Reuniting with my old sport makes for an all-new experience.
By Hannah Wallace

As I promised last week, two stories featuring soccer, fisticuffs, wheelchairs and lifesavers:

 Short story first: Attending The Constant Wife at the Asolo last week, my father and I, ticketless, had to enter the house from the backstage stairwell. The door—which, mind you, is also an emergency exit—was blocked with a proliferation of wheelchairs and walkers. I mean lots. And I know this can be considered an ugly thing to say about our town, but: Wow, talk about your stereotypical Sarasota trip to the theatre.

But if that weren’t stereotype enough, the woman sitting next to me had to eat an entire package of hard Lifesavers during the third act. Not “sucked on them.” She chomped through those things like potato chips—one after the other. For half an hour. I pondered offering her one of her own teeth to chew on (but, you know, I’m a lady). Still, I imagined some sensible person trying to calm me by saying, “You just have to ignore her.” Here’s the thing: You don’t go to the theater to ignore people. There’s good reason to sit in an audience, watch live actors and absorb the whole, intangible experience. And if you don’t realize you’re in the beautiful company of actual, living people, then for God’s sake, stay at home, watch a movie and chip all the dentures you want.
The second experience began after an indoor soccer game that left me, as usual, wheezing and woozy, when a couple of women recruited me to play on their full-sided (11 vs. 11) outdoor team on Saturdays. Three years of Bambi-ing around in ice hockey, I’d kind of forgotten what being admirably athletic feels like—it’s nice. Even though I didn’t really want to spend my Saturday in a social-anxiety attack from meeting so many new people, I couldn’t resist the compliment.
All I knew when I arrived at Ellenton’s Buffalo Creek soccer fields two days later was that I was looking for a team with dark blue uniforms. CCB trotted along behind me carrying his soccer-mom chair as I scanned the crowds. I couldn’t even remember what my recruiters looked like.
I didn’t have to wait long (my “Oh, my God I’m lost help me!” beacon is pretty obvious). A handsome, dark-skinned, 30-something man walked up smiling and introduced himself as Chuy, the coach. The team followed—a parade of 20- and 30-something Hispanic women who soon began an organized warm-up: passing drills, call-and-answer counting through stretches, friendly ribbing. The lively conversation moved between English and Spanish, but every time something important was being said in the latter, one new teammate or another would materialize at my side to translate, politely and flawlessly.
“You could pass for Hispanic,” my mother later told me. Yeah, not for a second did anyone think I spoke Spanish, much less that I was Latina. (See above, re: my beacon.)
It was a competitive game, complete with two 45-minute halves, three uniformed, remarkably professional officials and a handful of fans shouting encouragement (and occasionally derision) in Spanish on the sideline. When I netted our team’s first goal, someone within earshot gave an amused shout of support when he realized “the white girl scored.”
At halftime, the coach took a collection from the team to pay the officials. He refused to take any money from me.
Midway through the second half, a benches-clearing brawl erupted with (in my mind) little provocation after an escalating argument between two players. Fists flew, Spanish insults filled the air; I had no idea what was going on. I stood on the outskirts and joked with one of my teammates that it was a good thing I couldn’t understand what they were saying, or I would have been very upset, I’m sure.
A few moments after the unflappable referee sorted out that madness and restarted the game, I scored my third goal of the evening, putting our team up 4-3. Not long after that, the game was called on account of some fairly angry opposition support encroaching on the playing field.
In the handshake line afterwards, three girls from the other team dodged my hand. One girl walked through the entire line with her middle finger in the air. I was a little shocked. In our hockey leagues, dirty play certainly isn’t unheard of, but not shaking hands at the end of the game is nearly unforgivable. Turns out, I still have a lot to learn about soccer.