10 years ago I was enjoying my time at Ripon College. I was once invited to be apart of something very special. I was asked to join Ken & Leo's team of perennial champions for indoor soccer. I don't know how I was blessed to be on such a stacked team. We cruised through the regular season to a top seed for the playoffs. As we neared my illusive "Intramural Champion" T-shirt, we suffered a devastating loss in the playoffs. It was brutal. I spent years of trying to balance academics with occasional athletic competition to only come up empty again. Was I destined to be the Karl Malone or Dan Marino or the rec sports world?
Many people like to say "time heals all wounds." It may be a stretch but "forgive, never forget" seemed to transcend more for me on this matter. A decade past and I have to be honest with myself. "At 30 years old, is my recreational sports career over?" How could I explain to my nieces and nephews that there was not much glory in my day, just great sportsmanship?
God sure works in mysterious ways. (Sorry to go Tebow-light on you there.) I caught up about 4 years ago with a friend, Vinny, who was the General Manager youth ministries at a church. After getting drafted (not sure if there were any other calls placed) in the first round for the flag football season, I helped the team to a "prestigious" 2-7 season. We lost a great man (Gabe) to a knee injury mid-season and also a few of the women players suffered season ending injuries/babysitting conflicts. We then ventured into indoor volleyball, where against the odds we finished the season with a respectable record and one playoff win. The off season was draining. Where do we go from here? Are we a team? Will everyone be back? We have the talent but do we have a team?
There was no way we could enter as a pre-season favorite to win it all. No way. Although a few key acquisitions of talented free agents added enough excitement around the league. We played our game, Flying Popes volleyball. That took us to a strong record and a #3 seed in the tourney. We knew it was possible, but it wouldn't come easy. Our playoff run resumed last night. The Flying Popes, in their first Final Four appearance, against the #2 seed, TFC. After, edging them out 2-1 in the match, the Flying Popes felt that perhaps we were on the verge of greatness.
I remained with a tempered enthusiasm. The tragic memory of that misdirected goal 10 years ago on the soccer field was at the front of my mind during the intermission. Sure, there was pressure but only for our opponents. It was like a Robert Redford movie mixed with a Kevin Costner movie topped off with some Gene Hackmanesque moments. There was just too much fate. The Flying Popes diligently took care of business and swept the finals against the Jet Setters.
We won. Champions. I was a champion. After a decade of struggle, I was presented with a black long sleeve shirt that reads "Players Sports Group Champions." I've always wondered what it was like for Jordan to clench the trophy after Game 5 in 1991. I've never been so humbled by such a marvelous thermal shirt.
The ref immediately congratulated us, then at the championship shirt presentation ceremony the questions began to fly. "Are you guys coming back next season?" "Are you going to step up to the B League?" "Where do you go from here?"
Where do we go from here? Where do I go from here? I've just achieved what appears to be a lifelong dream, to be recreationally superior to my peers. What does anyone in the face of triumph do? Reflect.
Will I be back? I don't know. Why not go out on top? How much longer will I have the drive and competitiveness to keep me at the top of my recreational game? I think it's best to say I need time. Time to reflect on these memories forged over this improbable season. Maybe I'll just take the next couple weeks to spend time with my family and friends, hopefully just get back to a normal life. Time to recharge, focus on what Mike needs. It's safe to say, I am proud to be a Flying Pope. I hope to finish my recreational career a Flying Pope. Is that up to me? I'm not sure. I've made some great friends over the years as a Flying Pope and I certainly expect those friendships to long outlast my days in uniform/sweatband. I'd like to think the recreational sports system is not as bottom line driven as it's counterparts but if a tough decision is needed I certainly wouldn't stand in the way of the organization's future.
I certainly won't let this go to my head, that would be ridiculous. No one wants to be around someone who takes them self too seriously.