The following post was written by my daughter, Agatha Mitchem, whose team lost 1-0 in round 3 of the 2019 NC state soccer tournament.

I was sitting in a parking lot. It was 9:30 pm on a Wednesday night. I had just played my last game of soccer. Ever. Of course I will be part of pickup games and clubs that meet once or twice a week in college in order to “stay fit,” but I knew it would never be the same. It would never satisfy me. It would only serve as a painful reminder of what once was. So there I sat in that parking lot replaying the game in my head—remembering her fast break and lucky shot. How the crowd fell silent. How my hands flew up to my mouth. I was a senior, I was supposed to stay strong. I was supposed to. 

The images played over and over in my mind. What could I have done differently? Did I give it my all? Was this really it? Was it really over? I finally came to the conclusion that my time playing at Myers Park was officially over. I would never walk onto that field with my cleats laced up tight and jersey just right, ever again. My job was finished. My opportunity gone. 

As the texts of love and consoling started lighting up my phone, my heart grew heavier. It felt like a dream, but this was reality. Tears streamed from my swollen eyes when I looked down and realized that I was still wearing my cleats. I hadn’t even touched them since the game. The orange laces still tightly intertwined, some grass stuck in the well-worn creases. I took a deep breath and thought back to a simpler time. 

When I was in seventh grade and just trying out for my middle school team, I was a small, curly-haired, average soccer player. I remembered what my dad told me before I got out of the car that day, “Leave everything on the field. Your whole heart. Play like it’s the last time you’ll ever lace up your cleats.” Of course it meant little to me at the time, but as I sat in my car in the parking lot after my last game, it meant the world. 

I slowly started to pull at the laces. The painful feeling in my gut grew worse. My fingers were shaking and my heart was telling me to stop. For a moment I even considered just wearing them for the rest of my life. But then reality kicked in again, and I knew that time was the only medicine now. So I untied the boots and sat there. Just sat there. Who was I without soccer? It was all I’d ever known. Wake up, go to school, come home and eat, go to soccer, come home, sleep. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. I opened my eyes and touched my cleats–yes, cleats. Every pair I’d ever worn in my life was being taken off now. The hot pink ones when I was on “Team Panthers” at the age of 6. My first real Nike cleats that everyone else had, the bad ones, the good ones, my lucky ones I taped together to keep serviceable for just one more game. And now these. The last cleats I’ll ever play in. 

Slipping them off, left one first—then right, I gently placed them in my bag and then zipped it closed. I thought about my parents and how they had always been there for me. Every loss, every win, every game that didn’t go our way. I was grateful, yet sad. I felt as though I had let everyone down, especially them. 

Then I received one more text from a Sophomore on the team; Claire Masonis. She told me how happy she was that we had grown close over the past year, and how she looked up to me. And then everything clicked—everything made sense all at once. I remembered why I fell in love with this sport in the first place. It was because this sport gave me my best friends. Girls I was honored to call family. I thought about Coach Bucky and how he gave up so much to be there, and how he taught us that we played for something bigger than ourselves–we played for each other. I thought about my future and what it held and whether I might try to earn a spot on the University of Tampa team. I thought about how no matter where I go in life, or who I become, I will always be part of the Myers Park Women’s Soccer team family. And then finally, for the first time since the final whistle blew, I smiled. 

Hey Vinay

Jim Mitchem

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