Well, folks, it seems that we here at Team WestEnders have gotten ourselves into a novel (for us, anyway) Soccer Situation. First, some necessary background: both Derek and Riley spent their entire..."careers"...in Maryland playing for one local club. It was purely recreational--competition being entirely "in-house" and all games being held at the home field...about a mile from where we lived--and we all enjoyed years and years of awesome family fun. To be honest, occasionally it occurred to us that perhaps the boys should try out for the higher level...but the added practices and, well, the driving all over creation for Travel League kept us from encouraging the kids to go in that direction.
Now, in our new hometown, the sporting picture is very different. There's "recreation", which promotes itself as being purely for pleasure--and in fact is soooo casual and laid-back that they don't even KEEP SCORE. Then there's Triangle United Challenge, which requires you to "try out"...but this really just means showing up for a scrimmage and demonstrating your skills for the Director, so he can determine if this level is appropriate for you. Finally, there's TU Classic: loads more expensive; year-round training multiple times a week; and be-bopping all over the state for matches and tournaments.
Okay, after I researched all that and presented it to Husband, we agreed to dismiss the lowest and highest options as being, respectively, too little competition, and too much commitment. HOWEVER...when Derek didn't make his high school team, it turned out his only choice was the Rainbow rec-league, since Challenge isn't available to his age group in the Fall, due to (ironically)... too many players being tied up with their school teams. Meanwhile, we got Riley signed up for Challenge with no difficulty, and so got the opportunity to learn about what that entailed. Basically the most surprising aspect for us was that it involved...more commuting than we expected, with almost all of his matches happening at complexes located 20-30 minutes away.
They both had perfectly good experiences with their Fall teams, though. But one thing that the high school coach had recommended for Derek to work on improving was...aggressiveness. At the time, this made both of us laugh uproariously, because in the last few years, having grown quite a bit taller--and also having become a very solidly-built kid--he found himself getting constantly called for fouls when he attempted to use his body to block (legally...most of the time...) thereby causing smaller kids to literally bounce off him (and often hit the ground). Then this past season, playing COED, he obviously tried very hard to keep himself in check so as not to plow over either shorter kids...or girls...during games. All of this adds up to: another season of NOT being able to focus on the kind of aggressive play that seems to be required from players his age in the NC soccer system.
I believe that catches us up to the present. Riley will fortunately be able to continue with his current team in the Spring, so no worries there...but we needed to figure out what to do with Derek. I believed it would be as simple as bringing him to the same kind of informal tryout that Riley had done, to be placed on a Challenge team. With this in mind, I emailed the Director of the U15-18 Division of TU, to make arrangements. He promptly responded with a date, time, and location for Derek to attend a practice with his peers. "Great", I though, "So we're all set, yeah?"
Then Derek came home from school and said, "Um...Mom? My friend told me he's going to the same tryout...and it's for a...Bronze Classic team." "Well, that can't be right, I started to reply." But then I paused for a moment to consider: I never actually stated that Derek was interested in Challenge rather than Classic, and the Director with whom I had communicated covers both levels. Oops, my bad. So we showed up anyway (might as well, right?) and talked to the man in charge, who happened to be the coach of the team running around on the field. I explained our error, and he immediately asked, "Why do you want Challenge rather than Classic?" Without hesitation I answered, "Because of the traveling!" He informed us that for Derek's age group...the distances would be pretty much the same, because they have to go further to find teams of older kids. Ohhhhhhh, I see...well, that's certainly interesting news.
Since we were already there, and Derek was geared up and ready to go, we decided to let him stay and play...and see how it went. The coach assured me he'd evaluate Derek to determine if he would be offered one of the open spots on his own team--or if not, he would tell the Director that Derek needed to be placed with a Challenge group. And I've gotta say, standing there watching the practice...that's a whole other level of soccer than we're used to, right there. The amount of talent and skill on that patch of grass was pretty astonishing...even to someone who's been spectating from the soccer sidelines since Derek was 6 years old. When they were winding down, Coach came over and updated me, "I have 3 vacancies, 4 kids trying out, and everyone looked really good tonight, Can you come to another practice and I'll make my selections then?" Um...you betcha! His parting advice was: "One thing I want to see is...more aggressive play." Oh. Good. Grief. Derek and I exchanged a look and tried not to snicker. He added, "You're a big kid; use your body!" Noted, Coach.
As luck would have it, Husband was out of town AGAIN during all these shenanigans...so he got a real earful when he returned. Iin the end, we agreed that we'd let the results of the tryout determine which way we headed. If Derek made it, it meant that we should allow him to compete at this level, because it would only give him the opportunity to continue to grow as a player. As for the expense and the excursion...ing...we'd suck it up and make it work. And if he wasn't chosen, there'd be no issues with him joining a Challenge squad, anyway. So, Husband took Derek to the second practice. When they arrived home I couldn't tell from their expressions (Derek appeared exhausted, Husband...super-chilled) what had transpired, so I was a little nervous about inquiring. But Husband told me that 30 minutes into the hour-and-a-half session, the coach had approached him and offered Derek a spot. (Pause: YAAAYYY! Way to go, sweetie! Mom's proud of you!) Apparently Coach R was pleased by the difference in what Derek showed him since the previous meeting...including--you guessed it--a marked increase in his physical play. (Derek grinned, "Yeah, I knocked someone over this time during the scrimmage; I guess he liked that!")
Thus begins a new era in the life of our teenaged Defender. For starters, unlike the off-season he's accustomed to, he'll continue to practice twice weekly...in December. (Can anyone say...Holy Frozen Footballers, Batman? That's gonna be a cooooold prospect...) Then in January (yeah, the even frostier month) they bump it up to 3 times per week to prepare for games that begin...in February. Ay yi yi...this would be totally terrific if we were in, say, the Mexican League...but Derek's loving, supportive Parental Units might be enthusiastically cheering him on...from the warmth of the car...for some of those early contests. Oh, and no information is available as yet in terms of where we'll be scurrying off to this Spring for those matches. I suppose we can look at it this way: we'll get more acquainted with our adopted state as we navigate our way to possibly far-flung fields. Heck, as much as we enjoy exploring and adventuring, I don't see this being much of a hardship...except of course if Derek's and Riley's games overlap...in which case Team WestEnders will be forced to use a Split Squad format...sigh...stay tuned for the potential craziness!