It may be the strangest thing I’ve personally witnessed on an athletic field.
Over the years I’ve seen my share of strange things through playing, watching, coaching and covering sports events for local newspapers, but nothing quite like this.
Like most people my age, I grew up playing what you might call the traditional American sports. Soccer was not among them. I probably would have played soccer, but it wasn’t offered then.
Over the years, however, I’ve learned to appreciate soccer, which I actually like very much. I understand most of the rules, and I know the difference between a red card and a yellow, and I can distinguish a goal kick from a penalty kick. It’s just the little things I don’t understand, those things you pick up by simply playing the game and being around it.
Recently, I was covering a high school soccer match between Rochelle and a visiting team. The Hubs had jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead when the visiting players and coaches began berating the officials, loudly protesting every call they didn’t agree with - which was most of them.
At one point, one of the opposing coaches actually ordered one of the referees to stop talking to one of his players, claiming it was upsetting the player. As far as I could tell - and I was standing near their bench - the coach never said anything to his player, only the referee.
But that wasn’t the strangest part.
That came a few minutes later, late in the first half, when one of the visiting players suddenly plopped down on the field near his own team’s bench and began yelling at his own coach. “My leg hurts,” the player yelled. “I told you this was going to happen. You might as well take me out because I’m just going to sit here until you do. I’m not getting up.”
Instead of saying anything back, the coach did as he was told, taking the young man out until he had rested up and then reinserted him later.
I know I haven’t been involved in sports for a long time, but I have never seen anything like that. Maybe it’s the culture of the sport, or the state of young people today, or simply that I’m getting older, but I couldn’t believe that a teenager could talk to his coach that way and get away with it.
When I was growing up, we were taught to respect all adults, especially those who had the authority to play us in games we wanted to play in and those who could kick us out of those same games. If we had a problem with a coach, we just complained to our friends and teammates, which is the All-American way. We never dreamed of doing what that young man did.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all soccer players, or even all teenagers, act this way. That wouldn’t be fair - or accurate. I didn’t see any of this happening on the Rochelle side of the field. And not all of the opposing players acted this way, either, only a small handful. In fact, in a true act of sportsmanship, one opposing player helped a Rochelle player stretch out a leg cramp until the Rochelle trainer could get to him. Which was a great gesture on his part, and the way we hope all our young people act.
It may be interesting to note that once the visitors took the lead, they suddenly stopped complaining. Now that, I do understand.
On a humorous note, Maggie Duval, a senior on the RTHS varsity volleyball team, may be my favorite high school players ever. Recently, following Rochelle’s upset win against LaSalle-Peru, she answered my bumbling questions before I even had a chance to ask them. Either she’s a very perceptive young lady or I’m just predicable. Either way, it made my task easier so I don’t care.
Finally, during that match, an L-P player hit a volley so high it actually knocked down the covering of one of the air ducts. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
The incident doesn’t quite rank with the strangest things I’ve ever seen, but - pardon the pun - it’s up there.