Saturday, December 06, 2008

Storytime at the Cafe: It all began with a young son who wanted to play football ...

Our guest storyteller for today's Storytime at the Cafe is Roger Schellenberg, rector of Church of the Spirit in Alexandria, VA. He brings a timely and rather humorous story about, well, playing the game of football. And then things go awry, as they often do when grownups get involved. So grab a bowl of popcorn and your hot mugs of chai and butterbeer and listen as Roger tells the story:

Imagine for a moment that your son plays on the local football team. He's only 14 years old, but he loves the sport and wants to improve so he can play in High School and later in College. You have been helping him along with his "career" for years, playing with him in the backyard after school, watching games on TV together on weekends, supporting him at his games, helping to raise money for uniforms and equipment for his team. During that time you've made friends with the other parents and supporters of the team.

Only as time went by, you noticed some of the parents were not of the same opinion when it came to the games. It turned out that there were enough parents who felt the same way they were a majority and voted in a new leader for the Sponsor's Committee. With the new season about to start, they replaced the retiring coach with a new guy who had some fresh, progressive ideas about practice and game play. With the support of the other parents, they chose to make changes to the team.

In the future, the rules would state that tackling was no longer allowed, since it tended to cause injuries and hurt feelings. Instead, the team would wear flags and many of the rules from flag football would be incorporated into the games, in the belief that this would be better for everyone, and that such a development was more in line with the needs of children who were still growing. These changes would also allow greater participation on the team of people who were not as large or as aggressive as were needed in the old days. This would give other people a chance to enjoy being on the team. Indeed, the parents felt that not to allow others to participate was inappropriate in some way. Physical requirements for strength and size, for gender or even for talent, seemed all too restrictive for a team to be truly inclusive.

Of course, this was not what you had signed up for or worked for all these years. How would your son learn the skills he needed to use on future football teams ... teams where flags were not used and tackling was the standard operating principle? When you spoke up at the team meetings, you soon found your comments were dismissed because you were not in the majority, and you no longer had the support of the coach. Instead the other parents suggested that you were not being very sensitive or progressive or supportive. In fact, the other parents stated clearly that you no longer seemed to be "loyal" to the team. One even remarked that if you didn't like it you could leave, just make sure you don't take the team jersey or your son's pads or anything else that might belong to the team.

You heard later the Sponsor's Committee and Coach had suggested the only people who were upset with the changes were a small, no, a very small group, as if the wishes or concerns of small groups was too small to be of interest to the rest of the group.

It was remarks like this that seemed so jarring, so odd. You looked back and could see all the work you had done raising money to support the team, sitting through the rainy days on cold, metal bleachers to cheer for the team even when they were losing 48-9. What's more, the changes made no sense ... The team was no longer really playing football, at least not football anyone else would recognize.

And what would the League say about these changes?

Certainly, a large majority of the other teams in the league did not agree to the rules changes. A few did, because there were also parents on other teams hoping for a less traditional approach to the sport. That's when the League stepped in. The League officials wanted to remind each and every team of the League rules, under which each team had to abide. However, your Coach and team parents stated there was no need for such rules since it spoiled the creative nature of the game, and that the kids should be allowed to play instead of having the league official intervene. After all, it was their team. Of course this response only baffled the League officials who started fielding complaints from other teams who stated they no longer want to play against your son's team, that the team should be kicked out of the league for not playing by the same rules to which everyone else had agreed.

Of course all of this made it into the local press, with the corresponding articles reporting on how the new developments in football might be worth considering since more people would be allowed to play and there would be fewer injuries. The League was seen as interfering, and yes, there were a couple of comments from those not supporting the changes but again they were referred to as a very small group, as if the size of the group of dissenters meant their opinions were of little regard.

The suggestion by League officials that your son's team start it's own league was met with a cool rejection from your Coach. He wondered why the other teams in the league had not been sensitive or wise enough to accept the new developments as so very worthwhile. "And we're not going anywhere," he commented, "We have every bit as much a right to play in this league as anyone else."

The longer the impasse continued, the more confusing it was to your son who wanted to learn how to play football, and instead practiced something else and had to listen to endless arguments over rules developments and League interference. It was no surprise your son asked to join a different team in the League for the following season began. It was also no surprise that the team he had left behind seemed to have half the players it once had on the field. Of course the players who were there were very clear that they were playing football the way it should be played, even if sometimes the other teams simply chose not to show up for the games instead of play by a new set of rules. When the other teams did show up things were quite confused, and the home team lost time and again.

One good thing happened, though. Because of all those times when the other teams did not show up, the Coach congratulated the team for winning by forfeit. This meant the home team finished their season 8-4 and boasted of a winning season. As the coach was heard to say at the year end banquet, "I want to thank all of you who have been loyal to the team. With our first winning year behind us now I can clearly state, all is well."

Ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1984, Roger Schellenberg has served in churches in New York, Virginia, Maine and Massachusetts before starting Church of the Spirit in his home in 1997. Learn more about Roger's parish, Church of the Spirit in Alexandria, VA (Diocese of Virginia) here.


RSchllnbrg said...

Actually I like to think of myself as having been ordained into the Anglican Communion back in 1984. but then, that's just me. Not sure the Anglican Communion wants to take responsibility for me ...


Anonymous said...

Roger tells a story that turns on preserving sport's rules so that his son can join the ranks of the elite. As a parent of a Special Olympics athlete I would like to speak up for inclusion on this instance and where necessary bending the rules of sport, so that all can participate.
The Special Olympics movement breaks the unspoken rule of much sport that the elite deserve the most attention, and using sport it has opened up the world for many isolated people.
The Special Olympics, is inclusive, but is for the humble and broken hearted. Elite sport is exclusive and dominated by worldly success.
Which one do you think is closer to the gospel?
No metaphor is ever perfect, so I have some sympathy for Roger. But this time the limits of the metaphor can be just a valuable to consider.

obadiahslope / John Sandeman