Hessel: Sports are not a matter of life and death

I hate sports.

I think professional athletes are grossly overpaid. I think people who watch sports and don’t play any are lazy. I don’t have Fanatics tickets.

Blasphemy, I know.

But before you decry me as a hater, listen to the story of a little girl who just wanted to have fun but was disheartened by a sports system that refused to let that happen.

I fell in love with soccer in third grade. During recess my teacher, Mrs. Busch, would play soccer with my classmates. I decided to try it out because she was playing, and I thought she was the coolest. I had never seen any other teachers play during recess.

And she was good! She was able to run past all those “hotshot” boys. Looking back, that might have had something to do with her being at least three feet taller than all of them, but, at the time, that didn’t matter.

As it turned out, soccer was fun.

My proudest moment that year was on the field. I was playing defense and managed to get the ball away from one of the best boys out there. He was an annoying, arrogant punk.

One of the tomboys in my class ran past me, cheering me on for “dissing” him like that. I hadn’t learned what a “diss” was yet, but boy did I feel cool.

I joined the Carle Place Soccer Club in New York, where I played until I got too old for the league. I loved being out there protecting the goal – whether as a goalie or a defender. I was an immovable wall, striking fear into my opponents as I dared them to get around me.

That’s how I’ve decided to remember it, at least.

I loved soccer so much that I became a referee for the younger kids. I spent my first job running after mini terrors, hoping I wouldn’t mess up any complicated calls or get yelled at by crazy soccer moms.

I was stoked when asked to try out for the traveling team. I had made it to the big leagues. But alas, they couldn’t get enough girls to join the team. I was the only one ready to dedicate her after school hours to the beautiful game.

I would go on to play for my middle school team and join the high school lacrosse team for two years, but it wasn’t the same. It became too serious. I remember being at the first lacrosse meeting and being told by the captains that lacrosse needed to be our number one priority and missing practice was unacceptable.

Although I thought sports were fun, I knew they weren’t that important. There were no other options for a kid who just wanted to have a good time and kick the ball around.

So, I quit.

I put my lacrosse stick and soccer gear in a bucket with the rest of my family’s forsaken sports equipment and forgot about the athlete inside me.

But this year I was crazy enough to join two intramural sports teams – soccer and inner tube water polo.

It seemed like a good idea at the time – hang out with friends and play like you’re a kid again. Yet before each game, I became nervous and doubted myself. I fretted about embarrassing myself as I suddenly remembered why I hated wearing a swimsuit in public.

Then, the whistle blew, and the games began. I ran my heart out on the field and flailed my arms like a maniac in the pool. We won both games, and although I wasn’t close to being the MVP for either one, I did my part without humiliating myself.

Most importantly, I had fun. I remembered why 10-year-old Kaellen wanted to be Mia Hamm.

Sports aren’t matters of life and death to some of us. For people like me, they are a way to have a good time and enjoy time with my friends.

So die-hards, keep yelling at the games on TV as if your voice will magically make your team play better. I’ll be making a fool of myself twice a week.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.