Excerpt from Don’s book “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…” which may purchased using the following link. Enjoy! goo.gl/dO1hcX
“Sugar and Spice
And everything nice
That’s what little girls are made of”
Nursery Rhyme-Robert Stanley
Few people know that early in my coaching career, I coached soccer. I have tried very hard to keep this a secret because I was always afraid that I would be forced to coach it again. I don’t have anything against soccer or soccer players; it’s just that they don’t think like football players. If you were to tell a football player to run through a wall, he would do it and then ask to do again. If you were to tell a soccer player to run through a wall he would ask why? The word why is not something a football coach really wants to hear. When I really think about it, I probably think more like a soccer player than a football player. Please don’t tell anyone.
The first soccer match I saw was the first soccer match I coached in. This was in 1975. The internet did not exist. There was no Soccer Channel or even YouTube to search for help. We had these odd, rectangular shaped objects made of paper called books. They actually contained information on a plethora of subjects including soccer. I read books, talked to soccer coaches and went to clinics to learn the game of soccer. A crop of athletic, soccer playing freshmen came through Mauldin in the late 1970’s and I rode them for four years. They won four region championships and an upper-state title to go along with a state runners-up trophy. I actually “retired” with the second highest win total in state history at that time, seventy seven. The game has since changed to the point that you can’t find my name on the list anymore.
In the early 1980’s our court system decided that girls had the same right to play soccer as the boys. Unfortunately the courts decided too late for the girls to have their own teams and for that one year the fairer sex was allowed to try out for the boy’s teams. None of the soccer coaches expected any of the girls to make their team but none of those soccer coaches had Laena Marie Karnstedt. Laena had played a lot of soccer and had a skill level on the par with my best guys. What she lacked was speed and strength. Laena made up for this lack of athleticism with determination, hustle, great ball handling and passing skills. She made the team as a midfielder where speed was an asset but not a necessity.
Laena had a bubbly and vivacious personality to go with blond Germanic good looks. I cannot remember if she had blue eyes but it is my guess that she did. Laena was of medium height and her frame reminded me of a cheerleader more than a soccer player. Guys know what that means. Ladies if you don’t, go ask a guy. I did not know what to make of my newest charge but decided to treat her exactly like “one of the guys.” I did not really convince myself and ended up treating the guys more like her. Those “good job” slaps on the butt had to come to an end.
I had never coached girls before and have coached very few girls since. Only one season as a junior varsity girls’ basketball coach and one as a junior varsity girls’ soccer coach made me an authority on how NOT to coach girls. I went into each season thinking the only difference between girls and guys besides the obvious, was that girls looked and smelled better. I found out by season’s end that there were huge differences in the way male and female athletes view their game. At this time, men were more team sport oriented while women were still learning. I also found out that emotionally men and women were just wired differently. Remember, the Mars and Venus book would not be published for several decades and I only had my experiences with a few girlfriends and two ex-wives to go on. Two guys will get mad, explode and fight, and then shake hands. Later, they will go get a beer and then, together, chase after girls. When women get mad they stay mad and plot how to get even. Women will usually wait several weeks and ask a question like “Do you remember three weeks ago when…?” Seriously, I don’t remember the football score from three hours ago much less some perceived slight. They will also try to get as many of their friends involved as possible. Another difference is that guys cry when they are very, very sad. Girls cry when they are very sad, very happy or when they are very mad. Guys have a hard time determining which of these three situations are in effect until it is too late. For this humble coach, women are at best, a conflicted mine field of emotions. Laena did not really fit this mold except… when she did.
Women have always been confusing to me. The only one I really understood was my mother but that was because she actually had my best interest at heart. Sometimes I even understand my daughter, but even she is not a sure thing. Laena was confusing when she wasn’t actually on the field. She reverted to the “girly” girl. She would bring cookies and brownies to practice. I never had a player do that before or since. They might bring bubble gum or sunflower seeds. Sometimes they would bring pork rinds. Never did they bring cookies and brownies. Whenever she was not playing, she became a cheerleader with all of those cutesy cheers you have heard before: “Chewing tobacco, Chewing tobacco spit, spit, spit….” She always seemed to be in very close proximity and underfoot when she was on the sidelines. I think it was because she knew if she was tucked in under my shoulder that I would not curse too much or if she made me uncomfortable enough I would put her in the game. She made me uncomfortable a lot. She even had a unique way of falling down which involved somehow landing on her butt with her feet still planted on the ground while giggling the whole time. Soccer players shouldn’t giggle.
Hidden behind her blonde good looks and cheerleader personality was a competitive streak the width of the Potomac River. Her competitive streak, along with a high level of technical skill made her formidable. She was especially formidable if you underestimated her because “she was a girl.” Please don’t misunderstand; Laena was a good person until you treated her like a girl. Then you should watch out because you just might get hurt.
It does not matter if you are a girl or not, new team members have to prove themselves to their teammates. It is an unwritten law and Laena was no exception to it. She came to me in private before practice and told me that a couple of the more Neanderthal of our guys were giving her grief about being a girl on a boys’ team. Not exactly bullying her but doing what guys do when guys think there is a weakness. Immature boys will try to pick any perceived weakness like a scab and make it bleed. She did not know what to do. I didn’t know either. I told her that anything that I did would probably make it worse. I told her to ignore it unless it got worse and then come back if it did. As with most women I have given advice to, Laena didn’t listen and decided to take matters into her own hands or in this case her feet. We had a one on one drill we called The Gauntlet. Everyone lined up in two columns facing each other. Two people went to each end of the column and a ball was placed in the middle. On a whistle, they had to attack the ball, gain control and dribble the ball to the opposite end of the column. To be honest it was a type of “anything” goes kind of drill that are frowned upon today. I can see Laena in my mind’s eye, running with a purpose, shoulders over her driving knees with determination written on her face as she went hard into a shoulder tackle. Before the drill was over, Laena had put both Neanderthals out of the practice with bloody and bruised ankles. Unless you count their pride, they sustained no permanent injury and had perhaps learned their lesson. The problem went away. Maybe women are the smarter gender.
As we approached the first match of the season an interesting situation occurred. It appeared Laena was the only female soccer player playing state wide and it was deemed news worthy. Media coverage was not something that high school soccer teams expected in 1982. This was still the era of print media coverage and sixteen millimeter film. We were rarely covered by the newspapers or local TV. Suddenly that changed. Laena was a star. She was interviewed, I was interviewed, along with team members, parents, ball boys, administrators, and my third cousin twice removed. No one ever asked what kind of team we were going to have. It was always the same variation on a theme. “How does it feel to be the only girl on a team of boys?” “How are coaching girls and boys different?” “How do you like having a girl on your team?” Blah, Blah, Blah.
Our first match of the season was against Greer. Greer, during this period, was known for its football and not its soccer. Midfield is the most strenuous position on the soccer field because you are running from penalty box to penalty box. I always tried to rotate midfielders to keep them fresh. Laena was in the rotation. As the match proceeded, I sent Laena to the substitute’s area to await a stoppage so she could enter. When it occurred, she was waved onto the field by the referee and a new era in South Carolina athletics began. Almost immediately she found herself shoulder to shoulder with a Greer player, fighting for control of a ball, and she went down hard on the ground. The young man, being a fine southern gentleman, did the chivalrous thing and offered her his hand to help her up. It was chivalrous but it was not smart. She took his hand, stood up and cut both of his feet out from under him. He went down hard right in front of the referee. He whistled play dead and pulled out a yellow card. She actually giggled as she received a warning from the referee. If she had not been accepted by her team before, she became a team member after her warning.
If this were a novel, the Mauldin Mavericks would have gone on and made it to the State Finals. They would have found themselves down by a big score, crawled back into the match to tie and then after two overtime periods, Laena would score the winning goal on a penalty kick. Sorry, this is not a novel. Laena and the Mavericks did go on to have a great season and went deep into the playoffs but no State Championship winning kick. The next season Laena had her own team to play on and I had moved on to Greenville High. I wonder if Laena would have rather competed with the boys. I have not been in contact with Laena since she graduated from Mauldin but we are Facebook friends and it appears that her successes have continued. She became a doctor and there are pictures of Laena smiling her big smile and of her family and home. I see two blond daughters. I wonder if they play soccer or whether they know what their mother did in the early 1980s. I doubt Laena has told them that she was a pioneer of sorts nor does she know what a tremendous impact she had on my own life. Maybe I’ll get to tell them.