By Sharon Swanson
Web Exclusive, September 25, 2006
When they advertised a Boy/Girl lacrosse league I never dreamed that my daughter would be the girl. But she was determined to follow in the lacrosse tradition of her father and her uncles. As we went to the open tryouts I carefully scanned the crowd for other helmets hiding the telltale ponytail. When none was evident, I asked if I had the wrong field, perhaps the wrong night? No, and no.
I anxiously watched as my novice eight-year-old stood in drill lines with much bigger, obviously experienced ten-year-olds. Her shiny, new, blue helmet and pristine stick said it all. She had only held them once before, when trying them out in the store. I began to imagine we'd be having a teary conversation on the way home: "But Mom, I don't care if you spent $300.00—I am not going back!"
I watched the coaches with their clipboards and could almost hear them saying, "I'll give you the leading scorer if you take the little girl with no clue." I cringed as she missed pass after pass, and ran right over countless ground balls. When practice ended, I heard the shocked whispers as the helmet came off and the hair cascaded out. "That's a girl!" and "No wonder she can't pass." She managed to hold her head up and make it to the car.
Maybe it is the teacher in me that makes me a lecturer. Somehow, I found the words to remind my daughter that "girls can do anything a boy can do" and to inspire her to "never give up!" She went back, and she learned. She failed, picked herself up, and tried again. At each practice I watched her stand on the sidelines, left out of the brotherly banter and the fraternizing. Instead, she practiced fielding ground balls, or cradling. Slowly, she improved. She showed up at every practice, gear on, and ready to go. The coaches encouraged her, and she took even shorter water breaks so that she could go back out and practice with one of the assistants. After a while, she began to look like everyone else out on the field.
In games she stood wide open in front of the goal waiting for a pass—a pass that I told her would probably never come, unless she tried calling to the boys that she was open. She started to gain not only momentum, but her own personal fan club as other parents and her coaches rooted for her and shouted for the boys to pass it to her. Friends and family members questioned my judgment as she went up against boys twice her size, but I knew that she had speed and shock value on her side. Most of her opponents quickly discounted the little girl playing attack, never believing she could outrun them or get a stick on it; yet each time she did.
She never did score that elusive goal. When she had an opportunity in the final championship game, she passed up running the fast break so that the leading scorer could take it in and tie the game. She was awarded a game ball for "almost scoring." But through it all she gained so much: life experience and confidence were the lasting rewards of the two months of lacrosse.
On awards' day I watched as my daughter enthusiastically clapped for MVPs and Best Defensive Players, never dreaming that she would get the most important accolade of the day. The coaches created an award just for her. She received the HEART trophy. In the words of her coach, "Heart's something you can't teach somebody, that's something that's got to come from within." She was recognized for never giving up, for having given her all. The coaching staff acknowledged her, not for being the only girl, but for being the only player who came to every practice dressed out and ready to go, and who gave up her last chance to score a goal in the best interest of the team.
With that award, the coaches changed her life. They showed her, and everyone else, that sometimes a great attitude and hard work are enough to make you shine. But most of all, this awesome experience taught her a lesson that is not easy to impart or to learn—that girls really can do anything they want to do. The little girl in the blue helmet will be back next season.
Sharon Swanson lives in North Carolina with her husband and two daughters. She has been a 7th grade Language Arts teacher for 13 years. She has recently become a devoted lacrosse team mom.