The latter becomes the letterman

Long before my son entered high school this past September, there was evidence that he would make the varsity soccer team.I still remember that autumn day seven years ago when I set him loose on the soccer field with the other second-graders.

Having adopted Alyosha in Russia only weeks before, I had no idea what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised when he gravitated to the ball like a moon hugging its planet, deftly working it to and fro.

Another parent leaned over to me and confided, "Great skills.He'll make varsity for sure."

My gosh, I thought.What parent would look at his seven-year-old and dream ahead to his high school varsity career? But pfft! - here we are.That parent was more prescient than I cared to consider at the time.I do indeed have a varsity player on my hands.

My lean, bony, self-contained son was one of only two freshmen selected for the school's preeminent team.I realize that this is reason for pride, so it's ironic that I tried to obstruct his success.

Over the summer, when Alyosha himself was beginning to verbalize his confidence of making varsity, I had counseled restraint. I was recalling a varsity game I'd seen the previous year, when the upperclassmen thundered down the field like bison traveling at mach speed.

"Those seniors are big, Alyosha," I told him."Let's face it, some of them are already men.Maybe you should stick with junior varsity the first year."

My son puffed his washboard body up to the point where he was standing on his toes.And then he released his secret weapon.Looking me dead in the eye, he declaimed, "I think you're just jealous, Dad, because you never made varsity."

Well, he was right.Not about the jealousy, for I was genuinely concerned for his safety; but it was true - I had never made varsity.Nor had any of my three siblings.And my parents were of a generation where varsity was a luxury not generally afforded children of the Depression.

Not that I hadn't tried to make varsity.Being a tall and wiry teenager, I had made a bid for the basketball team, but my skills were so poor that not even the junior varsity team would consider me.I still recall the JV coach putting his arm around my shoulder after tryouts and counseling, "Er, why don't you just take a walk, son?"

So I did.Right over to the baseball team, whose coach was even more astonished at my nerve than his colleague had been.There was, however, some preliminary talk about the need for a ball boy, a position I judiciously declined.

The closest I ever came to earning a varsity letter was the bowling team.

The coach was sympathetic, and the process for winning a spot on varsity bowling was thoroughly democratic:All aspirants were to bowl together for a month.At the end of that period, the eight players with the highest averages would constitute the team.

Gee. A varsity bowler.Once I put on that blue varsity jacket with the yellow vinyl sleeves and the big gold "V," who would know that I wasn't a star pitcher or quarterback?

I went at the bowling with aplomb, going up against the likes of Michael Bedkowski and Bill Cerbone.

Mike's family was a multigenerational clan of bowlers, and they discussed the game with the ease and frequency with which other people talked about the weather.

I held my own for the first week, with an average that put me roughly in the top seven players. But it was downhill from there.I couldn't keep up with the guys who had monogrammed bowling-ball bags and terry hand towels hanging rakishly from their belts.

In short, I wound up somewhere around the 14th position, and with that result saw my chances of a varsity letter evaporate for the duration of my high school career.

But now, like an avenging angel from the Tunguska of Mother Russia, comes my son, a varsity letter glowing above his head like an icon.

Well, it's a romantic image, and truth to tell, I'm simply happy to see him enjoying himself on the team. He is accepted by the upperclassmen, encouraged by a caring coach, and treated with decency and respect.My fears about his being physically outclassed and somehow in danger have not been realized, because part of his athletic skill is that he is adept at avoiding tricky situations.

In short, he's good and he knows it; but, gentleman that he is, he tends to play down this conceit.

Of course, the fact that I can still outbowl him insures that humility will continue to be one of his virtues.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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