Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Three Games As A Soccer Referee

It's been a long time since I've shared stories about being a soccer referee. For those of you who don't know me very well (or know about this side of my life), I became a certified soccer referee in 1990. It was a great high school job since the pay was good, and I only worked on weekends giving me time to do homework and participate in activities during the week. I continued working as a referee when I returned home from college, and after taking a few years off, got recertified again around 2005. Before kids, I worked as a referee most weekends during the fall and spring seasons. In my mind, I get paid to exercise. Between all of the kids' activities, I don't work as much as I'd like, but I still try to get out when I can. I have two amazing primary assigners who I've known for years and understand my schedule. There are many times when I'll email them on Thursday to see if they have any availability for games on Sunday, and if they do, they slot me in. This post is about three games I worked this fall.

(That's not me in the picture.)

Game 1: Under 12 Girls

While I stopped working adult games at least 4-5 years ago, I generally referee games for middle school and high school aged kids meaning that this recreational league game was slightly younger than I usually work. This game featured one team with girls that were a foot taller and probably 30-50 pounds heavier than their opponents. While I probably called more fouls against the “bigger” team since it was warranted, many times, I let the teams play simply because players on the “smaller” team just bounced off players from the “bigger” team and hit the ground. After the bigger team scored a late goal on a penalty kick, one of the parents yelled for me to call it both ways. Then, as I was leaving the field, I overheard the “smaller” team’s coach explain that soccer is a physical game and that the players need to play through it sometimes. 

Most times, I forget a game as soon as it ends. This one stuck with me. Should I have called the game tighter based on the age and skill level? Would that have been unfair to the “bigger” team? I don't know, but both answers seem to be yes.

Game 2: Under 9 Boys

I gave my assigner very short notice about my availability, and while there was a U19 boys game that had an assistant referee (AR) opening , he really needed me to be an AR for a U10 girls game and then center a U9 boys game. He explained that this was the first ever game as a center for the teenage referee assigned to the U10 girls game, and he wanted me to be there as a mentor. The teenage referee did a great job, and I was able to give her some feedback both at halftime and then after the game. Then, I got to center a U9 game, and I loved it. Yes, I called fouls during the game and made sure that it kept moving, but I also explained fouls and helped kids understand the procedure for a goal kick and the proper way to do throw-ins. One of the team's coaches thanked me after the game, saying that although they try to teach this at practice, it's often better for the kids to get the real-time feedback during the game from someone other than them. I really enjoyed being able to teach the kids and be a mentor for a new referee.

Game 3: Under 11 Boys

My final games this fall were for a local all-star recreational tournament. I was by myself (instead of a normal 3-person crew) for three games with 25-minute halves. The temperature was about 37 when I started, but I warmed up quickly from all of the running.

(It wasn't actually as cold as it was from this picture.)

Before I arrived at the field, I noticed on the schedule that no one signed up for the game after mine. In emailing with the tournament assigner, I wrote that I would stay if no one took the game. No one took the game. The game itself was unremarkable with one team winning 5-0. The losing team had some chances, but the winning team controlled the game. As I walked off the field, I heard one or two of the kids complaining about me as the reason they lost the game. There was one goal scored on what may have been offsides. It was close, but I thought the attacking player was fine. Of course, in a one-person system, I can't be even with the next-to-the-last defender on both sides at all times (and especially not in the fourth of four games). If the tournament wanted a 3-person system for all games (and increased costs for the teams), the AR would have been in perfect position to determine if a player was offsides. If it's close, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team. Plus, that one goal had minimal to no impact on the final result.

Anyway, I packed up my bag and as I walked to my car, a player from the losing team asked how much the other team's coach paid me. I was a little stunned, so I didn't answer. The kid continued throwing out various amounts concluding with $1 million. 

I smiled and jokingly replied that I would certainly accept $1 million to help a team win an under-11 game. Do I make mistakes as a referee? Of course. There is constant action, and I miss things. However, I really don't appreciate anyone questioning my integrity. If it was a coach or maybe an older player, I would have given a post-game yellow card for dissent. For a 10 or 11 year-old, I just left the field and went home.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

A Dating Story

I don't really write much about my kids' personal lives because, well, they're personal. Plus, what juicy topics am I going to share about my first and fourth graders? Nothing. While there's really not much to share about my seventh grader either, I'm making an exception today for this story.

For the start of middle school, we agreed to get The Moose a phone since he might need it getting to and from school, or to let us know if he needs to stay after school. While I still believe that he should have a phone with only calling and texting functions, I understand that I lost this battle months ago. Although we try to limit his screen time, and what he can watch and do on his phone, he managed to create a Snapchat account. I don’t think he should have any social media accounts, but the understanding with Snapchat is that his account is set to private. Only his friends can see it.

A few weeks ago, The Moose declared that he had a girlfriend. When pressed about some details of this new relationship, he shared that this was a friend of a classmate of his. She goes to a different school, and he had never met her in person. They only communicated through Snapchat. I clearly don’t understand the middle school dating scene in the 2020s. Gone are the days where you get a phone number, call the house, and then have an awkward conversation with a parent before the person you are trying to call gets on the phone. Anyway, The Moose and his girlfriend never made plans to get together. I'm not sure if they ever talked on the phone.

Recently, The Moose announced that they broke up. I almost spit up the water I was drinking at the kitchen table when he said this trying not to laugh. 

It turns out that she is a Cincinnati Bengals fan and didn’t want to be in a relationship with a Steelers fan. In the name of Kimo von Oelhoffen, I say good riddance! Although The Moose doesn't seem phased by the breakup, I hope his ex-girlfriend looks like this especially this Sunday when the Steelers face the Bengals:

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

March For Israel

I’m not really a rally or march guy. The older I get, the less I like being in big crowds and that was even before Covid. Plus, I’m busy. Between work and family activities, I don’t really have time to attend rallies or protests or anything like that. Tuesday’s March for Israel was different. First, it was held on the National Mall, so I only needed to travel a few extra Metro stops to get there. More importantly, I felt that I needed to be there to support the Jewish community and the Israeli-American relationship.

Let’s go back a month. On October 7th, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and brutally killed approximately 1,400 people and kidnapped 240 others. Children and the elderly were part of both groups. More Jews were killed on October 7th than on any other day since the Holocaust. While I shared my thoughts about the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and Israel's response two weeks later, I didn't touch on what has happened and continues to happen in America. Anti-semitism and threats against Jews on college campuses (including where I worked at Ohio State for two years). Vandalism at Jewish institutions. The number of antisemitic incidents has skyrocketed. The March for Israel was an opportunity to let our voices be heard that we're not going to take it. (Feel free to sing the Twisted Sister song.) That we support Israel and its right to exist. And that we demand the release of the hostages.

I arrived on the National Mall via the Smithsonian Metro station around 11:00. While I considered showing that I'm a local and asking people to stand on the right of the Metro escalator, I just took the stairs while many groups with matching shirts emerged from the subway. I followed my way toward the stage and got in line to enter the "front" area. I found myself next to a group who flew in from Minnesota and saw that they all had blue wristbands to get into this area. I didn't have a wristband, so I went back to the "general admission" section and stood in the grass approximately between the Smithsonian castle and the Natural History Museum. 

A pre-show rally for/by students started at 11:30 with various high school and college student speakers. Other speakers for the pre-show included Tik-Tok and Instagram star Montana Tucker (who I follow), actor Brett Gelman from Stranger Things and Fleabag, and Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York who I thought was fantastic. 

There were also performances by Israeli musicians Ishay Ribo and Omer Adam. I wasn't familiar with either, though to be fair, most of the music I know from the last few years is what I hear on the SiriusXM channel Hits One. 

The "main event" started at 1:00. with speeches from actress Tova Feldshuh, CNN's Van Jones (more mixed reactions for him than anyone else), and former Soviet dissident and Israeli politician Natan Sharansky. Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke from the Western Wall, and there were speeches from other political figures like Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Herzog, and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the US Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism. To me, the most notable speakers during the rally were the Congressional leadership of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and Senator Joni Ernst. (I guess Senator Mitch McConnell was busy trying to figure out how the now 2-8 University of Pittsburgh football team handed the University of Louisville its only loss of the season thus far last month.) I really found the inclusion and words by Torres, Johnson, and Jeffries to be an important part of the event. These are non-Jewish allies sharing their support.

Debra Messing was terrific.

Matisyahu performed with the Maccabeats.

For years, I've joked about a rivalry between acapella groups the Maccabeats and Six13. While competition between these two groups is probably all in my head, I feel like the March for Israel should have been a time where they performed together. Sort of like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry coming together after years of feuding.

Although the event was scheduled to end at 3:00, it was still going strong at 3:20. After standing in one spot for about 5 hours, I was not still going strong and decided to head home. With the entrance to the Smithsonian Metro station packed, I walked about a mile away to the Farragut West station. Maybe it's because I left early, but I was surprised that the Metro wasn't crowded. I heard that buses parked at RFK, so maybe more people headed in the opposite direction. 

A few final notes:

* Many speakers mentioned their support of the Palestinian people and shared their prayers or grief with innocent Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives. (I noticed this the most in Debra Messing's speech above.) 

* While I enjoyed the rally, I think I would have had a better time if I went with a group and/or with friends. 

* 13 years ago, I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear starring Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. 13 years later, there's still no cell phone reception on the National Mall when there's a large group of people. 

Overall, I'm glad I attended. Hearing from several famililes of those kidnapped was powerful. More than anything, it was a sense of unity. Of coming together. Of knowing that we're not alone. 

Here are a few more photos from the event:

Am Yisrael Chai!

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

George Mason-Austin Peay Recap

I understand that writing a blog post about taking my kids to a George Mason University-Austin Peay University November men's college basketball game isn't going to go viral. And while some of this is about basketball, some of it's not. Please stay with me here. While I've never had season tickets, I've attended several George Mason men's basketball games each year since I moved to Virginia in 2001. The arena is easy to get to, tickets are reasonably priced, parking is free, and you get to see quality Division I basketball. This isn't Duke-North Carolina, and you won't watch future NBA players, but you'll see entertaining and competitive basketball. My kids love attending live sporting events, so when I asked if they wanted to go to Mason's second game of the season, they were all in.

George Mason has a new coach this year in Tony Skinn. That name may sound familiar to die-hard and even some general college basketball fans since Skinn was the point guard on George Mason's amazing 2006 Final Four team. (Because Skinn was suspended for the first game of the NCAA Tournament, I picked them to lose against Michigan State. I mean, how would Mason defeat a Big 10 powerhouse without one of their best players? Spoiler: They did and then beat North Carolina, Wichita State, and UConn.) WIth a new coach, several graduates, and the remarkable way students transfer between schools now, the Mason roster is completely different from last year with only a few (maybe two?) holdovers. That’s how college basketball works now. 

For the game itself, George Mason had a commanding 42-15 lead at halftime and never looked back on the way to a 67-45 victory. They appear to have a balanced team with multiple scoring options. While it’s way too early to predict how they’ll play this season, I feel like Mason could finish in the top-half of the Atlantic-10. They are certainly not going to be an easy win for opponents. 

Now for the non-basketball parts of the post. Sort of. (Again, thanks for making it this far.) In the second half, a player named Hansel Enmanuel entered the game for Austin Peay. My 12 year-old, The Moose, quickly noticed that Enmanuel had only one arm and questioned how he could play basketball. While I replied that he was playing for a division I school so he must have some talent, I was intrigued and became fixated on watching him. Enmanuel didn't do very much offensively (he caught the ball several times and then passed to teammates) though it seemed like Austin Peay's game plan was to give the ball to DeMarcus Sharp and let him try to do something. Although Sharp finished with a game high 23 points, he went 8 for 24 shooting and most of his points came with the game virtually over. Late in the game, Enmanuel got behind the Mason defense on a fastbreak and finished with a thundering dunk. While the screenshot below isn't great, I encourage you to check out the video on Instagram

When I got home, I found out more about Enmanuel primarily through this ESPN story.

We also got a halftime show featuring Christian and Scooby, who apparently appeared on America's Got Talent. I guess you would call Christian a gymnast or acrobat. The key to the performance is the dog Scooby who climbs all over Christian while he conducts his balancing act. It was impressive and fun to watch. 

This video from earlier this year at an Indiana Fever basketball game is similar to what we got to see.

Overall, a fun night with the kids. Success!

Monday, November 06, 2023

Marshawn Lynch Visits Woodland Hills

Anytime my high school is featured on national television (or international streaming in this case), I'm writing about it. During last week's Thursday Night Football broadcast, Amazon shared this video of retired NFL running back and current media personality Marshawn Lynch along with current Steelers running back Najee Harris visiting the Woodland Hills High School girls' flag football team.

Apparently, this visit occurred in September when it was much warmer in Pittsburgh, and that's why everyone is wearing shorts.

Go Wolverines (not the cheating Michigan kind)!