The last child added to soccer.  January 20-February 17, 2020 (part 3 of 4)

This entry covers weeks 15-17 of the Youth Football (soccer) program.  At week 10, we said we were full, not taking any more players, having reached our goal of 100+.  But truth be told, I was one child short in the 9-10 age range, so when the Assistant to the President wanted to sign up his grandson, a very vivacious little boy from my neighborhood, it was an easy call to say yes.  When he showed up for practice, he was greeted with hugs and cheers, and it was one of those really happy moments.


Another amazing addition has been a real umpire.  The transformation of my game day has been incredible.  We always had planned to hire a professional umpire.  The budget included 100 dirham for each game day.  Then, the same man who gave me this number, who hires professional umpires regularly (Director of Grumpy Old Men), told me it was actually 700 per game (of which we have 5 each week).  That price would exceed the entire budget.  It would be against Peace Corps policy to pay any local person.  Then, my Youth Center Director really came through with the perfect man.  He is the Youth Center Director of a neighboring town and is all mine, from set up to the last game, for only 150 for the day.  He is likely in his late 50s, but very fit.  He is the perfect combination of stern regulator and fatherly figure.  He reprimands the child, sometimes to the point of red card, but then councils him and gives him a hug.  When they do get a red card (fighting, back-talking the umpire, throwing the jersey on the ground…) they cannot play again until they come to the Youth Center, with a parent, and have a long chat with the Director (and me, if I am not teaching).  My Director will turn to me and ask if I will give the child another chance.  Yes, but just one.


Seeing a guy with a whistle and a uniform, no one tries to push us out of our space, not even the Grumpy Old Men.


Yes, they were back.  We were warned, and so my Counterpart arranged to get us back into the middle school for our last two matches, so we would be off the field by 12.  This would give them plenty of time to mark their lines before 2:00.  They started at 9:00.  However, whether due to the warning by the Gendarmerie, or seeing our Umpire, they did not attack us.  They were running their ropes and machines right through the middle of the matches, but the kids just played around them.  Then last week, the Director of the school said “no more”.  So, after I combined some of the teams, in order to have one less match, to get off the field earlier, they cancelled.  The Director of this older soccer league, who was one of the founding fathers of our group, told me he would pay the 200 dirham to sponsor a team.  After I paid to have his Association name printed on the jerseys, he said he would give me a ball instead.  I said fine if it was a new one, like the ones his team uses.  Instead, he delivered a useless ball that will not even bounce.  AKKK!


“And then there were none”, this last Saturday, there was not one single coach over the age of 11, though I did have two on Sunday.  One of my coaches is there every week, but then leaves at his team’s time.  He bought a new car and is now spending a lot of his time driving very slowly through the neighborhoods, selling eggs from the back of the car.  Another of my former coaches has really been a problem.  He quit the little kids, asking to be changed to an older team.  I agreed, but after a week, he was refusing them and trying to get the same little ones to play with him, instead of practicing with their team.  He spends his time running from team to team, stealing the ball, during practice and yes, I have lost my cool.  Now, I just try to keep saying “God bless you” no matter what he does.  It is the best I can manage.


Last week a lot more kids than usual were expecting to play, even though they missed practice.  4 of them even showed up, signed in, left without a single jumping jack, left, and then tried to convince me they were practiced.


Kids fall down a lot, as they really play seriously.  Mind you, our field is gravel and dirt covered cement.  You can imagine what they look like, and the scrapes they get.  Well, after I doctored up one that was pretty messed up, now they all come to me with the tiniest scrape.  They just love gritting their teeth when I put the antiseptic, and love getting a Band-Aid (which yes, I apply even when it is not needed and will fall off 2 minutes later).


Three more weeks of play, then our awards ceremony.  I have my work cut out for me between now and then.