Dad drops the ball as replacement referee for daughter’s soccer game
It felt like the temperature had dropped about 20 degrees as the sun began to disappear; its remnants cast low, fall shadows across the soccer field. Everyone but my four-year-old son was bouncing around with hands buried deep in pockets, too cold to sit, making polite conversation about the sudden October chill.
This was a makeup game for my seven-year-old daughter, Delia. The coaches had to reschedule from the normal Saturday morning time to Thursday evening because three of the nine girls had gone with their dads on an Indian Princess camping trip. My daughter warmed up, kicking the soccer ball around with her teammates. I knew that in a few minutes, I would be frustrated as hell. During the first two games, I was the quiet, observing father, and then there was the third game, the one where she was absolutely awesome. She was super aggressive, constantly driving the goal; she had one shot that just barely missed the net, hitting the post, and she had an assist. It was a beautiful pass.
That was the kiss of death for me, because ever since that game, she had been hanging back, waiting for the ball to come to her. It drove me crazy. I found myself yelling at her to get in there and go after the ball. I found myself peeling my hangnails back, just waiting for halftime, so I could privately remind her to be more aggressive, maybe offer five dollars a goal. I was always sure to first tell her that she was doing a good job, but then I would start my speech about how she needed to help her teammates out, and get in there and go after the ball, how she needed to follow up all of her shots. I never would have hung back; everything I did, I did to the fullest. I was the guy who sent my opponent to the hospital for stiches, just above his eye, during the intramural flag football game. The game was supposed to start at 5:30, but it was now pushing 5:45.
I leaned into my wife’s conversation and asked, “What are we waiting for?”
“I guess there are no refs. I don’t know if they were called,” she said. Just then one of the coaches walked up to the bouncing gaggle of parents and said, “It doesn’t look like there are any refs. Does anyone want to ref? Maybe one of the dads?” I instinctively looked down at my feet, avoiding her eye contact. “Delia’s dad, could you ref? A dad from the other team will ref too?”
“Sure,” I said, “but I’ve never reffed a soccer game before.”
“That’s okay, we’ll help you out,” she said, and walked back toward the team.
“I’ve never even played soccer,” I called out after her. “My wife is the soccer player, not me…”
“Thanks for volunteering,” she said, and continued her brisk walk toward the girls.
My wife shot me a crusty look, “Do you want me to do this?” she asked. I was just about to take her up on her offer when I remembered that she had a colonoscopy earlier that morning, and I could just imagine the conversation I would be sure to overhear when she talked to her mom and told her that I made her ref Delia’s soccer game after the colonoscopy.
“No, I got this,” I said, and smiled.
“You’ll be fine,” she said, and patted my butt in a jock-ish way. “Go get ‘em.”
I shook hands with the other father and we divvied up the field. I had to look back to my wife for cues as to where to place the ball, if it was a corner kick, or a throw in. At one point, the coach that had asked me to ref, asked, “Hey ref, can I substitute players now?”
“I don’t know,” I said, baffled that she would ask me a technical question after I thought I had made it clear that I knew nothing about the rules of the game. “I honestly don’t care,” I said, exasperatedly, and waved my hands over my head so the other father/ref knew not to restart the game yet.
I was also spending too much time watching Delia and biting my tongue, so I didn’t yell at her to be more aggressive while I was an official on the field. There was one point when I was running backwards and saw the white line pass beneath my feet. “White’s ball,” I yelled, and bent down to pick up the ball and give it to whoever was going to throw it in, but as soon as I bent down, a girl on the red team kicked it out from under me, and then there was suddenly a swarm of little girls surrounding the ball. It was then that I realized the ball hadn’t really been out of bounds, and that the line I had crossed was really the line that marked the outer goalie box. “Shit,” I said to myself, and for a brief moment, the group of seven and eight year old girls stared up at me in wide-eyed disbelief, and then they just continued playing, as if nothing had happened.
After fifty minutes of running up and down the soccer field, it was finally over. The girls lined up. “Good game, good game,” they said to each other, over and over. I thought that I had done a pretty good job. I heard the woman sitting next to my wife say, “Make sure to get your husband some beer tonight.” I looked at my daughter’s oblivious, smiling face and thought that as much as it sucked, it was indeed a good game.