Mulhall column: Remember the Blue Dog Sharks
A few weeks back, I drove to Broomfield to watch my daughter and her Demon teammates compete in a 4A state quarterfinal soccer match against the Holy Family Tigers.
I’d never been to this particular stretch of rolling landscape east of Boulder, though I’d once lived in Gunbarrel just a few miles to the northwest. Holy Family is a pleasant campus, situated on a rise overlooking a small reservoir.
When I arrived, the press box atop the stands cast a long shadow onto the field where young women ran in familiar formations and balls popped like corn in and out of the sky, un-synched from the beat of the contemporary tunes blaring over the stadium sound system.
A mild breeze blew in off the water as students, teachers, parents and friends, some in Holy Family purple and others in Glenwood red, found seats in the stands. The sun still lit the scoreboard, which counted down minutes to the 6 p.m. start.
This pleasantly pastoral setting seemed somehow tailored for an evening soccer match.
As I climbed the bleacher stairs, my friend Adam held out his cell phone to me.
“Remember this?” he asked.
There on his phone was a photo of 8-year-old girls smartly dressed in black shorts and blue jerseys arranged in the standard soccer team pose: One row standing, another kneeling, and the goalie, in a long-sleeved, neon green top and full length pin-striped sweats, reposed side-long in front.
“The Blue Dog Sharks,” I said.
“I can’t believe you remembered that,” he exclaimed.
The photo was nearly 10 years old.
Of the 12 Blue Dog Sharks in that photo, some long ago moved away. One developed into a terrific guitar player who rocked a middle school talent show a few years back with an epic Taylor Swift cover, and another became a stellar track athlete and basketball star.
The balance of the Blue Dog Sharks are now involved in Demon soccer, and from what I gather, every one is a good student.
Maybe not every aspect of their lives is idyllic — you can never fully know such things — but they sure have faced the revelation of their rapidly expanding worlds with the focus and discipline necessary to, for two things, excel in school and make a deep run into the 4A state soccer tournament, and, well, thank God for that.
It’s hard to say how many soccer games I’ve seen over the years, but were I to add the games I’ve coached to the games I’ve watched, it’d have to number in the hundreds.
No matter how I stack it, that’s a lot of time, especially if I invoke multipliers like dog years, vehicle miles or, best of all, early bedtimes.
Soccer wasn’t always a simple proposition, either. When there weren’t forgotten cleats or singleton shin guards, there were lost caravans, game-time committee bathroom breaks, missing linesmen, or good old Colorado weather.
Years ago, on one particularly blustery autumn Saturday morning, I watched one of the girls on my team turtle her arms into her sleeves and play with her elbows inside her shirt.
This must have looked a bit awkward, for her dad approached to ask if it wouldn’t be better for her to put her arms back through.
“Nah,” I said, rubbing my chin, “this way she can’t get a hand ball.”
This brought a smile to his face, and with a nod of agreement we happily let it go.
It didn’t take long to figure out that what the girls needed far exceeded my fox-in-the-hen-house drill, so I stepped away from coaching when they turned about 10, and I must say spectating suits me nicely.
From where I’ve sat, the older the age bracket, the more complicated the coaches’ jobs. Same with referees. So I quietly appreciate the coaches and refs, and I mention it when occasion arises, which isn’t nearly often enough.
Mostly, though, I’m thankful so many of the Blue Dog Sharks, and many of the other youngsters I coached at one time or another, became Demons, and that on a spring evening a few weeks back, they played so well they earned a semi-final match in the state tournament.
Looking back, helping children get involved in sport was a long, occasionally trying journey with an indeterminate destination. But it’s also a really good journey that, if possible, shouldn’t be missed.
Perhaps this is a good thing to contemplate if ever you find your 7-year-old running arms in shirt down a soccer pitch.
You never know just how well that could turn out, or that it may one day lead you, as it did me, to a time and place you never could have imagined.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime valley resident. His column appears on the second Friday of each month.
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