Dedication to the Max

Watching school-age hockey players takes a special breed of parent.

Having been around youth sports almost all my life, I thought I had seen my share of dedicated parents. To be honest, I thought I was near the top of the list. That is, until a couple of weeks ago.

Over the years, I've spent thousands of hours watching my kids practice and play sports. They are the absolute best times of my life. At different times, my son has played football, basketball, soccer, baseball and volleyball, has participated in track and field and even has a brown belt in karate. My daughter is pretty much the same, except add softball (she actually also played Little League baseball for a while) and substitute folklorico dance for karate (both involve lots of kicking).

I took my daughter to volleyball tournaments that literally lasted days. Hundreds of teams and thousands of players jammed into gyms, with parents sitting on the floor or standing up against the wall or in doorways. I learned very early on to bring lots of two things: water (or soda) and reading material. I could polish off two books during a tournament, easy.

The thing is, you have to remain always available but never obtrusive. You never know when you're going to be called upon to make a run to the store for Wheat Thins and E-Z Cheese. Or, after a bad game, your kid might want to come up in the bleachers and sit next you and not talk for 20 minutes or so.

Volleyball teams will play a game, then rest a game (while other teams play), then ref a game (keeping score, doing linesmen duties, etc.) while still other teams play. This saves on officiating costs and causes incredibly uncomfortable moments when the rectum-like parents in attendance (and there are always at least a few) begin yelling at kids from other teams because of a call that is made.

All in all, volleyball parents have it pretty easy. Sure, the gyms can get hot and sweaty at times, but at least you're indoors, and the threat of skin cancer is relatively low. There is, of course, the ever-present smell of feet, sweat and Gatorade. (I'm told that the latter two have basically the same chemical composition; therefore, neither is worth $1.79 a quart.)

Softball parents, while they must brave the hot summer sun, have it equally easy. They all have lawn chairs and umbrellas, suntan lotion and coolers full of liquid refreshment. Pitching pretty much takes over the sport after the players reach about age 12, so parents can bring laptops, magazines and even do their nails without having to worry about missing much. Every now and then, they can look up when their kid is batting and shout words of encouragement like, "Great job, sweetie. You almost got a little bit of a piece of that one."

Baseball parents are about the same as softball parents, except, for some reason, they tend to burp more.

I don't really want to talk about soccer parents except to say, "NO, IT'S NOT!"

Anyway, I thought I had seen every kind of sports parent there was. Then came the revelation. It was like being immersed in freezing water. Almost literally.

There's a kid who plays on my basketball team named Becca Mandel. Great kid. Mom's a doctor; dad's a doctor, so naturally, Becca is a hockey player. The kid's about 5 foot nothin' which is why I nicknamed her "Stretch."

Over the past couple years, she has played on several different club hockey teams--junior girls, junior boys, adult women, coed adult. Apparently, she's quite good and has a decent shot at achieving her dream of playing hockey in college.

A couple weeks ago, on a night when we didn't have a basketball game, I drove across town to the Gateway Ice Center to watch her play hockey. She was playing on a team with a bunch of boys from a local high school.

I was uncomfortable the moment I stepped into the Gateway arena. Granted, I had on shorts, but I also had on two T-shirts and a heavy, long-sleeved, hooded sweatshirt, not to mention several layers of adipose tissue that I carry around for just such an emergency. I understand that a room with an ice floor is going to be cold, but this was totally uncalled for.

There were a few people seated on some metal bleachers. I thought about sitting down, but then I remembered that scene in A Christmas Story with the kid's tongue and the pole. If the back of my shorts were even a little bit wet when I sat down, that could lead to the most embarrassing moment of my life ... EVER!

I decided to stand way off to the side, but then some woman in the bleachers yelled at me that I was in her sightlines, whatever that means. I was going to yell back at her, but I realized that my lips were frozen together. For a brief instant, I was concerned that I might also have frozen snot trails like Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels had when they entered Aspen in Dumb and Dumber, but then I thought, "Who cares? Maybe it'll help protect me from the cold."

One of my other players, Cami, had gone to see Stretch play, and she asked me a question. When I tried to answer, it just came out like the dentist-chair gibberish that results from Novocain. I looked in the stands, and I realized that the people didn't even seem to notice the cold. And it's not like they were dressed for a re-make of Ice Station Zebra. Sweaters and jackets, but no gloves or parkas. These people are insane!

I went outside into the freezing rain and felt myself slowly starting to warm up. God, I hope neither one of my kids sees that Miracle movie and then decides they want to try hockey.

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