It has been said that a definition of good character is doing the
right thing when no one is looking. But once in a while, a sign of good
character is doing the right thing when everyone is watching.
The scene was a soccer tournament at Costa Mesa High School on Dec.
29. It had been raining on and off, mostly on, all day and the 8 a.m.
games were played on fields that were barely playable. As the day wore
on, the fields wore out.
The afternoon series of games were scheduled to begin in a very steady
rain that had turned the fields into mud pits. As I watched our morning
game wind down, it occurred to me that the people in charge needed
something to think about.
But before I approached them, I first spoke to my daughter.
"I am about to do something that is not going to be very popular," I
said, "But I want you to know why I am doing it."
I explained the situation to her, and she understood. Then I walked
off to approach the first set of authorities.
"I'm sorry to be a stick in the mud, no pun intended," I told these
two people, "But in my opinion, this field is not safe to play on."
I don't know how to describe the reaction except to say that I could
have knocked either of them over with a feather. They looked at me as
perfectly as the proverbial deer in headlights -- positively stunned.
And they said nothing.
That was my cue.
"I've been coaching soccer or baseball, mostly baseball, for the past
six years," I said. "And we've always been told by league officials that
it's safety first, safety first. In my opinion, this field is not safe."
The deer did not blink or move, so I did. I approached the referee (or
is it an umpire?) who had been officiating the morning game and was now
looking for a dry place to wring out his clothes.
"Who do I speak to about the condition of this field?" I asked.
Without a beat, he replied, "This field is not safe to play on."
With that, I exhaled, fortified in my quest to bring sanity to the
contest. Just then, another umpire (referee?) walked by and said, "This
field is not safe." Score one for the AYSO umperees.
One of the two people I first approached then walked over to a dry
area to call some higher up who had the power to continue the tournament
or pull the plug. In a couple of minutes, the decision came back: "All
the fields are being shut down for the weekend."
My daughter had already gathered her things, and we started to leave,
getting a head start on the rest of the crowd for, as I told her, whether
the game was going to be played was irrelevant -- she was not going to be
The decision to close the fields seems to have been made before the
call on the cell phone. But I am concerned that things had already gotten
way out of hand before word trickled down. The fact is, any number of
people present that day could have called a halt to the games and
protected the kids. An umperee could have done it, a coach on any team
could have refused to play, citing unsafe conditions, or enough parents
could have mobilized and asked that the game be called.
But no one did. The umperees who confided in me had no intention of
calling time on the mud bowl, none of the coaches stepped forward, and
until I spoke not a single parent raised an eyebrow.
The little picture is the soccer tournament and the muddy field and
the game. The big picture is that there was a breakdown, a complete
collapse in the most important element of anyone in charge of our
children. That day, safety and common sense took a back seat to playing a
This is not about soccer or AYSO, so please don't write in about the
game or the organization. The lesson here is that more and more, parents
are not sufficiently intervening in their kids' lives.
Whether it's trusting movie makers or the theater owners, television
producers, magazine publishers, coaches or any of the other people or
organizations to whom or to which parents hand over the care and feeding
of our children, they simply cannot assume that others have the same
level of interest in our children that they have in their own homes.
Most parents know instinctively when something is wrong, but too many
do not act on their belief out of fear of reprisals or of being
ostracized. But parents need to ask the tough, unpopular questions and
stick their necks out when that little internal warning signal goes off
in their heads.
Here's to mud in your eye.
* STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and freelance writer. Readers
may leave a message for him on the Daily Pilot hotline at (949) 642-6086.