My daughter’s high school soccer team is ranked #15 in America (and just #5 in NC – to illustrate how competitive soccer is here.) They’re 7-0-1 after tonight’s 9-0 victory against Garinger. The girl had three goals and two assists tonight.

When I arrived at her school for the game, the JV women’s soccer team had just won by mercy rule, and the baseball team was destroying the Garinger by 20 runs.

As I sat in the stands watching the players warm up for the varsity match, I began to think about things.

Here were 15 kids on the other side of the field who are in our conference, and whose school is equal distance from our home to where our daughters attend at Myers Park. These kids were coming into a game knowing it would be a bloodbath.

But here they were. Proud to play.

Their team had no white girls. Our team is all white. Our technical skills were vastly superior. You know how you get those skills? Training. And training takes money. Our kids were also stronger physically. You know how you get that way? Nutrition and training. And these things take money too. You’ve also got to have parents who can drive kids around the state for matches, paying for hotel rooms, dinners out, and the best boots money can buy.

It was clear that none of these Garinger kids had these kinds of opportunities. But here they were. 

I started to feel embarrassed for my good fortunes–namely being white. Which I had nothing to do with, but here I am.

I could see in the first 10 minutes of the game that Agatha’s heart just wasn’t in it. She inadvertently knocked a girl over during a race to a ball. The girl fell hard and was slow to get up–and Aggie went over and consoled her. No, her energy just wasn’t the same as it has been in other games this season. I felt what she was feeling. Still, they had to win the game, so she did her part and was pulled at 20 minutes.

Before the match, her coach, Bucky McCarley, instructed his team to play as hard as they would in any game–as a form of respect to the Garinger team. And they did. Mostly. It’s just hard to push the pedal through the floor when you feel for your competition. Despite what they sell you in commercials, there’s more to sports than kill.

The grace these Garinger kids showed by playing this game and doing their best was something to behold. Such pride. Man, it was beautiful.

After the game (at halftime), Coach McCarley got both teams smoothies, and players from each team gathered on the field, paired off, and talked to each other. Like high school girls. Over smoothies. For a half hour.

Agatha was elated when she returned home last night. Not for the victory; that was a given when the game was scheduled. No, she was excited to tell us about her new friend–a girl who moved here from Dubai. For those 30 minutes they talked about their families, high school, college plans, and just life stuff. She said there were a lot of laughs–and hugs at the end.

I don’t know him personally, but I’m incredibly proud of Coach McCarley. Both our daughters are blessed to have great coaches in their lives right now. It’s important to me that they have these influences and lessons.

It might be just sports. But it’s life.

Agatha with a shot on goal from a game earlier in the season. Photo via Bruce Stribling Photography



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Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.