Tuesday, December 27, 2005

I am twenty-five now. The players whose pictures I anxiously looked up on the internet as a senior in high school are now almost all retired from competitive play, as old or older than my parents. I remember lurking in web sites for tips on the elusive layout or staring at a picture from 93 Worlds in Madison, a Godiva player with disc firmly in hand beginning to drag her toes in full extension trying to stay in bounds.

Now some of my own college teammates are married, some have moved away or stopped playing altogether, a few even have children. We are all getting older and uglier.

Well, not all of us. Not my high school kids, or any of the other juniors players around the country. They’re not done being ugly and awkward their first time. Hanging out with the kids before practice and speaking to my other coach friends around the country I get the feeling if you didn’t tie their arms down and tape their mouths shut they’d constantly be picking their noses and quoting Screech Powers. It doesn’t take long away from high school to forget you were the one dressing like a psychedelic painting and dancing ensemble in The Music Man.

Ah, those were the good years, when you think back on them. You were socially bent and acted like you had Turret’s and there was no where for you to go but up. You were ugly and couldn’t coordinate two consecutive steps but every day showed improvement.

We get progressively more beautiful as we play in college and begin to define ourselves as players, as teammates, as friends – as people. The 3rd and 4th years of eligibility are our best – we blend our high school purity and college experience with chip-on-the-shoulder determination like distinguished chefs. We beat down the rookies and bust ass to be as good as the veterans, feeling like we’re so close to understanding, to unlocking the secrets of the sport and being great. We’re yet too stupid and green to realize we’re not that good. By the time our fifth year comes, we’re Sweet Guy, running the team our way and pulling rank on the young’ns because that’s the best way to do it, dammit, and from there our descent is swift.

But the glow we emit from our few beautiful years is blinding and enthralling – we continue circling the game like moths by the porch light hoping to touch that beauty, to lose your thought for an instant during a layout and get it all back, if only for a moment.