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part of the team

Part of the Team: From “They” to “We”

I have a regret. OK, I have more than one regret in my lifetime. But, today I’m going to talk about one specifically.

Let me start here: Many people that have been around me know of my annoying habit of correcting people when they say “we” when talking about a favorite sports team. I usually have some snotty retort like, “Oh, what number are you?” or, “I don’t see you on the roster.” I know it’s annoying and it’s really condescending, so, I’m sorry.

I was obvious parts of teams as a kid: the second baseman, point guard (eh, who am I kidding: backup point guard), anchor leg, varsity runner, etc. I had a clearly defined role on the team and shared in its victories and defeats regardless of how big or small that role was.

Once my playing days were over (do you still call them playing days when you’re a runner?), I moved into a supporting role in college athletics doing sports information. I liked it because I could still be involved in sports. I thought any career that involved writing about sports was pretty cool.

I started out at WVU as a graduate assistant, and I started to feel like part of a team again, particularly with the wrestling group. It was a relatively smaller team and I traveled with them, so I got to know them all pretty well. I liked them.

And then I went to Maryland and got to work with the men’s soccer team and the “demanding” men’s soccer coach and team. Even though the team was bigger, I was around them a lot and traveled with them, too. I knew who was going to be late for trips, who was doing homework on the bus and what group in the back was goofing off. A few months into the job the head coach brings me up in front of the team and he hugs me and they applaud as I head off the next day to get married.

That program and those teams at Maryland are very special to me. But, I never trained with them, never scored a goal and never put on a jersey, so while I very much felt welcomed and a part of the group, I knew at some level I was not really on the team. When they lost in heartbreaking fashion vs. St. John’s in 2003 in the College Cup, I was upset. But, then, I felt almost guilty because they were the ones that put it on the line. They were the ones that deserved to feel that heartache, not me. I just wrote about them and kept stats. The team went through a similar disappointment the next year losing in the national semifinals again, and I went through the same cycle: it was their loss, not my loss. I didn’t feel like I had done anything to deserve feeling that disappointment as deeply as they did.

And then, the next year: joy! A national championship. It was awesome. I remember sitting nervously in the press box afraid to jinx the result by writing a paragraph in advance about the team winning a national championship as it clung to a 1-0 lead. I didn’t want to go on the field in the final seconds because I didn’t want to expect the result, but I did anyway. The moments immediately after were a blur between trying to capture the moment with some photos, congratulating players, coaches and staff and organizing interviews.

And then a regret: In the final moments of the celebration after all the awards were handed out, the team (coaches, trainers, doctors, support staff) gathered around the trophy in their national championship t-shirts in front of the goal with the scoreboard (1-0) in the background. It’s now the photo that accompanies the team’s championship. There was a moment where I could’ve gotten in that photo. Instead, I stood off to the side and took pictures with the other fans and supporters. It was the same cycle as before where I felt some of what they felt, but then distanced myself because I didn’t think I should’ve been a part of that moment after all of their hard work and dedication.

I didn’t regret not getting in that photo for a while. I thought it was the right thing to do, especially from a professionalism standpoint. (SIDs who are “fans first” really irritate me, actually.)

But, as time has gone on, I’ve felt more and more like part of that team. By some blissful mistake, I’m included on the team’s alumni list, so I get invited to events. I’ve seen former players here and there over the years and I get a kick that they actually remember me. At a golf outing a summer or two ago, Coach Cirovski highlighted my presence and introduced me to a group of alumni players much to my embarrassment because, again, I never played a minute!

And then, a few months ago, one of the players from that era, Jason Garey, got selected for induction into the Hall of Fame. It was an obvious and deserved honor from one of the great players in the program’s history. His outstanding play allowed me to help promote him for some awards, including national player of the year. I harbor no delusions about my role in the promotion of that campaign because he’d have won everything even if I not done a single thing.

part of the team

Anyway, I sent him a quick note congratulating him. He asked me to give him a call, so I did. When he then invited me to the induction ceremony, I was blown away/humbled/honored that he thought of me (me?!) — that he thought to include me as part of the celebration of his career and his time at Maryland. I just couldn’t thank him enough.

I remember back when Jason was winning all of those awards and Coach Cirovski said something to the effect that, “Jason is made of all of the right stuff.” What he meant was that Jason is this jambalaya mix of being a great athlete, scholar, competitor and someone of high character and integrity — all that “stuff.” Coach said it perfectly the first time. The fact that I was included in some small way for this occasion reinforces to me that he’s still got all the right stuff.

part of the team

Years later, when I look at that team photo, I think for a second about not stepping into it. But then I look at the faces and see the joy, and I think about that championship game. And I think about the road trip back from NC State after a 1-0 loss, and that infuriating 3-3 draw at home against Indiana. And I think about each of the players and how I connected with each of them. I wasn’t on the team, and I’m not in the picture, but it’s OK. I know I was a part of it in some small way. And I can only feel that way because the guys on that team, the coaches and administration, let me feel that way and included me.

For that, thank you. Thank you for letting me feel a part of that team.

This article was originally published on Adam Zundell’s website.

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