For those of you who are not local sports fans, forgive the next 800 words or so. I understand your frustration with us, the insufferableness of it all. The life of a Boston sports fan has been an indulgent one since 2001, and I can imagine how challenging that must be for all of you Yankees, Steelers, Jets, Lakers, 76ers, Canadiens, and now, Dodgers fans. For anyone who has been around Boston for a while, you know it hasn’t been like this forever. Maybe that’s why we’ve been so insufferable: because so many of us are simply expecting for it to end rather than enjoying the embarrassment of riches we have been able to enjoy. (I know, still insufferable.)
But here’s the thing. A childhood of devout fandom without victorycomplete with the 86-year drought for the Red Sox and the heartbreaking losses they suffered along the way, the Rod Rust era for the Patriots, the post-Bird, pre-Pierce Celtics, or the Bruins of the 90s and 00sinformed how I and so many others interpret sport, even in this heyday of local success. I find that I am living in a place of constant doubt about their prospect of success. That may account for the irrational degree of importance folks seem to place on it all.
This sports insecurity, if you will, may also explain why I can tell you, quite precisely, where I was when each of the following events occurred:
- in 2002, when Vinatieri’s kick split the uprights
- in 2004, when Foulke tossed the ball to Mientkiewicz
- in 2008, when Garnett screamed, “Anything is possible!” …
- in 2011, when Tim Thomas stood on his head
(I realize there may be a sizable cohort of avid Scoop readers who might not recognize several of the names and events described above. Feel free to ask me about any of this. Each moment was pretty special to those of us who were invested.)
But here’s the thing. The more I work with children who are at the same formative age I was when the ball passed between Buckner’s legs (again, ask me I think I’m ready to talk about this by now), the more I realize the way that sports can place the emphasis on success in the wrong place.
In professional sports, the emphasis is placed on the ultimate product: championship or bust. No one remembers the teams that didn’t win it all unless they are the teams (read: ’86 and ’03 Red Sox) that ripped your heart out along the way. And when our teams don’t win it all, as fans, we succumb to the binary, ‘The year was a failure we didn’t win it all.’ That’s a tough message in which one might find the nuance of a year’s worth of hard work that boiled down to an unlucky bounce of the ball. (As a brief but important aside, I am also mindful that all of these sports are male-dominated in the local domain. The absence of that kind of role modeling for our girls is worthy of its own Scoop article altogether and is much more significant than the bounce of a ball, to be sure.)
I am particularly attentive to the binary on the day of our Friday Night Lights tradition.
It is one of the fall showcases for our middle school athletes, and one of the few opportunities for our lower school students and parents to see the older students on the field. It is an event that can easily be mistaken as a product eventthe culmination of a season of practices and other games leading up to the soccer spectacle would be a most reasonable interpretation of tonight’s event. I would simply ask that, in service to our athletes, we all remember what tonight is really all about: a showcase of the process that brought our soccer teams here.
Across all of our athletic teams this fall, our students have been in process. The process of discovery as an athlete, of personal excellence and striving to be their best, of teamwork through the highs and lows of a season, and of risk-taking whether on the field under the lights at Harvard University, running at the Park School Invitational, or taking the field as a field hockey or flag football player on a brisk Thursday afternoon. Make no mistake, any of those competitions are process events. These student-athletes have learned an incredible amount about themselves this fall, and I sincerely hope that tonight is your chance to celebrate all that they have learned along the way.
And for what it is worth, the notion of celebrating process is also something I have come to love about the 2018 Red Sox, now in LA for game three of the World Series. Anyone who has watched the team this year has seen the love they have for the game and the admiration they have for their teammates. It reminds me of the joy I see in our Belmont Day School teams. Win or lose, these teammates take care of each other, seemingly as joyful along the road that they have traveled to get here as they are having finally arrived.
Enjoy the game tonight, everyone. Go, Sox. And go BDS!
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