Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Taking Care of the Kids

I overemphasize process.  The end result, the actual execution of a game plan, is what ultimately matters.  But the development of nascent talent or the construction of a strategy can be just as captivating. 

I enjoy spring training.  Not for the fake games, but for the chance to see coaches working directly with players and eavesdropping on evaluations or advice.  I am probably one of a handful of supporters that was excited about D.C. United opening up a single practice to season ticket holders this year.

Maryland football opens a scrimmage to fans this last Saturday?  I'm there.  If nothing else, it is an opportunity to watch the implementation of the read option by a group of quarterbacks with different skill sets.

My eldest decided to join me for the afternoon and, as is convention for Maryland football events, Pepsi-sponsored activities were provided for kids, including a bounce house.  The equipment sale let her buy a used jersey that she quickly converted into a dress.  And the families of players in the stands provided the rest of her entertainment for the day.

The key to enjoying Maryland's "Fan Appreciation Day" is moving quickly away from seats within earshot of Maryland "supporters" who loudly criticize the players, the coaches, the school for their obvious collective and individual incompetence.  There's no way to get away from this pestilence once the season starts and you are wedded to your seats.  But this is just a scrimmage and you can move around until you find a section populated by players' families, for whom the novelty of seeing their kid play Division I football has yet to wear thin.

An example:  The fans know that the quarterback should have taken the obvious option.  They know that there was a man open in the flat and they know a football should have been delivered there.  The families, on the other hand, remark at the speed of the game.  They remark at how much bigger and faster everyone has become.  They marvel at the development of these young men, even when there is much, much further to go.

These observations are further driven home later, after the scrimmage, when you are down on the turf with your kid watching the players interact with their parents, siblings, and extended family.  My daughter could not get over how big some of the players were.  Some of the players' families could not get over hearing their sons called "sir" by fans.

It ain't all light and sweetness.  The bulk of the people that have come out were angling for a Stefon Diggs autograph or memento.  While the team sat easily at tables spread the length of the field, barricades were set up at midfield to create two distinct lines.  One for Coach Edsall and one for Mr. Diggs, although the extra demarcation for the former didn't seem necessary.  Diggs is the show -- and he deserves to be -- but his tangible benefits from the limelight at this moment are no different from any other scholarship athlete.

My daughter has never waited for an autograph from Maryland's #1.  She does not know who he is, other than when I repeat to her (for no apparent purpose) that she saw him play at Good Counsel.  Instead, she knows Joe Riddle and Michael Tart, having bought a #29 jersey in honor of players that have always happily signed her helmets and let her know that her presence was appreciated.  She knows Dexter McDougle, having seen him repeatedly at gymnastics meets.  She knows Shawn Petty, Alex Twine, and Anthony Nixon Jr., because I can't stop telling her how good they are.  She knows Zimuzo Nwaigwe because I tell her how hard he's worked to sit behind that table.

She knows all of them because the program makes the players accessible to its young fans and because the players, in the main, participate with good humor and a convincing sense of gratitude that the kids have taken an interest.

And so it ends up not just being a practice session for the players.  Saturday afternoon was also a dry run for me.  My eldest now says she wants to go to games this season, as long as it is not too hot.  There's a process:  open events for fans + bouncy house + likable, good-humored players = fans.

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