My eldest daughter has had a challenging senior year in high school. Although she made the varsity soccer team, she rarely plays; just last week, she made a six-hour road trip with the team and didn’t play at all. She practices as much and as hard as the other girls, and works part-time, leaving little time for a social life — for her, it’s practice, work, school, sleep, and not much else. She takes difficult courses, and has cried on several occasions as she worries that she hasn’t done enough to prepare for college.
Like many teenagers, she has insecurities and issues of confidence. She has often wondered aloud if her teammates and classmates even notice her.
This week, her classmates proved that they do indeed notice her.
First, on Wednesday, she was shocked to learn that she was elected to the Homecoming Court — one of six girls chosen by classmates. When her name was announced, the other kids in the room erupted with glee and congratulated her.
Then, as if things couldn’t get any better, she played her last regular season game in soccer on Thursday. A ceremony was held before the game to honor her and the other seniors, and, as is customary with this program, she was inserted into the starting lineup.
Normally a defender, she was positioned at forward. Earlier in the year, she told the coaches that she was willing to switch positions if it would mean she could contribute more to the team. She also told them that she had never scored a goal in high school, and she’d like to score one. In response, the coaches had gotten into the habit of inserting her as a forward when the team had an insurmountable lead, and encouraged her teammates to set her up for a goal. She had a few difficult chances, but no goals. Still, it was sweet of the coaches to try, and of the other parents to cheer her on when she entered a game.
This would be her last game. Although the team would advance to the playoffs, my daughter would likely see no action.
This last regular season game was vitally important to the team. The girls were undefeated, and ranked second in the state in their division. Winning this game would bring a conference championship — the first for the school since 2000 — and the first and only undefeated season in the program’s 40-year history.
The game began, and the girls appeared overwhelmed by the stakes. The opposing team controlled play, and had three short-range shots on goal in the first three minutes that would have been easy scores if not for the brilliance of our team’s goalie.
Then, suddenly, the ball moved to the other end of the field. Someone crossed the ball in front of the goal, and the opposing goalie lunged for it — and missed. The ball continued to the opposite goal post, where my daughter was properly stationed. With a simple kick, she knocked it past the outstretched goalie and into the opposite corner of the net.
After a moment of shock, the crowd erupted. I looked over to my wife to see her jumping up and down. Other parents, even those who are normally sedate, were out of their seats, screaming. My daughter’s teammates rushed to congratulate her in a big pile; when my daughter offered a high five to the first teammate to arrive, the teammate opted for a big bear hug instead.
When the public address announcer shouted her name as the goal scorer, the eruption began again.
A couple of minutes later, the coach substituted for her. As she ran off the field to wild applause again, her face featured the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. Her coaches patted her on the back, and her teammates on the bench hugged her again.
The team would go on to score two more goals before halftime, and a fourth goal early in the second half. Because the game will still tight, my daughter played only the first five minutes, and didn’t re-enter the game until victory was assured, with four minutes remaining. The game ended with a 4-0 victory.
After the game, the coaches huddled with the players in the locker room and congratulated them on what they accomplished on this night: an undefeated season, a conference championship, and a goal for my daughter. They praised her for the importance of the goal, and how it switched momentum.
While this was going on in the locker room, other parents came up to me and my wife to tell us how exciting it was for them to see our daughter score such an important goal in an important game, and how happy they were for her. My wife replied: “This is like a Disney movie… a fairy tale!”
Finally, as I waited for my daughter to exit the locker room so I could drive her home, the athletic director walked by. A gruff, imposing man of few words, he uttered something about what a good game it was, and I replied that they’re a good team. Then, as he walked away, he spoke the words that any parent yearns to hear:
“You’ve got a great kid.”
My daughter emerged from the locker room, and we walked to the car, arm in arm. I told her how proud I was of her and her team, and reminded her how much people care about her. For the rest of the ride home — and even as I type these words — I fought back tears of love and affection for my great kid.