Monday, October 10, 2011
Working the Chain Gang
When I'm there, they only have to wait for two volunteers. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best seat in the house. And although I'm standing in "enemy" territory, most of the coaches and parents are no different than the ones on the other side of the field.
Completely nutz. Fortunately, most of them know they're crazy, and will sometimes even apologize after breaking my eardrums. But it is an exciting game, usually accompanied by a loud PA system and cheerleaders to wind people up even more.
The players work themselves up into a frenzy, too, slapping their pads in a ritualized demonstration that reminds me of ancient warriors clanging their shields with a spear or sword.
It is, as one of my readers noted, a little war.
But it's a war in which the object is to score points, not kill your opponent. The kids understand this. The coaches understand this. But sometimes, people get carried away.
That's what happened on Saturday, when Allentown's South Side Mounties visited the Bethlehem Steelers.
The 125-pound team consisted of only about 14 kids. But almost that many fathers stepped out onto the field with their sons, all of them thinking they were coaches. Every time the ref made a call against them, they would scream there is some kind of bias against South Side Allentown. Between nearly every play, almost every one of these fathers kept stepping out onto the field, shouting out last-minute instructions.
Now the ref kept warning these guys to stay behind the line, and they really tried, but they did it the entire game. They couldn't help it. The Mounties, though smaller in number, caught the Steelers flat and actually had the lead going into the second quarter. They were on their way to an upset.
When the Steelers finally realized that the Mounties had no idea that they were supposed to roll over and lose, they woke up and started moving the ball and scoring points. They took the lead in the second quarter and managed somehow to stay on top, even though these South Siders fought furiously.
Although the kids on the field were really valiant, some of the wannabe coaches were despicable. In the third quarter, one of them started shouting, "Hurt somebody!"
At that, I turned around and said to him, "You mean 'hit somebody,' don't you?"
"No, I mean 'hurt somebody!'" Then he began shouting it out again.
I pointed out that these are just 11 and 12 year-old boys, and he couldn't want one of them to get hurt, could he?
His answer was Yes, and he shouted it again.
I turned to someone who I thought was a real coach and asked him to do something, and he said, "It's just a figure of speech. This is football."
I'm sorry, but asking a bunch of boys to "hurt somebody" is no figure of speech. Then the dude on the box, who heard what was going on, started freaking out on the wannabes, and I was pretty sure a riot would ensue.
Yellow flags were thrown all over the place and kids sent off the field while the refs came back and gave South Side a "warning," which was promptly ignored.
After that, a board member breezed by to make sure everything was OK, and a ref got us off the field as soon as the game ended. The box dude wanted to talk to the South Side parents, but I talked him out of it.
Next time I work the chain gang, I think I should wear pads and a helmet, too.