starting soon and how I could play if I wanted to. I declined, because soccer just wasn’t something big around my house, and that was pretty much the extent of my involvement with the world’s most popular sport – I almost kind of played that one time years ago but decided not to.
And while I don’t regret that, I do regret waiting until well into my adulthood before I began paying any attention at all to the only sport that everybody outside of America seems to care about.
We were a football household. American football, that is. My dad actually had a woodcarving made that still sits in my parents living room to this day that reads “we interrupt this marriage to bring you the football season.” He brought that home shortly after my parents got married. It wasn’t a joke.
As such, soccer was always this thing that wasn’t understood. It was the other football sport. The “Communist” sport.
As I got older – and wiser, might I add – I began befriending people from all different walks of life that enjoyed things that were much different than what I was used to. I’m a bit of a wanderer that way, and still enjoy going outside of my comfort zone, but the foray into the world of soccer happened almost by accident. It was around the time of the World Cup, people were talking about the sport I had no clue about, and for once in my life I didn’t talk and just listened – I paid attention to the passion and loyalty people had to their respective teams, and when groups would get together and watch I would join them and just take it all in.
They saw things that I didn’t see – diamond midfields and overmatched defenders – but I listened. And I watched.
And in the last 10 years, I can honestly say that I’m now a fan of a sport that wasn’t outright banished in the home that I grew up in, but for all intents and purposes didn’t exist.
Take, for example, my friendship with Chris Teicheira. We met by happenstance as he was embarking on his Northern California comedy career, but it was around the time of the 2012 Euro Cup that I saw he was hosting some people at a local bar to watch Portugal and I just happened to head down there to watch.
It was some of the most fun I think I have ever had a sporting event I didn’t actually attend. That lit a spark that only burned hotter every two years – repeated again in 2014 with the World Cup, and it reached a flashpoint during the Euro Cup of 2016 when Portugal finally became the bride after years of being the bridesmaid.
I’ve showed up at bars at 6 a.m. to watch a feed coming from halfway across the world, ate bacon steaks, pork chops, Portuguese cheeses and sweet bread – cheering for a team I barely knew with people who knew every player on the squad. When they scored, the high fives came in waves – the drinks (for everybody else) flowed like water. And for those 90 minutes, the weight of the world slipped away.
In the ensuing years I’ve watched grown men cry because Portugal won a major championship, I’ve listed to soccer strategists like Manuel Pires explain what has happening in overtime as the United States hung with Belgium – sitting on a barstool James Burns at the time – and I’ve marveled at stories about African nations brown out power for an entire week so that there is enough juice to watch their team compete in an International friendly.
Not even a tournament game – just a friendly match.
The World Cup is here again, and this morning a dedicated crew of Portuguese men and women will be packed into a local bar watching the country of their roots take on heavily favored Spain in a tournament that will reach 3.2 billion people – or almost half of the world’s population.
I won’t be there as my son’s school is having a special Father’s Day luncheon, but you better believe I’ll be recording the match and catching up as soon as I’m free.
It may have taken me a while to figure out the game of soccer, but this year I firmly plan on making up for lost time.
Riding for glory
It’s not uncommon to run into stories about local high school athletes winning accolades for their achievements.
But it’s always something special when somebody is a relative newcomer to their sport and achieve greatness – exhibiting a sort of zeal that has long since left most young athletes that have spent the majority of their young lives pursuing this glory.
Mallory Coit is one of these athletes.
This week the recent graduate from Historic Durham Ferry is competing at the California High School Rodeo Finals in Bishop, riding “Scarlett” in the cutting category. She reached the pinnacle of high school rodeo in only her second full year of competing against young adults who grew up on horses.
And she did it the hard way.
She has ridden five horses in all to get this point in her athletic career – some of which were borrowed by family friends who saw the love that she has for the sport – and competes in an event where some of the best-trained animals can costs tens of thousands of dollars.
That’s not quite the same thing as a new bat or a top-flight pair of basketball shoes.
She and father Tony Coit have covered two-thirds of California in the two years that she has competing, and when her summer winds down she’ll be heading to Fresno where she will continue her rodeo career for the Bulldogs.
But right now – Mallory Coit is riding for glory.
And it’s an amazing thing to follow.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.