By Tim Nash
Sept. 13, 2001 — I went to a soccer game on Thursday, Sept. 13. It was perhaps the best game I have ever seen.
Roughly 58 hours after terrorists attacked us, my three-year-old son and I were able to watch Glen Hope Baptist play West End Design in an Under-11 game in Burlington, N.C. Colleges and pro sports had all — understandably and rightly — suspended their schedules, finding it tremendously inappropriate to play games given the events of Sept. 11.
But the kids played on.
It was a remarkable sight, seeing soccer fields filled with kids – more than 100 of them. They ran, they laughed, and they cheered. For an hour or so, they were free from the questions and fears they now have.
Allison, my nine-year-old daughter and a midfielder/defender for Glen Hope, had learned and understood much more about the attacks than I had hoped she ever would. She now knows the definition of “terrorism” and she can spell Osama bin Laden. When you think about it, those are two things nine-year-olds just shouldn’t know. She knows much more, though. She knows about the heroic efforts of the rescuers. She knows that body parts are being taken out of the rubble. She hears words like “war,” and she knows that in some places in the world, people are celebrating our misery.
Fear was Allison’s immediate reaction when her fourth-grade teacher broke the news to her class on Tuesday. She was frightened for me. She knew I was traveling but had forgotten where I was. I was in Columbus for the Nike U.S. Women’s Cup. I arrived Monday and was to leave Wednesday morning. I spent Monday afternoon and evening doing interviews for stories that seemed important at the time. The interviews with Chinese coach Ma Yuanan, and U.S. players Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and LaKeysia Beene became insignificant Tuesday morning.
After my daughter learned that I was in Columbus, not Boston where I was a week earlier, and it was explained to her that Columbus was as safe as anywhere else in the country, she was left to digest the disgusting details of terrorism.
I was able to pick her up from school on Thursday afternoon after I had driven home from Columbus. Thank you, Alamo. On the way home from school, with her life gaining a slight bit of normalcy, she said, “I have a game tonight!”
The soccer complex at Joe Davidson Park in Burlington was a wonderful sight. More than 100 kids in uniforms dominated the area. The playground was packed with siblings playing on swings, climbing on the apparatus, and generally acting like nothing had changed.
A lot had changed, of course. Even in North Carolina. The days following the attack were business as usual for America’s idiots, who called in bomb threats to the sickest places — schools, malls, and government buildings around the state and country. But, thankfully, on Thursday night the soccer park in Burlington was safe. So safe, in fact, that New York City and the Pentagon seemed worlds away. For an hour or so, the kids played on.
Goals, high-fives and celebratory cartwheels replaced fears, insecurities and questions nine-year-olds should never have to ask. Kids who grew up too fast on Tuesday were allowed to be kids again on Thursday.
The game certainly wasn’t pretty. There were the same problems — sidelines appearing out of nowhere, bunches of players all kicking simultaneously, and confusion with rules. But no one cared. Parents at times broke off into conversations about people they knew who weren’t home yet, mainly stories about being stranded somewhere. Mostly, though, they watched their kids play.
In the grand scheme, soccer on Thursday in Burlington could not even amount to a band aid on the wounds our country had suffered. Soccer, of course, is just another thing in a long line of meaningless activities that lose their importance during tragic times. For these kids, however, soccer had a lot of meaning.
No matter what they had learned over the past two days, no matter how many new things they had to be afraid of — and there were many — they still had their uniforms, their friends, their oranges at halftime, their drinks and snacks after the game. And they know it will all be there again next week.
Oh, and by the way, it was Glen Hope 6, West End Design 0. But no one really cared. The important thing was that the kids played on.