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KALIS: Much more than simply the end of a soccer season

• Nov 20, 2018 at 2:00 PM

My son was just 4 years old the first time he laced up a pair of soccer cleats. On the night of Oct. 17, he took them off for the last time.

I didn’t even mind the thousands of rubber turf pellets or the stinky socks that came off with them. My heart ached too much to care.

Sports can be really tough sometimes. The fact of the matter is, the best team doesn’t always win. A fluky game at the worst possible time can alter things in an instant, and that’s exactly what happened to the Grand Haven boys varsity soccer team — a team that had all the potential to not only retake their district crown, but add a regional championship to their accomplishments and make a serious run at states.

Instead, their season abruptly came to a halt, forcing them to go home, while a team they beat twice in the regular season ended up raising the district trophy, and another team unable to beat them went all the way to the state finals.

It was a heartbreaking way for it all to end, but for most of the seniors, it was an even bigger blow. Because, for them, it wasn’t just the end of the season, it was the end of an era.

Nine of the 11 seniors had played together since they were just 8 and 9 years old. For more than nine years, they practiced together on week nights and competed together on weekends. They traveled all across the state and beyond its borders, stayed in hotels, ate meals, played tournaments and raised trophies — together. And as they honed their skills and grew as players and as young men, the bond between them grew, as well.

A few years ago, the premier league realigned its age groups, forcing members of their team to split up. But while their time together may have ended at the club level, nine of the boys would remain teammates, only now it would be on the high school pitch.

How fortunate to have these extra years together — fortunate for them, and for their biggest fans: their parents. All of us huddled in the stands, we had been together for nine plus years, too. In rain and sleet and snow and wind, in extreme heat and freezing temperatures, together we watched our boys. We cheered, we hugged, we laughed — we drove across the state, stayed in hotels, ate meals and some may say we “sacrificed” our weekends.

But to us it wasn’t a sacrifice. To us, watching our boys play the beautiful game was a beautiful thing, and one of the greatest joys in our lives.

On the night of Oct. 17, our boys’ hearts weren’t the only ones broken.

Sure, there are a couple of kids who may play in college, and others have siblings their parents are lucky enough to continue watching, but for a handful of us, the discarded cleats are discarded for good, and a harsh reminder that this wasn’t just the end of a season, or even the end of an era. This was the end of the road.

I knew it was coming, yet that hasn’t made it any easier. My heart remains heavy, however. In the midst of my sorrow, a friend sent me a quote from Dr. Seuss, whose wise words read, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” How perfectly fitting. I am extremely sad that it’s over, but I am also extremely happy and grateful that it happened.

Thank you to all the parents who I have been so fortunate to have in my life because of soccer. And thank you, boys, for what has been a long and truly incredible journey. In the immortal words of Tim Scarpino: “Good stuff, boys. Good stuff.”

— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist

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