The Season of the Girl….

On my knees, burying a rose bush, my train of thought suddenly derailed. I thought about something I had shared celebrating International Women’s Day. A memory formed in my head. I’m sure it is a symptom of my advancing age…or the Commodores singing about a “Brick House” over my ear buds. I went back to the future to the early Eighties and a season I titled, “The Season of the Girl….”

I spent most of my forty-five years in athletics coaching young men. There were two occasions I was called upon to coach young women.  One was thrust upon me by a lawsuit…not against me, the other a favor to a fellow coach.  Both were learning opportunities for the male chauvinist that used to be me. 

In the middle Seventies, I accepted the position of head boys soccer coach at the high school where I taught.  At the time Mauldin High School was as country as a cow patty and the kids that came out for soccer had no idea what soccer was. Most were American football players looking for a ball to kick around and a body to run over.

The appointment was my first head coaching position at the varsity level.  It should have been a joyous occasion.  The culmination of hard work and accomplishment but it wasn’t. I was a warm body, available, and could drive a bus. I also needed the six-hundred-dollar stipend the position paid. 

Soccer was a sport I had never played or seen played which was not unusual for the time.  I was a blank slate as were most of my players, especially the first year. The first year I only had two players who knew how the game should be played, the rest looked for a body to block and toe kicked the ball as far as they could. Even they knew more than their coach. Truly the blind leading the blind.

 We jokingly referred to the game as “communist kickball” which for us was not far from the truth…the kickball part. We were starting from scratch.  The first soccer match I saw was the first soccer match I coached in. It was the same for most of my players.

This was when Neanderthals roamed the earth before video tape and well before YouTube.  There was nothing available for me to “research”.  No access to computer vids or DVDs with instructions on “how to change the pull cord in a lawn mower” or “beginning brain surgery.” None existed on soccer either, they hadn’t been invented.

Somehow, I learned.  Like the “blind hog who root hogged until he found an acorn” we tied our first match. I was a blind and stupid hog, but I did root-hog hard to get ahead of the curve.  Luckily, it was a shallow curve.  For seven years, especially the last four, we were one of the best teams in the state with many acorns to be found.

In the early Eighties the South Carolina General Assembly steepened my curve.  Our General Assembly finally decided to acknowledge Title IX, enacted in 1972, but only because a court case forced their hand.  The legislative train runs slowly in the South when it comes to equal rights, and the politicians had drug their feet until just before the season began.  Avoiding the lawsuit, our governing body, The SC High School League, decided women would have a voice in high school soccer, but it would not be a chorus of voices, it would be a solo.

The chickens had come home to roost and we were told that for one year, until women’s teams could be formed the next year, girls could try out for our men’s soccer teams. It was a hollow victory with only one school in the state with a woman on their team. We had just gone coed, and the Mauldin High School soccer program would become a very tiny footnote in history.

Girls couldn’t compete with guys, could they?  I was about to find out.  Laena and Cathy showed up for the first day of practice along with a couple of dozen of their male counterparts.  Too many bodies vying for twenty-two positions.  Cuts would have to be made.  Cutting a team is never enjoyable but this one had the added effect of a feminist’s minefield.

I sought knowledge from our girl’s PE teacher and primary girl’s coach, a wonderful old battle-axe who if she reads this will smile at the reference…I hope. I say battle-axe with all the love and respect I can muster.  In 1980 I was terrified of her and as I’ve found it the later years, my fear was unjustified. 

Seeking understanding of the feminine beast, I asked, “Anything you can tell me about coaching girls?” 

She gave me a squinty eyed look, and in her gravely voice minced no words, “Miller…you ain’t stupid.  You coach ‘em like boys.”  I was fairly sure the first statement was untrue which made me question the second. 

As I watched practice, attempting to evaluate the talent, I was reasonably sure Lena could make the team.  She was athletic…I’m sure in my mind I added, “for a girl”. Laena was a blond Norwegian who had moved to Mauldin from one of the Northern states with ice and lakes and had played soccer most of her life. She had a skill set on par if not better than most of the men.  She didn’t have the speed or strength but was smart enough to read what was occurring and put herself where she needed to be for success.  She was also a tough nut who played with a chip on her shoulder. 

Cathy was a hardnosed goalkeeper but didn’t have the quickness or strength to compete with the men.  I thought I was about to step into the Mars-Venus minefield, but she took herself out of the mix. Cathy was smart and read the writing on the wall and approached me about becoming a manager and bookkeeper. I was happy to oblige and happy to keep her.

There were other cow patties lying about waiting to be stepped in, as with any team, men, women, or coed.  These were different.  Slapping players on the butt immediately went out the window along with certain language nuances.  Being given homemade cookies before practice was a pleasing difference, not a cow patty at all.

As I look back, I smile because of the respect Laena earned from the men.  It was earned and I include myself.  Some of the more immature didn’t know how to act and quite a few got their noses out of joint.  They were verbal out of my earshot in their criticism of “the girl” until she took them out with a hard tackle or hacked them up in a drill.  After an early season discussion, Lena decided it would be best to take care of her own problems and she did…sometimes as violently as her Viking forefathers.

We did get our collective noses out of joint over our media coverage.  During those days, soccer competed with basketball for newsprint with soccer coming in a distant second.  When local news broke that Lena was the only girl participating in SC high school soccer, our coverage increased but it wasn’t about the team and Lena and I grew tired of answering the dreaded “What’s it like…” question.

In our first match, against our closest rival, when Laena went in the game it was as if someone had muted the volume until an opposing player took her down with a hard shoulder tackle.  The poor boy.  As play continued he stopped and offered her a hand, fine Southern gentleman that he was. She took it, and as quickly took him down with an illegal tackle that drew a warning from the official.  She giggled as she ran back to her position in the midfield.  She had made her point. Soccer players giggling? They shouldn’t giggle.

It was our best season, “the season of the girl”.  Unless I’m confusing years, we were 13-3-3 and went on to win an Upper State Championship before falling in a close match in the State Championship.  A memorable season by anyone’s standards.  Lena was more than a team member.  She was not a token and contributed many quality minutes.  She was also a teacher because I learned a great deal.  I learned not to coach them like men, or women, I learned to coach them like people.

My daughter went on to play soccer, also at Mauldin High School, a couple of decades later.  I can’t help but think maybe we laid a little of the groundwork for her own State Championship in her “season of the girl”. She was the hard-nosed goalkeeper who made me cringe every time she came out to attack a break away.  She turned out okay and lost no teeth.  My grand daughter is now playing, hope she looses no teeth.

Athletics are important, no matter what the gender.  Athletics teaches life. Hard work makes you better as both a player and a person. Players learn sacrifice, resilience, how to deal with success and failure, and how to play well with others. Athletics stresses taking worthwhile risks, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It teaches that in life, you won’t win all of the time and that’s okay.

Celebrate “the season of the girl”, Women’s History Month, and the International Women’s Day.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0jCNAuN3Z8dNPesZwZtTn0bQHkZG8G6HgAbbZlv-rpjKH_Cn4aPmvbZKA

“Clearing Off Showers”

 

My beloved and I had what I call a “clearing off shower.”  Like most couples, we’ve had our ups and downs.  Luckily, more ups than downs, many more ups than downs.  Unfortunately, many more ups do not provide a soothing balm for the downs…neither did this “clearing off shower.”

We sometimes have violent thunderstorms rumbling and bouncing around in the hills and hollers of our little piece of heaven in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  A lot of banging and flashing, wind bellowing and sometimes a lot “hunkering down” until they’re over.  When the storm is over the air is so fresh and the sky is so blue…until the air fills with humidity again, thunderheads forming to the northwest and we start the process over again….

My beloved and I are so different…well…in some ways.  I tend to ignore problems in hopes they will go away until they don’t.  She tends to obsess over the same problems I ignore.  She obsessed last night and was still obsessing this morning…and she had obsessed through the night, tossing and turning, allowing the “humidity” to build.

I awoke on the “wrong side of the bed” as did she.  A “clearing off shower” was inevitable.  The thunder rumbled, the lightning flashed, and storms raged far and wide.  The torrential downpour included issues not encompassing the original subject.  “Do you remember three months ago….”  Finally, the storm ebbed, the air was some clearer, the sky bluer…all before eight o’ clock in the morning.

Later as we drove to church she was quiet…unusual?  Sometimes.  I worried the humidity might be building and storm clouds might be gathering.  As luck would have it, the sermon was entitled “The Loving Marriage”, specifically Paul’s views on marriage from Ephesians 5: 22-25. (NIV)

“22: Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

23: For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

My beloved is not a fan of Paul’s views on women or should I say, men’s interpretation of Paul’s views on women.  She believes, and I agree, Paul’s interpretations have led to the misogyny prevalent in certain circles in times past…or today.  When the minister used the term “brazen” describing what a wife shouldn’t be, I tapped her shoulder and leaned in to whisper, “I hope you are paying attention.”  Her genuine smile along with the elbow to the ribs told me that the humidity might have broken.

I didn’t fall in love with or marry a “submissive” woman.  Life might have been easier, but it certainly would not have been as interesting.  I fell in love with a “brazenly” bold woman who is unashamed to be who she is.  I love her for it and would not have her any other way…most of the time.

Returning from a lunch at our little hole in the wall in the mountains, I noticed the increased humidity, the stiffening breeze from the northwest.  Thunder rumbled, echoing in the valleys of the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  As the rain began to fall I gave a small prayer of thanks.  The storm was raging outside, not inside.

Don Miller tells stories.  For more go to https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Stumble, Fumble….

I despise the New Year. My birth year ends in a zero so it’s easy to figure out your age and realize the path behind you is significantly longer than the path ahead. I’m not concerned about my age…well…maybe I am since I’m posting about it. Okay, I’m not concerned about my death…unless it is lingering and painful. Okay, okay! So, I’m concerned.

I despise the New Year because of the resolutions I make that I know I’m going to break or stumble over…” stumble, bumble, fart, and fall….” Odd things that stick in your head. It’s the fourth and I’m already stumbling…and I’m always smelly.

I made simple resolutions. Easy to accomplish even if a few roadblocks arise. Maintain or, notice the “or”, improve my fitness. Maintain my 2016 weight which I was unable to maintain in 2017. That means losing the ten pounds from last year that I picked up when I was supposed to be maintaining. Just walk a little more…we got this.

I wish I had told my wife. Obviously, her New Year’s resolution is to cook this year. The veggie and beef homemade soup, following the traditional greens, peas and pork roast on New Year’s Day. Would have been healthy…maybe…but she had to make cornbread. I love her cornbread…did I have to have the second piece? Yes, I did…and the third. I just forgot about her tomato pie…oh my.

Well, I expect her to break her resolution soon, “I’m not cooking anymore this year!”

“But….”

“But nothing!”

My second resolution was also a simple, easy to accomplish, I want to be a better person and make a difference. You know, better for the wife, daughter, grandkids, asshole brother…sorry, non-asshole brother. Not best…just better.

My beloved has thrown a roadblock in front of that too. Thirty-one years together and I still find a way to not be able to get out of my own way.

“I need for you to…” fill in the blank.

A “better person” would simply go do it. A “better person” would not wait until he forgot what she asked him to do in the first place. A “better person” wouldn’t want to hear, “I asked you six months ago to…” fill in the blank. So, with a hand driver, I jumped on it! Bam!

“What are you doing?”

“You asked me to….”

“I didn’t mean now. You are in my way. Go do something else.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Don’t ask me questions now, can’t you see I’m busy?”

A “better person” won’t use the hand driver as a weapon. Great, resolution accomplished! Maybe this isn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

For more of Don Miller’s musings, try the following link: https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

CHANGES IN ATTITUDES…?

According to the final chorus of Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 tract, CHANGES IN LATITUDES, CHANGES IN ATTITUDES, from the album by the same name, “If we weren’t all crazy, we would all go insane.” It’s a change from the first chorus which says, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” I am sorry Mr. Buffett, with today’s climate, I have suddenly found myself far beyond laughing and wonder most days if I am truly insane.

I don’t hear or see much laughing in these latitudes. I know I’m not laughing much. Maybe I need a new set of friends. Seems I’m laughing only as a last resort. “When all else fails, I laugh, roll my eyes upward and turn and run away.” Maybe if I “ran into a chum, with a bottle of rum….”

I didn’t run into an old chum, but I called one. She really wasn’t a chum. Without giving too much away, at one point I wanted her to be more than a chum. I didn’t call her to talk about old times, per se,  but rather I called about the climate of abuse exposed recently. I was concerned the abuse I was reading about in Hollywood and the seats of our government might have trickled down to Small Town, South Carolina. I didn’t consider myself to be an abuser…but I wasn’t sure. I knew I wasn’t an exposer, but had I been a harasser? I decided I should call her to find out…and apologize while I was at it.

When it comes to women, at age sixteen, I was an immature jerk. At ages twenty, twenty-five and thirty…I was still an immature jerk…. It seemed to be the gold standard for the time. At some point, around thirty-two or three, I had an epiphany. When it came to women, I realized, “I am an immature jerk!” By age thirty-five, I was actively attempting to change my “jerkiness.” A girl child should cause a change, as should the love for a good woman. Change shouldn’t have been necessary, and I admit, according to the good woman I have spent the past thirty-one years with, I still succumb to bouts of “jerkiness.”

During my periods of hardcore, immature “jerkiness”, as I read of President Kennedy’s numerous indiscretions I thought, “Man, what a stud!” I laughed at the vision of Fannie Foxe’s attempted escape into the Tidal Basin when Wilbur Mills was pulled over for drunken driving. I thought nothing when the good people of Arkansas decided to re-elect Wilbur despite his dalliances and drunkenness. When President Clinton claimed, “I never had sex with that woman”, and the dozens of others, I reasoned, “Well they were…I think, consensual liaisons.” I dismissed them as “boys being boys” although I never looked at a cigar quite the same way.

I believed it was the way of the world, the “latitude” we found ourselves in. Women shouldn’t dress that way. What did you expect, shaking your ass like that? She brought it all on herself. For some reason, it was always the woman’s fault because, you know, “boys being boys,” wink, wink. With audio evidence and women accusers stepping forward, we still elected a foul-mouthed, womanizer to the highest political position in the country. Yeah, I’ve been foul-mouthed…but never have I said that to or about a woman.

With hundreds of accusations coming to light, it would appear we are in a “changes in latitude, changes in attitude” period of history. It appears heavy and violent seas have been encountered. Women are standing up despite the “why wait twenty, thirty or forty years” to do so. They are standing up in droves despite the “she said no but she really meant yes” excuses. Women are standing up because a pretty face doesn’t mean a small brain. The lamest excuse I’ve heard is, she shouldn’t dress that way. News alert. While men are visual learners…and visual other stuff, women should be able to dress to attract us and yet, we as men should learn we are not God’s gift to EVERY woman. We may not be the man they are dressing for. No doesn’t mean yes and we shouldn’t use positions of power to cop a feel or worse. This is not a woman’s problem…It is not a politics as usual problem…It is not a conspiracy theory.   We can no longer explain it away as  “boys being boys” or locker room talk. We have moved to a different latitude…and we as men should heed the hurricane warnings.

I know you are on the edge of your seat. How did my phone call go? She let me off the hook. We had a great conversation about the history of yesteryear seen under the light of today. She and I will never agree on our politics but at least one of us agrees, I didn’t abuse my position, I didn’t take advantage of her. Despite her assurances, I still wonder…and I still worry.  I hope apologies mean something.

For more of Don Miller’s “a bubble off plumb” outlook on life please visit his author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501