I'm a girly-girl. I think most of my friends would agree. But I love sports. And I take issue with the phrasing of that declaration, self. "But?" Girly-girls can't like sports? Of course we can! And I'm here to tell you about it.
I'm sure it started very young, probably in the womb. But my earliest memory of playing "ball" was when we lived in Connecticut and I was maybe 6-7. My dad was a real hands-on kind of dad and when he got home from work, it was all about us kids. That is when he started our weekly ball games. He was the pitcher, two of us would field and one would be the batter, and my brother, sister, and I would play against each other. But we also supported each other in the field, so we would have to work together. It was a good combination of team-playing and healthy competition. We anxiously awaited daddy coming home to continue The Game.
Then we moved to Florida and my parents immediately signed us up for every sport that was available. I played soccer, softball, basketball (short-lived), and swam competitively. My dad was often the coach for one of our teams. He taught us the game. He showed us the game. He would share stories of his own experiences playing as a kid. You knew how every position worked - and how they worked together as a team. It was never really about winning but doing the best you can, enjoying yourself, and making sure everyone had a fair chance. In fact, we were often - but not always - the losing team when my dad coached because he believed in nuturing everyone's natural ability. He figured if you were there to play, then play you will. All's he expected from you is that you try your best. His believing in you inspired a desirous effort to do the best you can. Years later, when my dad would run into a kid he had coached 10-20 years earlier, they still affectionately referred to him as "Coach Ski". He loved that.
Not only did we play, we watched sports. Even my mom. I always admired that my mom could chat sports with their friends. And we always went to see the Los Angeles Dodgers spring training games in Vero Beach, where I developed this insane crush on Steve Garvey. I had posters of him and one time I remember, in particular, Dodgertown was hosting fan appreciation day so my dad took me to get my picture taken with Steve and have him sign my mitt. Well, he was swarmed with fans and I couldn't get close enough. I was probably 8 and my dad took me up on his shoulders - or maybe he picked me up - but I was at a high enough height that I could get his attention. I yelled out his name, "Steve!...Steve!..." He looked up and....winked at me! But not only that he called me and my dad over and posed for a picture with me. My first crush on an athlete - and an older man.
There was no escaping the world of sports. And it may sound like it was forced on us. It wasn't. It was a natural existence and one I didn't mind. We were always allowed to make our own decisions about playing or not playing. When I delved into the world of art and gave up sports for a couple years, my parents were fine with that. It was all about passion. Find your passion. And the only way you will find your passion is by trying new things. So then they went out and bought me the best paints, pastels, pencils, paper, and art supplies any young budding artist should want.
I think the best story to sum up how my dad's love of sports impacted how my brother, sister, and I approached sports involves my brother. My bro, The Jock. The Jock excelled at every stinking sport he played (MVP, MVP, MVP, college scholarship, etc.) But it was a particular award he received while playing football in high school that touched my parents deeply. It wasn't an award for the best athlete, which he would undoubtedly deserve. But this award was for the best all-around player. The player, who in addition to being a great asset to the team, always gave 110 per cent (even though Coach Cornball sucked). The player who inspired his teammates. The player, really, with the most heart.
So, really, it is this kind of Spirit of the Game that excited my dad and that he passed on to his kids. He loved March Madness and I do too. It's got a whole hell of a lot of Spirit. That is true with college sports. Professional sports - which I do watch - are tainted with greed (bloated salaries), glorified "all-star teams" (hi Yankees), and altered strength (steroids). Its athletes are also too perfect - the game too polished. But college sports still has the Heart and thrives on the imperfections of young athletes. The college game is more fresh. Sure, there are under-the-table incentives, the occasional envelope stuffed with cash, ethical lapses, questionable conference reshuffling, recruiting scandals, the BCS debate, Wide Right, etc. It is what it is. It's an athletic competition, but one still rife with home-grown rivalries, alumni loyalty, tradition, pep bands, and the cutest mascots (I'm looking at you Uga). Give me the thrown visers, dadgummits, College Gameday, and the pageantry of The Big Dance any day.
So, daddy, this tip-off is for you. I hope you are watching.