Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Olé, Baby

We've been a soccer family for quite a few years now, so we've seen plenty of family vans pulling into parking lots at tournaments and practices with the little soccer club stickers in the back window. But our own Dodge Caravan has remained pristine--until today.

Yes, we have succumbed.

Back in June, both Miriam and Jacob endured the equivalent of Greek pledge week, trying out for four or five different clubs teams each. Now, we had learned already in California that soccer can be a harsh taskmistress, a tyrant, an idol. Oh yes. We knew that. But slowly, over the course of "hell week," we came to realize that there were dimensions of soccer commitment even beyond our own level -- "crazy." We could see the path ahead to "insane," and even beyond it to "over the edge." The path was lined with parental fantasies of Division I scholarships, Olympic Development programs, practice schedules that rivaled a typical pro players, and most of all, lots and lots of cash.

Strangely enough, after dragging the kids out to suburban happy-land -- to Hudsonville and Cascade and Ada -- and feeling somehow uncomfortable and out of place at the well-tended fields among all these obviously very affluent white parents, we finally ended up... well, right around the corner: in the city, at the slightly less posh public park, as the minority white people among our mostly Hispanic neighbors. Ah, finally! This felt right.

Having gained all our soccer savvy in Southern California, we were used to folks who played the juga bonito: a style of play built on foot skills, speed, and crisp, short passing. And it felt familiar being around coaches and players with Hispanic surnames. (In fact, Mia has an honorary Hispanic name--"Mia Torres*"--granted by her former coach, John Mejia.)

So we're very grateful that Jose Rodriguez invited both Mia and Jacob to be on his teams in the brand-new Olé Soccer Club. Jose and his assistants ran by far the most well-organized, rigorous tryout, and we could see immediately that this club was a classier act than anything else we had seen around here.

Turns out Jose is on a bit of a mission to improve West Michigan soccer. He's been a player and coach in town for many years, but now it's his turn to do things a new way. He's also smart enough to do a little club marketing, including providing players with Olé practice shirts, and parents with their very own back-window stickers.

*Side note for etymologists: though it might be cool if "Torres" had something to do with a bull (Spanish: torro) --given the team graphic -- it is actually a habitational name for someone who lived near a tower, usually a defensive fortification or watchtower (from Latin turris). However, given her actual ethnic heritage, it's interesting to note that this word also has a Dutch derivation, a short form of Victoris, from the Latin personal name Victorius. Fitting.

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