Look at the expression on Charlie’s face! Pure, unadulterated glee!
That’s what soccer did for all our boys, more or less. Alban, our first soccer fanatic and star, started it all off in his first term at Happy Valley School, the fall of 1997. He couldn’t speak English, but he could speak soccer, and that’s how he communicated. Some of his classmates became his first team. They couldn’t talk to each other – Alban was just beginning to learn English – but they spoke the same language on the field of play.
We lucked into an elementary school which actually had a soccer pitch for the boys and girls to play on during breaks on most schooldays. And that was it. We were off and running! Well, okay, the boys were off and running: the parents didn’t quite achieve that sort of pace, but we did love to watch!
The photo of Charlie at the top of the page was taken when he was then our latest recruit to the sport, before he actually played for an organized team. He turned five at the end of that month, and had yet to start at Happy Valley School. So soccer was limited to those few occasions when Alban or someone else would play with him, and they were precious moments. He had just kicked the ball in the picture, and the look on his face tells you all you need to know about he felt about that.
The second photo of him comes from the fall of 2005. But look at his style there, and look again at the back yard photo over five years before! It’s the same! At least twelve seasons of youth soccer separate the two pictures (we have a hard time keeping track), but the same style and enjoyment characterize both. He loved taking corners, and did it and does it very well.
By 2005, he was playing for the local Under 10 Select boys team, the Breakers, and this was serious stuff. You can tell how serious it was then from his intense concentration, so well caught on film by Tony Pagliaro, a local professional photographer (http://www.santacruzphotography.com) who we were lucky enough to have as one of the other team dads.
What do these two pictures have in common, apart from Charlie? Or should I say who do they have in common? Paul Gooch is who. He was kicking the ball to Charlie just outside the top photo in front of our garage, and he later became his coach, first in the fall 2003 Santa Cruz Under 9s developmental league, and then in the Santa Cruz County Breakers Under 10s.
In fact, all of us in the family would like to thank all of those who put so much effort into organizing and managing recreational and competitive soccer in Santa Cruz County, and especially Woody, Tricia, Rich, Marilyn, Nanette, Tom & Mary, Bob, Bryan, Hal, Drew, Nigel, Vicky & Nate, Frank, Melissa, Tony, Paul, Chuck and Boo, Sunil! That list covers the boys’ coaches over the years until about 2005. The list goes on.
One of the guys on that list is Santa Cruz Woody. That’s his stage name: he’s a musician, whose songs of peace are sung at concerts all over Northern California, and a vintner, whose Branciforte Vineyards Pinot Noir is an excellent wine, as well as a recreational youth soccer coach whose skills are second to none. In short, Woody is one of those ecelctic and involved people who make Santa Cruz County such an interesting place to live.
He was Alban’s coach during his first seasons at Happy Valley School, and his first season with Alban is a great illustration of how much more youth soccer is than a game, and of how much more a youth soccer coach can do apart from coach.
Woody was fascinated by how he would coach a boy who barely understood a word he said. He put a lot of effort into non-verbal communication, featuring a lot of smiles. Alban really wanted to understand how to play better soccer. He always features a lot of smiles. The upshot was that Woody had a lot to do with Alban integrating so well and readily into the elementary school community here. Here is another picture of Woody.
Woody jumps us forward to the spring of 2006, when he coached one of our children again, this time Alex, in the Excel spring co-ed league. The Lightning went unbeaten that season, and all the players were suitably thrilled.
Alex had picked up soccer too, as soon as he could, which was the fall of 2003. He loves the game just like his older brothers. He too is a star.
Alex’s games during those early seasons often took place on the fields at Good Shepherd, a local Catholic school. During his first year, I saw Paul Ohrlocher, then UCSC’s men’s soccer coach and a pillar in the local youth soccer community, on the Good Shepherd fields at the same time as Alex was playing. Paul already knew Charlie, and I dragged him across to Alex’s field. In two minutes he had seen what I wanted to show him: “you can see right away when a boy’s got what it takes,” he said.
Sure enough, like Charlie, Alex too played under 9 developmental soccer, playing for the White Sharks, and he too graduated at ten to playing for the Breakers, the select club in the County.
Tom didn’t arrive in Santa Cruz until the summer of 1999 (see this part of the family history). By the time he got here, he had spent two years playing rugby in France. He had loved it! I can relate, having played rugby from age 11 until 13. I also really enjoyed it.
Unlike American football, in which few players on the team get to run with the ball, in rugby everybody does so regularly. In fact, you can’t throw the ball forward at all, as you can in American football, which means that there is a lot more running with it. There is also no protective armor of the kind used in American football, but there is still a lot of full body tackling, often at speed. Tom recounted to us much later the one occasion when he had been knocked out when his head hit the ground. I’m glad that we didn’t hear about that at the time!
When he first arrived in Santa Cruz, he concentrated on finding a rugby team to play on here. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t one: the sport is viewed as too dangerous for children. There is American Football for children, called Pop Warner, and that he tried out for a season. But it is a less skilled game than rugby (how’s that for a controversial opinion!), and he did not really take to it.
He finally started out with soccer much later than those who had arrived here to live in 1997. But he applied himself, and found sympathetic coaches who believed in him: thank you Sunil Bhojwani and Ian Adamson! I have a particular fondness for Ian, who has always remained loyal to West Ham United in the Premier League! In the winter 2005-6 season, Tom made the Harbor High School Junior Varsity team and Ian’s Under 19 competitive team, the Meteors, won the local District Cup.
As time goes on, we move into different roles as well as different teams. I already mentioned that Alban took a referee training course, and refereed the younger children’s teams for a while. Unfortunately, he found it hard to make the more difficult calls, principally I think because those on the wrong side of such calls can be very upset by them. Alban really does not like to upset anyone, which is a very endearing trait, if you think about it.
Nick also tried a different role, coaching. He too had arrived in 1999, two years after Alban and Charlie, and he had the additional disadvantage in soccer terms of not attending Happy Valley School. Going directly into seventh grade at Branciforte Middle School, he missed soccer being the usual game at breaks, as it was at Happy Valley. He too got into soccer, without Tom’s detours through other sports. He too played competitively, coached by Nigel Sanders-Self one year, and I haven’t been able to figure out why I don’t have any photos of Nick playing during those years.
I too tried my hand at soccer from time to time, typically in parents – boys games during the teams’ end-of-season parties. It’s always been my favorite sport. But I am not physically what I used to be, a point proved during such a game at the end of one of Charlie’s seasons, I think maybe with under-10s. The boys are quicker than their size suggests, and I was going for a ball which I though I had easily. But one of the boys got there first, and my foot rolled off his and twisted my ankle. That didn’t used to be such a big deal. This time, it was black and blue for about ten weeks, and I’ve been much more careful ever since, to the point of barely playing at all. Which gives me more time to watch the boys!
This family has spent more time on soccer than on any other of its leisure activities. I never tire of it. And Marie-Hélène was always a trooper, and became quite expert in the game over time. With all the games that we watched, she had plenty of time to learn!
As we spent so much time on soccer, it deserves a few extra pages on this site! The fall 2003 soccer season, featuring what were then new levels of both child involvement and parental commitment, appears on this page. The Santa Cruz County Breakers Under 10s Fall 2005 Season, photographed by a professional, appears on this page. And an intense and a little troubled season in 2008 appears here. Had enough yet?!