Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Winning is oftentimes hollow. The sting of losing is eventually transient. And every once in a while the playing of a game creates a texture out of time that we are able to stroke comfortingly so long in our memories that the outcome of the game is rendered insignificant.
These are games that mean more than the few hours of infinity they occupy. They occur when the crux of an era arrives, the momentum of which amplifies the intensity not only in that of the players of the game, but the entire indefinable substance of it. The most unforgettable games are those preordained to provide central moments for both teams engaged. Yes, there will be other big moments, but they will have to wait to ride the crests of different waves.
The truth in this is not guaranteed in big-time, big-money, high-profile events. It happened last week in our small town in a new game that few in the stands fully understand. The Aspen High School girls played Grand Junction in a game of lacrosse in what amounted to a league championship, and which nudged girls into becoming women of character and strength.
• • • •
Waiting for the meeting of captains at midfield to end, the air seems to move with purpose as the light carefully choreographs shadows which it will move across the field over the next couple of hours.
What takes place when the ball is finally put into play is ecstasy swapped for anticipation. Aspen scores first, quickly. Grand Junction answers as fast. Someone in the stands chuckles nervously that the final score might be twenty to nineteen. The possibility hangs like the sun in the sky and nobody dares touch it.
1-1 … 9-9, 9-10, 9-11, 10-11, 11-11, 12-11, 13-11, 13-12, 13-13. … It’s not the clock winding down. It’s the unsolvable-until-the-end algorithm of the score counting up to something big, imaginable but not wholly considered, that makes the final moments of a close game nearly unendurable, and addictive. Moment by moment we evaluate every conceivable outcome, the clock eliminating them by ticks until only two possibilities remain.
That is the essence of sport that allows us to tolerate all the tinny thin games over the years that are decided too early with nothing on the line other than what we can manufacture from post-game chit-chat over slices of pizza and the accumulation of trophies that are much lighter than they look. This is not two hours condensed into a moment. It is more like years of dedication that are put to the test in an instant that everyone saw coming as soon as the whistle to begin this game was blown.
The clock continues to unwind and with 30 seconds to go many in the stands wonder aloud how overtime is played in lacrosse. How do you break a tie? There is a scuffle for the ball at midfield and a Grand Junction player comes away with it and rushes down the field. Aspen’s defense catches her and squeezes her out from the dangerous zone in front of the net. Play works its way to the far corner of the field, to the goalies right. 5, 4, 3, 2 … 1
As the horn sounds a Grand Junction player fires a desperation shot as both teams appear to stop and begin the preparation for overtime. As with every other thing in sight seemingly animate throughout the entire game, the ball isn’t fooled and feels no compulsion to die now. It finds the corner of the net on a bounce.
Stunned silence spreads over the field as if bursting through a hastily constructed dam of hope as the cloaked Unimaginable sheds its disguise and reveals itself as Reality. The crowd forgets to breath. The players hold their positions. It can’t be over like that, can it?
The referees look at each other, then at the ball in the back of the net, then at the players surrounding them, then back at each other. Like a shy child walking across a school stage not knowing what to do with her arms, one official motions to the other that the player’s hands were in the act of shooting before the buzzer. The other official acknowledges this as true.
But, the rules say the ball needs to be in the net before the buzzer sounds! Regardless, with the preponderance of confusion filling the void caused by the absence of ESPN-age technology to solve the problem decisively, the play stands, almost mocking the merits of what the referees thought they saw and understood, and what the crowd had little idea about. It’s another layer in the thickness of the intangible material of lore that will cover and preserve the afternoon now growing cold.
You can feel the hand of Providence rub across the rich fabric of this game, against its grain. It will come back across in time to smooth it back down, but for now the richness feels bristly and, ironically, even richer.
On one side are tears of sadness, on the other those of joy; but all tears for now are real, the product of battle hard fought. It’s a release from the tension, a manifestation of frustration, and also the sadness for the end of a brief but intensely lived period of time that can’t be repeated and that none wanted to end in spite of it trying the limits of physical and emotional endurance.
The wave has passed. From this point on one team’s dreams are replaced with expectations and the other teams expectations peppered with doubt. The heart of this rivalry beats at a different cadence. It is a new era.
• • • •
Without a doubt, girls, it would have been great to win this game. But someday, long after you’ve played your last game of lacrosse, maybe while you watch your own children playing their own games, time will fall back as bits and pieces of this game come like a dream. You won’t trade it for a dozen completely forgotten games won by 10 goals apiece when that happens, even if you could. Then you will be in privileged company knowing that winning really isn’t everything and how you play the game is.
Be proud. Find joy in the richness. Never forget that spring afternoon. It was a beautiful thing. Thank you for the gift.
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2020 couldn’t care less about your summer, fall, wedding or 30th birthday plans. Unless you own an island, enjoy a lack of hygiene or have New Zealand citizenship, your trip will — or hopefully should — account for the ’Rona.