‘Kickball’ has come a long way

Wayne MitchellWho would have ever thought I would have spent Sunday afternoon watching two teams I know nothing about play football, or what passes for football in the rest of the world?

Not me, I can assure you of that. Growing up in the ‘50s in Missouri, I thought I knew quite a bit about sports. By sports I mean baseball, football and basketball. That really was the extent of the sporting world among my circle of friends. I wasn’t a participant in any of them, but I liked to watch.

Tennis was not something anyone I knew played, and golf was something you only could afford to play regularly if you had money. (Some would say that hasn’t changed much.)

Baseball, football and basketball were what high school teams in Missouri played back then, and it was a boy thing. Girls were relegated to cheerleading and pep squads.

I can’t remember when I first heard the sport of soccer mentioned. I think it may have been some time after I got out of college. I remember thinking it was just a fancy name for kickball, that game we had to play in high school P.E. class.

That changed a little in the early ‘90s when I was editor of a paper in South Carolina that included Clemson University in its coverage area. The first real soccer field I ever saw was there; we would walk past it on our way to Death Valley, the massive stadium where Clemson played football. I was surprised the soccer field had concrete stands for a couple of thousand people.

The sports editor of the paper was a soccer fan and would actually cover the college games. He would get infuriated when I would suggest he was wasting the paper’s money writing about “kickball.”

I guess his thinking was way ahead of mine. I never watched a game until a few years ago when Jenny and I were on vacation in London.

The whole town was caught up in a football match between England and somebody. We saw the game on TV in our hotel room—it was soccer.

Since then I’ve come to understand that while many of us here in the U.S. live our lives every year around football – professional, college and high school, the rest of the world could not care less. The term “NFL” doesn’t mean squat to them, the SEC even less.

When we were back in London last month on vacation, football fever was in high gear. How would England do at the World Cup in Brazil? Could they beat Italy? (No, as it turned out. The city was in the dumps by the time we left.)

But we came home and watched the World Cup games, along with millions of other Americans, according to the figures from ESPN.

I still don’t know much about the rules, and I barely understand the game. I don’t even know what FIFA stands for. But the games are exciting sometimes, and it’s something to do in July while we’re waiting for our “imitation” football to come along in the fall.

T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or by email at wayne.mitchell@journalinc.com.

About Wayne Mitchell

Publisher of the New Albany Gazette