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Worldwide Ace » How to Be a Loser – Part III

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How to Be a Loser – Part III

26 August, 2013 (07:30) | Growing Up, Sports

For Context, Read
How to Be a Loser – Part I
and How to Be a Loser – Part II

lax skull

For the first year, we won more than the two games against our perennial basement-dwelling rivals Waltham. We split a series against Martha’s Vineyard, and come close to upsetting Milton, a powerful offensive juggernaut. We still weren’t likely playoff-bound, but one more win and a loss by the team directly above us could let us slip in. For once, it felt like a game would actually matter.

Coach Batty tabbed Motenko to start, which was fine with me. I had left the team for a week, and though I was back in time for two prior games, his dedication and resolve earned him the start. We were tied at halftime, and I warmed up excited to anchor our way to a victory.

As I ran back to the bench for the pep talk, Coach Batty grabbed me. “Motenko is playing lights out. I want to keep him in the game.”

“Ok,” I said. “He is playing really well.”

“I’ll get you in in the fourth quarter,” he promised.

I cheered from the sideline, my muscles tense, wanting more than anything to help my team out. The game went back and forth and we were only down one at the end of the third.

“He’s in a rhythm,” Coach Batty told me as he once again kept me on the bench. “I think he’s earned the right to stay out there. I’ll get you in midway through the quarter.”

I nodded my assent, trying to be as understanding as I could. I felt a knot in my throat and a lump in my chest that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I yelled and cheered. I leapt feet off the ground, equipment and all, when we tied up the game with only minutes to go. This is my shot, I thought, glancing at my coach to see if I’d be sent in on the next stoppage. Time expired without a glance from him.

Throughout the game, Motenko had made some brilliant saves, saves I didn’t think I could make. He also let up several goals I knew in my heart I would’ve stopped. The two figures balanced in my head. I was unsure if I would’ve gotten us to overtime, if I could’ve stopped just one more shot than he had, or if I would’ve given up that game-losing goal. Either way, I was there if I was needed, and we had a shot to win.

Coach kept Motenko in for overtime. He glanced at me, not even trying to explain why. I nodded, as if my understanding would’ve changed the decision.

Three minutes into the sudden death period, the ball slid past Motenko and into the net, sealing our fate and the season. It all became moot the next day when the team we needed to lose came away with a victory.

I fell to my knees, my body aching from lack of use. I sniffed back my tears and kept my helmet on throughout the post game talk. I congratulated the other team with my hands, as I couldn’t get the words out. “You were awesome today,” I squeaked out to Motenko before collecting my stuff and walking back ahead the team.

I wanted to punch walls, to break things, to run for miles. I wasn’t angry Motenko had played all five periods of the game. I wasn’t pissed off that I hadn’t played. It hurt far more that I hadn’t even had the opportunity to help my team that day, that I hadn’t even been given the chance to fuck up and contributed to a loss. I was a total non-factor.

And that was when it dawned on me:

I had learned how to lose.

Three years before, I had joined the team as a loser, a baseball reject with a chip on my shoulder. I had learned to take hits, to be hazed, to play a position I hated. I had embraced it, becoming the defense’s field general, shouting out orders, the loudest man on the field. On the sideline, I often yelled louder than Jake, louder than Nur, louder than Motenko, as if I were still in net even then, drowning the field in my words. I had learned to stand up after balls slid past me into the net, to shake hands with my head held high even when we lost by a plethora, and lift my teammates up even in the midst of a horrific loss. Perhaps most importantly, I had learned how to hold myself responsible for my actions and forgive others for theirs. And I had done it all with maximum effort and without once berating a teammate.

The anger and pain, the tears, they all dissipated as I showered and cleaned up. We had our end of season barbecue in Lars Anderson park that year. For the first time since Coach Batty had resurrected the lacrosse program at BHS, he had seniors who had played for the school as freshman, and he had middle schoolers who had practiced and played waiting to take our places.

“We grew this program from the ground up,” he said. “I wanted to get each and every one of you a brick because you’ve laid the foundation of the program for years to come, but that would’ve been heavy.” We laughed with pride. “Instead, I have this.” He held up a Brookline High School key chain, a single small nut wound on it. “Each and every one of you guys was here at the start of something. You each are little piece of something growing bigger, stronger and better with every day. You’ve been here when we only won one game in a season. You watched as it grew to two, and now to three. And next year, it could be five, or six or more. And it’s because of you.

“When you reach into your pocket and feel this nut on your key chain,” he continued, a few boys chortling at the idea of feeling nuts in their pockets, “think about what this means to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Think about how, despite the losses, despite being downright terrible, you can take pride in everything this stands for and in all the people your little piece of the program has affected.”

There are signs of oxidation on my nut. (Go ahead. You can laugh. If you read the next line right, it’s like an STD joke.) It has little red flecks that show its been everywhere I’ve been since the day it was handed to me. The threads on the inside have become rounded and smooth. The formerly shiny surface has become dull, as have the once sharp corners. Most days I don’t even notice it floating among my keys. Every once in a while, as I’m digging through my key ring picking out the right key, using the right plastic scan card, or cracking a bottle with my opener, my fingers will brush against it.

These days, working with kids, I try to lose often. In Connect Four, basketball, card games, even arguments. I try to lose with a smile, to lose with a willingness to give up my spot to a kid who wants to play. I try to lose publicly and say silly things to vent my feigned frustration. And I hope the kids can see and understand.

Through twenty-three losses over three years, including the final one in which I never touched the field, I learned how to win with humility and lose with the utmost of pride.

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