Monday, July 24, 2006

Newsletter30: Red, Whyte, and 19

Red, Whyte, and 19

About 7 or 8 weeks ago coach Rob and I had a conversation about the group of young kids we had noticed hanging out more and more around the periphy of the Urban Ministry Center. These were young kids, 19 and 20 years old most of them. In fact, we wondered if they were even homeless. In the past I have always noticed that the young kids that hang around are normally dealing drugs to the older folks, so I’m less likely to try to engage them. Actually, I am more likely to reach out to them in an effort to get them to move on. This group, I learned, is part of the growing phenemona of kids this age ending up on the street. In the weeks prior to the conversation with coach Rob, I kept the center open late, just to see who desired a safe place to be after dark. Mostly it was this group. They stayed as late as I did, drawing, keeping mostly quiet, and were very suspicious of me. For the most part, I spent that time just doing some drawing of my own or some work on the computer, being observing and analysing as best I could what I was seeing.
One of these kids calls himself Whyte. He is Asian and 19. The first time I saw him, I was visiting traffic court. I actually was there early and sat on a bench eating an organge and Whyte sat across from me. Somethng intrigued me about him. His gaze always remained downcast, and he seemed to be very deliberate in all of his actions, whether it was the way he openned a door, paused, and entered it, or the steady heel-toe rhyhtm of his carefully meted out steps. I remember stopping in my tracks when I saw this fleeting object of my minds’ curiosity walk through the cafeteria area of the Community Works building when we were still serving lunch there this winter. I ate lunch that day at his table, thinking I would approach him about playing on our team, but he was completely closed off, and didn’t event acknowledge my question. I wondered if he was deaf or if he even spoke English. Today Whyte was one of the fifteen players who suited up for Street Soccer 945’s first match of the summer league. In fact he was also one of the group of six or seven young kids who mopped the floors and strengthed his forearms by scraping clean, sealing, and buffing the ceramic tile floors in Community Works to get the place ready to reopen as a workshop, frameshop, and gallery space.
Some of the others who volunteered to clean and who were also in uniform tonight were Aubrie, the only girl, Junior and Dave Mendoza, 14 and 16 years old Panamanians staying with their mother in the shelter, Craig Holly, Pop, LA, Amil, Ray, and Shawn. Others included Tony Kelly, goalies Scythe Fewell and a new player Dave “Red Wolf” Macnorton, plus Matt Jules and the coaches. Cleary the group was our most diverse ever, featuring Caucasions, African Americans, Whyte, the Panamanians, and “Red Wolf” who is part Native American.
Looking at our group all seated around a table to eat dinners that the InnerVision program on Tryon Street gave us from their clubhouse, coach Rob and I reminisced about six weeks ago. A lot of territroy had been forged between us and this group over the past two months, but we were clearly looking at the very same dubious pack of loners up to no-good, and they were now talking about how “Urban,” their pet name for the Urban Minsitry Center, was going to win tonight. This was at 6pm. They had been having the same conversation since 11am that morning and had been kicking the soccer ball around even earlier than that.
In light of all the street soccer experiences over the past couple years, many of them bizzare, many challenging and frustrating, more still uplifting and joyful, none forgetable, and all of them losses, tonight’s loss has to be termed the most delightful.
Our inclusive policy brings different skills levels, different sexes, different mental operating systems, different degrees of sleep deprevation, etc. together and can often pose difficult if not intreaguing interactions among the players and with the coaches. Learning to work as a team is one important aspect of the program; anotherother is going out to the sports facility and relating to the spectators, referees, and other teams. Our team excelled on all levels tonight. They chatted it up before the game, telling the people they met what the Urban Minsitry Cetner was, and then when they went out to warm up they stood in a large group and surprised me even with their ability to keep the ball up in the air. The Manager of the facility was impressed at the new faces and the expression on his face was one of delight when he asked about Abdul and Stephanie and I was able to tell him that they have both moved off the street and into their own places. “One thing is for sure, he said, you all get better every time you come out here; it’s really amazing. I remember the first season when you guys could barely kick off and I had to tell the referee not call any fouls.”
The game itself was tough. We played against a team of Brasilians. We managed three goals, one by newcomer LA. He said, “I’ve haven’t played on a team since I was in elementary school, and I don’t even think that was a real team.” Otherwise both goalies played well and kept us in the game, while Craig Holly was a clear standout on defence, especially making a great adjustment to play a new position in the middle of the game. After a rough first half we made a tactical shift. Our defenders were pushing up and getting caught out of position in the transition back to defence, yet we needed goals and keeping these defenders withdrawn was not the answer. We decided to push them both into midfield and pull our center midfielder back to play a sweeper roll. Craig played that sweeper position and single handedly held off the opposing attackers while we hustled back. Although we didn’t catch up, we scored all three of our goals in the second half and reduced their goal output, losing by a final tally of 3-7. Kudos goes to everyone who cheered positively, especially Matt Jules who for missing practice did not play but kept our spirit up, and for those who had never played in an indoor league game before, which is everybody but Tony, Ray, and Scythe.
Postgame the team was upbeat and supportive of one another. Shawn, who had scored a goal during a pick up game at practice when we joing a group of Haitians and other internationals, got a lesson in celebration from one of the Hatians. The Hatian got on one knee and asked Shawn to give him his foot. Shawn didn’t get it. The Hatian then placed Shawn’s goal scoring foot on his knee and played as if he were shining his shoe. As we gathered as a team after the game Shawn came running up to LA and said, “give me your foot.” LA didn’t understand. Shawn then grabbed his foot and placed it on his knee and began to play as if he were shining his goal-scoring shoe. We all laughed.
When we were back at the Soup Kitchen Pop and Whyte asked me how they could improve. They said, “We know we’ve got to do more footskills, but aren’t there plays we need to learn.” “Yes,” I said, “there are plays and lots of strategy, but it might be different than what you think of when you think of NFL. Football, American football, is like a scored piece of music, like a symphony, everyone has their part and it is planned and they execute their various parts according to the design of the movements. Soccer is more like Jazz. There are elements in soccer, overlaps, give and goes, takeovers, crosses, etc. which can be combined in the run of play, but according to a genral idea like a melody, but executed completely improvisationally, and many times a player has to come up with a completely creative solution to his or her situation. Our players real-life situations are trying ones that evince a dis-connect with the larger part of society. At times that disconnect frustrates them and depresses them. Tonight, in their interaction with each other and with an opponent which, we were warned, was hot-tempered, our players cultivated a delightful harmony. I’d say they escaped their situation quite artfully, As Matt Jules said, “This was the best Urban Ministry Center soccer game I ever watched.”
Next game is is next Wednesday. Check for the specific game time.

Thanks for reading!

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