I was just entering high school the first time I tried out for a sport. I’d been sort of athletic before then, but in the form of gymnastics and dance, never a sport that involved physical contact and grueling training. I’m not even sure what drove me to give sports a shot. Maybe it was because my sister had been an athlete since she was five (and a really great one) in softball and soccer, or that all of my friends at the time had already played a sport all of their lives, too, and it wasn't a question of whether they’d play in high school – it was their life, or maybe I just felt like there was some sort of obligation to conform to atypical high school activities. Whatever the reason, I didn't regret my decision to give it a shot. Turns out, I was actually pretty good.
For fall of my ninth grade year I tried out for the field hockey team. I think I've always liked ice hockey because my father does and it was something we could enjoy together. And I’d had two aunts play the sport before me at the same school. They painted it to be a really fun sport so I went with it.
I remember the first day of try outs (which started a few weeks before school started) began at five thirty in the morning. Almost everyone that showed up was still rubbing sleep from their eyes, even those returning to the game from the years prior. We were told to run a mile on the track as our first test. Hardly even remembering ever running a notable mile before it, I was somehow raring to go, ready to outrun these girls who’d probably done it a million times better than me before.
And I did. Well, almost.
The star player, a senior named Kim, who’d just returned from overseas after playing on a traveling team of elite hockey players, seemed to set the standard. Clearly the leader of the pack, I did everything I could to stay on her heels. She made it look easy, but I remember it wasn't for me. I just felt driven to try as hard as the best person there. And I used that mentality in the weeks of tryouts that followed. I didn't believe I’d be some star player too as a result, but I thought that my effort alone would win me a spot on the junior varsity team at a minimum.
Ah, but it did so much more.
When the teams were announced, not only had I made the team, I was the only freshman to make the varsity squad. Varsity! I had a total WTF moment, followed by an immediate OMG – SQUEE moment. And the reward of my effort didn’t stop there either. I hadn’t simply made the team, I was a starter, playing right in front with star player Kim who I’d modeled my performance after. I couldn’t believe it.
Apparently, neither could my friends, or the other players who I’d upstaged. Upperclassmen, who felt entitled to the spot I held on the varsity team over them, were outright vengeful towards me. They did everything they could to sabotage my position, and when I say everything I mean the dirtiest things they could try. One girl honestly tried to run me over with her car at the local shopping market. I am not joking about this. And my friends, all of those girls who had played soccer their whole life and were sure they’d make the team, only made junior varsity. They thought it impossible that someone like me, who’d never even played the sport before, could pick it up so easily that I was qualified for varsity.
And so I was pretty alone in my happy dance over my success. Which sucked, but somehow it just drove me to be an even better player. I continued to soak up any and all knowledge of the sport Kim had to offer before she graduated and I trained my butt off – I even attended summer camps of round the clock physical torture.
I made All County Honorable Mention that year and by my sophomore year I was captain of the team. It was a heightened game against one of our biggest rivals and our team was falling to pieces. I’d just gained a free shot and as I watched my stick follow through and player on the opposing team was running towards me (which, if you know anything about hockey and free shots is a fail on her part). The hook of my stick connected with her eye socket and there was blood everywhere.
Whistles were blown, flags were thrown, and I was sure I’d be kicked out of the game for destroying this girl’s eye. Instead, after the girl was wheeled away with a maxi pad over her blinded eye, and the commotion died down, the game resumed with even more intensity than before. Like we weren't just fighting to win a game, we were fighting to the death. Before we hit the field, though, my coach held us in a tight circle to plan our next move. And before releasing us back to the battle, she yanked the captain band off our current captain’s arm and shoved it at me stating firmly, “Whisted, you’re captain now!”
I didn’t understand it, but I never questioned our coach. I took the band and slid it onto my arm and gave it my all. We won that game and I remained captain through my senior year.
Field hockey wasn't the only sport I played in high school, though. When spring rolled around I thought I’d give Lacrosse a shot, too. Surprisingly, I excelled at it as well. I was faster in the spring, the upward motion of a lacrosse stick in my hands seemed to drive me for forward like a jackrabbit and even though one might consider being short a disadvantage to a sport you play in the air, I somehow made my tiny stature work for me. It was easy to duck under and away from oncoming sticks. I was good at keeping the ball tight in my stick and sneaking up seemingly out of nowhere to score goals.
As fun as it was, I probably never reached my true potential with lacrosse. I was also heavily involved in the theater in the spring and juggling the two extracurricular activities in addition to my difficult class schedule became a burden. By my junior year I’d given up on lacrosse and chosen to dedicate myself more fully to theater instead. Sometimes I regret not trying harder to make them both work.
I miss playing organized sports as an adult. I certainly wasn't the type of kid people expected to play these sports. I was girly, dainty, a pianist, a dancer, not a contact sports kind of kid. But I disproved that stereotype by excelling at it. And it gave me so much more reward than just a healthy, toned body. I learned inner strength and self-determination and how to lead people towards a common goal. I found pride in myself for achieving something I would have never thought myself capable of. I miss not only the action of actually playing team sports, but the qualities they helped shape in me. It’s not to say I've lost these attributes, but it’s easy to let them become dormant without a constant feed of encouragement.
There are a lot of people who frown upon sports and extracurricular activities like it, but people should really try to see the bigger picture. Even if I hadn't been some great athlete, I would have still enjoyed the effort it took to be a part of something and I would have still gained those inner qualities by pushing myself the way I did.
It’d be fun to play again one day.