THANKSGIVING’S BEST FOOTBALL
Never mind the Raiders and Cowboys. If you want REAL football, next Thanksgiving I suggest you come to our Ladera Elementary school in Tustin and see the game as it’s supposed to be played. You might even get an email “e-vite” from a college athlete, as we did, or perhaps you’ll simply hear about us on the street.
Around here football is actually a GAME. It’s fun. Little kids get to “tackle” grownups, (okay, it’s “tag” football), and they learn to kick a football and throw—as long as they can successfully dodge a dozen multi-sized players and the two puppies loose on the field.
The grandparents, and that includes me, sit on the sidelines and watch. Right away I spotted a small blonde girl, about nine, who seemed to be in on every play. To my amazement, Taylor could zigzag like a marine on an obstacle course. With the ball tucked against her pink and white striped shirt, she dodged, in quick succession, a UCLA volleyball player, an orthopedic surgeon, and a young man who’d just won a national tennis tournament. Minutes later, Taylor made a clean, thirty-yard kick. But that was peanuts compared to the sudden, surprising run by twelve-year-old Elizabeth, who is usually more singer than athlete.
Along the periphery of the field, Lauren, eight, practiced her gymnastics with three back- flips in a row. While behind her, Davis, ten but small for his age, caught the football just before it hit the ground. He didn’t get far, though. The mother who is the country’s number one fifty-and-over tennis player managed to tag him.
Within a small circle, the game came to a momentary halt when the five-year-old threw a fit. One of the bigger boys simply picked him off the ground and set him down again outside the boundaries.
For a few seconds I tabulated the various ages. The surgeon, still a Sunday athlete, is sixty-one, the UCLA player is 23, his sister, a landscape architect, is 26. Still, the youngest player was five. I have no idea about the age or occupation of the man who arrived late, on his bicycle. All I gathered, really, is that his kids are whiz-bangs at sports and so eager to participate that they shortcutted the journey by climbing over the school fence. Actually, so did several others. This is, after all, a neighborhood athletic field.
With a halftime water break, the game lasted an hour and a half. By the end I had no idea which team won—if indeed, scores were tabulated or anyone could tell who belonged to which squad. At times they knew, but I didn’t. From afar there seemed to be a constant shifting of team loyalties as new participants arrived or others faded away, with large and small people reassigned to achieve some kind of balance.
Balance? Oh come on, there was no balance. Just a lot of sprinting, kicking, and throwing, with a few spectacular performances distributed up and down the age groups. And from us on the sidelines, a lot of wild cheering.
As they departed, everyone was sweaty and most were smiling. Good feelings prevailed. The smallest players dashed away without the need for extra praise. Hey, for awhile they’d been treated like adults.
As far as I’m concerned, for the rest of Thanksgiving none of the professional games compared, even slightly, with this one.