An adventure stretching over eight years … covering literally thousands of miles … hastily eaten hotel breakfasts (sometimes hot and sometimes not) – and memories to last a lifetime.
Such is the sum of competitive travel soccer, a unique bonding experience I shared with my daughter from the time she was 11 to this, her final season, as she has now officially ‘aged out’ of the oldest travel age group, Under 19.
Hard as that is to believe – how did she hit 19 so fast? – I also have to admit that we approached this season with a mix of excitement and dread, excitement because we had a strong team and dread, because with every game, we knew it was one step closer to our last.
Her first competitive season, Ally was 11-years-old and was one of a handful of players her age that were selected for an Under 14 travel team. With her comp coaches, she learned a new style of play that was definitely more aggressive than recreational soccer. In comp, girls are mean. Just ask my daughter or any of her teammates after a weekend tournament when bruises they don’t even know how they got start appearing. A foot that was stomped on, an arm that has finger marks on it from being grabbed so hard. Opposing players grabbing jerseys, throwing the elbow or hip. Not to be outdone, I have plenty of photos that show my daughter in her ‘mean girl’ mode too – one this year I got at the point of impact when she took out a player (something the girl said was upsetting, I guess) without even bothering to glance at the ball. That brought a yellow card and a stern warning from the official.
A defender for most of her career, Ally occasionally had the chance to play forward and also saw some midfield play but was always the most comfortable – and the most effective – when she was battling it out against the other team’s front line, working to keep them from getting a chance at the net.
We have been to Fresno, Roseville, Merced, Redding … even to one place I don’t remember the name of that was so far away we drove five hours round trip to play one 90-minute soccer game.
But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We were blessed with support from family and friends, some businesses and service clubs; we did multiple fundraisers over the years, everything from parking cars at the Oakdale Chocolate Festival to selling cookbooks to a huge multi-soccer family rummage sale.
This year, our U19 Insanity (appropriate team name, by the way) girls were undefeated in league play; they won nine, tied one and lost none. They earned a couple of second place tournament trophies and a thrilling third place showing, winning the consolation match in a shootout at Dublin last August. Yes, travel soccer consumes the better part of a year – practices began in June, tournament play started in July, the season ended in late March.
Through the years, if our destination was more than 25 miles away, the rest of the team didn’t usually let me drive. I have a tendency to get very lost so it was decreed many seasons ago that the Jacksons would just catch a ride with someone else. Sometimes it was the coach, many times it was another teammate, but most times it was with ‘the other Jacksons’ – Ally’s best friend Katelyn and her parents. Occasionally, it would just be us Jackson girls, the four of us, if Kate’s dad had to work that weekend. But it was always fun and entertaining; no matter the destination or who was along for the ride.
This final tournament, the competition was in Morgan Hill and all five Jacksons made the trip, Ally, me, Katelyn, her mom Edy and dad Bobby. After our game on Saturday we hit the Gilroy Outlets (girls can always shop, you know!) and Katelyn purchased a BeanBoozled spinner game put out by Jelly Belly.
Do we get in-room movies at our hotel? Do we check out the pool or the exercise room? No. We let Katelyn and Ally talk us in to playing the game, where you spin the dial and whatever jelly bean color it lands on, you pick from the box. Be warned; the black jelly bean can be licorice or skunk spray. Green is lawn clippings or lime. The yellow was either buttered popcorn or rotten eggs. And so on. Booger, Baby Wipes, Moldy Cheese … just a few more of the enticing flavor possibilities. The box says to keep the trash can handy. Believe me, after three straight skunk sprays, I didn’t want to play anymore. But the laughter and fun, simply enjoying each other’s company, outlived the bad taste in the mouth.
The seasons are over. The roads have been traveled. The games have been played.
For me, a season’s success isn’t determined by wins and losses; its value comes in the memorable moments with our extended soccer family. And the best part was having that quality time to share the experience with a young woman I dearly love and am proud to call my daughter. Number 13. That’s my girl.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.