Re-Taking the Pitch – By: Julian Kersh

Editor’s Note: To our four readers, I sincerely apologize for the recent lack of posts. Between the alumni game that you will soon read about, the release of the Halo: Reach BETA, my two weeks of unemployment, um, my lack of final exams, my sleeping until no earlier than 11, I’ve been extremely busy. But we’re back, and with only 34 days remaining until the world’s greatest sporting event expect our excitement to generate more content for you guys! Again, I’m sorry. I know these past two weeks have been tough.

Last Saturday Homewood High School alumni gathered for the first installment of what will hopefully become the annual alumni game. While it wasn’t the ideal event by a long-shot, I still can’t remember when I’ve had that much fun.

Yours truly and fellow blogmaster Rob coordinated the event, losing hours of sleep and diligently sending out voice mails and Facebook messages to gather up the best group of guys we could. We got a decent bunch of alumni out there, but our opponents were lacking.

You see, there was an obvious error in translation from our English to the Homewood varsity coach’s Scottish. He seemed to believe the alumni game was geezers vs. geezers. We wanted the alumni to play (and trounce) the current varsity squad. This confusion caused for some last second rallying, so about 10 minutes before the scheduled kick-off, our 15 or so alumni were warming up and staring down one high school senior and a handful of JV’s finest.

Given that I played JV soccer at Homewood no less than nine years ago, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of trying to outplay an eighth-grader. Fortunately, calls were made from the field and we shared some of our alumni to outfit a borderline respectable opposing squad.

With the smell of the freshly cut pitch and IcyHot in the air, and after a typical Homewood warmup of blasting shots on goal for a half hour, we were set to kick off. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. After arguing over who would take that spot out on the wide right that no one was willing to take due to predicted fitness issues, I jogged out to the touchline so we could start… I was itching to fall back into my groove in the center midfield, but I just wanted to play so I bit the bullet.

Immediately I sank into my old routine… or one of them, I should say. Some games in the past I’d have the routine of giving the ball away or mouthing off to the ref, but I didn’t find myself in either of those grooves last Saturday. Fortunately, I wasn’t giving the ball away at all (if I remember correctly) and the referee was a volunteer guy from the varsity squad so I’d have to be a pretty huge jerk to jump on his back.

No, I got into my routine of being vocal. When I’d put on the captain’s band back in the day, I certainly wasn’t the best guy on the pitch, but I’d do my damnedest to make sure I was the loudest.

From Saturday’s first whistle, I was calling everything out. “Man on!… One more!… Switch!… You’ve got your drop!… Push him right!”
And yes, I did whip in our first corner that was met in the air by an alumnus who jumped over some poor kid, who had probably just grown his first few facial hairs, for the match opener.

Playing 11v11 on a full-sized pitch was a fantastic feeling – a feeling I never fully appreciated when I was doing it once a week several years back. But truthfully, the best part was playing with all the guys.

There was something truly special about the group of guys we had at Homewood when we all graduated. More than half of that team first started playing together at the age of eight, and the majority of us were close friends. Throw in a weekly team dinner to Quizno’s or at my house for some of the world’s best enchiladas, a collective, burning passion to play and two of the best, most-relatable coaches you could ask for and we had a tremendous camaraderie.

Getting to relive just an inkling of the olden days was fantastic and worth every bit of effort put into organizing out first alumni game. Who cares if it wasn’t the perfect turnout? For one, it was a prototype, more or less, and will get better, but the people who mattered were there.

I’ll never undervalue my time playing varsity soccer at HHS. It’s hard for me to make it back for games these days, but on the rare occasion I get to catch one, I always have this daydream. It’s that I’m back to watch a game and am sitting off to the side of the halftime talk after a tough first half. Once Coach McBride is done reaming the guys for their poor performance, he turns to me and asks if I’ve got anything I’d like to add. And each time, I tell them the exact same thing.

I tell them not to take it for granted. As cliché and Disney as that sounds, I mean it with all sincerity. Not a day goes by since high school that I don’t miss getting to play games with all of my best friends in front of decent crowds, and I know the other guys feel the same. Even the ones who didn’t let on to caring that much four years ago, when I see them at college the conversation invariably gravitates toward that topic and how much we miss it.

I’d tell the guys not to waste games feeling sorry for themselves or being too hard on themselves for a bad performance. They’ve got to pick themselves up and play until they have to crawl off the field. I wasted far too much of my time out there getting down on myself and taking myself out of games because I had made some mistakes.

Now I’d go back and kick myself in the pants and assure myself how quickly high school soccer would be over and how much I’d miss it years later, and I’d relay that same information to those guys who currently sit in the locker room.

If anyone is reading this and scratching their head thinking, “What’s this guy talking about? It’s a high school varsity sport. Big deal,” then I feel sorry for you that you didn’t get the same experience I had with my boys at HHS.

I can’t stress enough how close we all were, how well we played together, and what it meant to to share the pitch with all of them over those years. And to dispel any suspicions that this is some feel-good story where I loved playing and loved the camaraderie, but we were still a really terrible team, I’ll just stick my hand out and let you gawk at the two state rings..

For all those guys who made it out to the alumni game: Thank you. For an afternoon, you guys helped take me back to some of the best years of my life. Here’s to doing it next year! *raises his Carlsberg*

(And for the record, I don’t still wear my state championship rings – that was a figure of speech. I’m proud of our accomplishments, but I’m no THAT proud, nor that much of a douche.)

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