Okay, here’s the first story. Last weekend we were in Minneapolis for a National Premier Soccer League game for Robbie. After his game, we were looking for a place to eat. Our choice was to go north on the freeway or south. I said, "Let’s go south." Then I saw a sign for what I thought was a Joe’s Crab Shack and started thinking steamed Dungeness crab. I also remembered years ago going with Shane’s in-laws to a Joe’s Crab Shack and realized these were one in the same. So we took the next exit, traveled to the road the restaurant was on and kept driving. It didn’t take too long to figure out that the billboard had not been Joe’s Crab Shack, but Joe Senser’s Sports Theater, which had cruelly used the same font as Joe’s Crab Shack and also moved into its location. Bummer. So we kept driving until we seemed to run out of developed areas and decided to turn around. Nothing had looked good. But in turning around we noticed this restaurant called "The Good Earth," which served all natural, local foods. So we figured we couldn’t go wrong with natural. At the hostess desk, a young woman greeted us and asked if we had ever been there before. "No actually. We’re from Milwaukee and found this just by chance." She smiled broadly, "I’m from Bayside." This is the community next to our suburb, so we thought that was really coincidental. But it gets better. As we were being taken to the table she asked why we were there and we said the NPSL game. "Oh, I played soccer." Turns out she played at the same club as our older son, she was a year behind him, and knew of him, many of his soccer buddies and his high school team. Then she remembered Robbie and the conversation expanded to what various players were doing, who she had lost touch with and how her college career had gone. It was amazing that a series of decisions, a serendipitous misreading of a billboard, and a choice to eat healthy led us to reconnect with one of the boys’ former soccer chums. But it also shows how prevalent these connections are for our kids who have the opportunity to travel and compete in soccer.
Here’s another story. We had gone to a tournament in the Tampa area. Since the airlines began charging a mortgage payment for every ounce of luggage you bring along, we didn’t bring our soccer chairs as it was cheaper to buy new and then donate them to a local family. So I went to the Wal-Mart to purchase some chairs for the four-day tournament. I went straight to the camping/outdoor section and was greeted by a really nice young man who directed me to the chairs. Then he asked, "Are you here for the golf tournament?" My Wisconsin accent probably indicated that I wasn’t from Florida and I was still a bit young to be a snowbird, although now that I think of it, asking if I was there for the golf probably had something to do with my age. Anyway, I answered, "No my son is playing in a soccer tournament." "Oh, where are you from?" "Wisconsin." "I used to play against a player from Wisconsin, but he played for a Chicago team." "Robbie is playing for the Chicago Magic, but he’s guest playing this weekend for his old Milwaukee team." "Robbie…Robbie Boyd?" "Yes." "Oh, I know him really well." Then he started talking about playing against him in several leagues and tournaments. They had apparently become good friends and texted and emailed each other periodically. So I went back to the hotel, collected Robbie, and the two of them spent the young man’s break at the snack bar reminiscing and having a really good time. The guy came to one of Robbie’s games and they again had a good visit with several of Robbie’s teammates along for the ride.
Third story. I was in the LA airport waiting for my flight back to Milwaukee. The flight was non-stop to Milwaukee, so the likelihood of meeting someone from our town was high, but it wasn’t like that for this story. A young man was strolling through the waiting room, sat down near me and started staring. I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered, wary or ignore it all. After a few long looks in my direction he got up and approached me. "Sorry to bother you, but are you Bryce Boyd’s mom?" I wasn’t sure how to answer, but he continued. "Last year, Bryce was a guest goalkeeper for our Atlanta team at the Disney Tournament." Robbie’s Chicago Magic team was playing there, so Bryce had put himself on a list as available to play for any team that might need extra players. This Atlanta team asked him to join them for one game since their goalkeeper would be late arriving in Orlando due to high school finals. So this kid recognized me from that one game. Amazing. He had just come down from San Francisco, where my flight home originated, and was on his way back to Atlanta. We didn’t have a lot to say to one another, but he had kind things to say about Bryce’s skill in the net and how well he had fit in with the team. So that was really nice to hear. It was also another one of those delightful coincidences.
Have I lost you already, or are you up for two more stories? Here’s one that concerns me. I was at a tournament with one of the boys or possibly both of them. I really don’t remember. I just recall this gentleman coming up to me to ask if I was Susan Boyd. Apparently he was one of my blog readers (possibly the only one and if so, I’ll just say hi). He wanted to thank me for the blogs and how useful they had been as he navigated the labyrinth of soccer rules, frustrations and triumphs. He certainly made my day. As a reader from a completely different geographic area, I felt a bit omnipotent in being able to reach across the miles. On the other hand, my kids do that fifty times a day through Facebook and Twitter, so I shouldn’t get too full of myself. Still, knowing that someone likes what I do and takes the initiative to approach me gives me a small modicum of pleasure.
Finally…yes the last story. We were driving Robbie and his stuff cross-country to the University of California Santa Barbara for his freshman year. It was a crowded trip with lots of miles covered each day. We had made it to Omaha the night before and we were planning to stop west of Denver in Utah that night. We got to the Stapleton Airport exit at lunchtime, and we figured there should be several choices for restaurants. We decided on Chili’s. As we started our lunch, a family walked in and was seated two booths behind us. After about 10 minutes we heard someone say, "Hey Robbie, Robbie Boyd." Robbie looked up, smiled and said, "Hey dude." He got up and walked over to their table. They had a long conversation until their order arrived, when Robbie returned to our table. "Did you play against that kid?" I asked. I assumed he played for Colorado Rapids Youth team or Colorado Rush. "No, that’s Kevin from Marquette High." Turns out his family had a condo in Aspen, had just gotten off the plane and had stopped for lunch before driving west. So, someone from Milwaukee took a flight, arrived just at lunchtime, drove to the same collection of restaurants, and then chose the same restaurant we had after driving two days from Milwaukee to Denver. And the son played high school soccer at the same school Robbie attended. Kismet I guess.
The moral of these stories, if moral is the right word, seems to be that soccer isn’t just a game, it’s an experience that has tendrils curling out from our kids across the country to others who play soccer, connecting us. If you can afford it, and your kids have the desire to do it, encourage your soccer team to participate in nationwide tournaments or even joining a team that plays league games against teams from all over the U.S. Friendships grow from having soccer as a common base. Both Robbie and Bryce have played against kids that they run into in other soccer events, including tournaments, regional and national leagues, and college. They were lucky enough to attend a Jesuit high school that belongs to Jesuit HS league of four schools that rotated hosting a yearly competition. The schools were from Denver, Kansas City, Washington D.C., and Milwaukee. Their high school also traveled to at least one non-state tournament in places like Indianapolis and Sacramento. Those opportunities gave them the chance to play against some of the top college recruitment talent and to test their abilities. That was significant. But I think even more substantial were the connections and friendships that formed from a common respect for one another’s talents. When I think of these stories that show out-of-the-blue run-ins, I think how many other connections we missed when the moments didn’t intersect. If these few experiences are any indication, there have to have been dozens of others that were close but not close enough. I cherish these contacts because they are the ties that bind us all. As huge as America is, there’s still an intimacy that allows us to have shared moments based on shared experiences. Some of these moments are with strangers as would be the case when we witness an event together, but some are with distant friends that we end up running into — making us all part of the soccer family.