Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
19 To 19
by Carol Howard
My friend Lisa's 8-year-old twin daughters made up a cheer for their soccer games: "1, 2, 3, 4, we don't care about the score." I suspect some of their teammates—-and their parents-—weren't thrilled with the cheer. Mr. Fricke would have approved, though.
In the lakeside summers of my childhood, Mr. Fricke was coach, umpire, ballplayer, and magician. His particular brand of magic took the form of conjuring up nightly games of softball from players of mixed ages, genders, and abilities, in which everyone could shine and everyone had a good time. My 5-year-old sister felt herself an integral part of the team. So did my 23-year-old uncle, a six-foot-three, powerfully muscled college athlete who could belt the ball clear past center field and into the tennis court that lay beyond.
Good sportsmanship was required, but rules tended to be flexible. There were no called strikes or balls. Little kids got extra swings and were given considerable leeway in making it to base, while hotshot older players could show off with homeruns, diving catches, and double plays. All of it was valued.
At the end of each game, Mr. Fricke announced that the score was 18 to 18 or 19 to 19 or, occasionally, 21 to 21. I don't know if anyone ever actually counted runs, but the thought never occurred to me. Points were not the point.
Mr. Fricke died a few years ago, but the old softball field lives on. My sister and I went back for a visit and saw a plaque posted on the backstop proclaiming it the "W.W. Fricke ‘Coach' Memorial Field" and outlining his philosophy: "Participation, Effort, Enthusiasm, and Sportsmanship. When applied properly, everybody wins, 19 to 19."
I don't know what else Mr. Fricke did in life. But I know that he gave a true gift to the 20 or 30 kids who came under his spell those summers. Whatever we have done since, each of us knows in our heart that winning isn't everything, that the final score isn't the point of playing, that you don't have to beat someone else to come out ahead.
Carol Howard is the author of Dolphin Chronicles (Bantam Books, 1996). She works at Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing and is a member of the Feckless WOE writing group. She tries (not necessarily successfully) to remember E.L. Doctorow's wise words: Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.
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