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Stephen is another soccer dad. Our boys have both been playing on the same U7 soccer team, though we hadn’t met until a recent practice while we watched our little dudes run around the field. We chatted back and forth a bit as practice wrapped up and the coach called out to the boys “Gather up, Lightning Strikes!”
Then, things got interesting.
“We will be playing The Wolves From Beyond this Saturday,” the coach told the little knot of first graders, and he gave some details for where to meet and what to wear.
I leaned over to Stephen, laughing and saying, “Did he say Wolves From Beyond? That might be the awesomest soccer team name I’ve ever heard!”
He glanced back over at me and chuckled a bit, and the look in his eye said that he had a “bigger fish” story to tell.
“Well,” he began, “my son was on a team last year, and we parents decided that they should get to pick their own team name. So, the kids thought and talked about it for a while, and eventually they came up with something they thought was pretty good. The coach called them together and asked what they had decided on. They answered, “We want our name to be The Spicy Balls.”
“What?!” I laughed.
Stephen continued, “Yeah! We didn’t really understand at first. ‘What?’ Spice Wall? Superball?”
“No,” they said, “Spicy Balls!”
It kinda makes sense. For most little kids, spicy foods are pretty dangerous things and generally to be avoided on threat of pain. Soccer obviously requires a ball. As far as I can tell, “Spicy Balls” roughly translates in a kindergartener’s mind to “Dangerous Soccer Team.” Pretty slick, right?
But obviously, most parents aren’t blessed with that kind of literal innocence. I’m definitely not.
“We want our name to be The Spicy Balls.”
I could see it now. A group of excited parents all encouraging their little boys with cheers like “Go, Spicy Balls, go!” or “C’mon, Spicy Balls, you can do it!” or simply “Wooooo, SPICY BALLS!” The awkwardness of a name like that being alternately screamed in encouragement by team parents and then chanted by another team of little kindergarteners to finish out the game was almost too much for me to handle.
“Wait! Did you guys let them keep that name?”
Stephen chuckled to himself, leaned over a bit, and said, “Nah. We looked at them and said, ‘How about Wildcats?”
This the was third practice that our boys had together at this point, but I had still not met Steven until then. Most of the time, I’ve arrived at practice, sent my boy onto the field, and proceeded to stake out a little real estate on the sideline where I could half-watch the practice while checking my email, headlines, Facebook, and Twitter on my phone.
But, I’m noticing something, bit by bit. With my phone in hand, I’m effectively telling the other parents that I’m not available to talk right now. I’m doing something else. It creates a barrier around me that only the boldest dare to step across. And that’s one of the greatest ironies of our whole technology-driven culture, right? Being so connected, I can so easily disconnect. Getting on my “social media,” I can be conveniently anti-social.
This time, though, rather than poking away at my messages, posts, and tweets, I met a new person and heard a great story. And as it turns out, Stephen helped to start a non-profit in my area, too, and is trying to do some good in our corner of the globe. What a great guy to know!
And I almost missed meeting him once again, but not this time.
All because my phone stayed in my pocket.
Patrick Wilson is a writer and prolific soccer dad.