Truck Stop Jugglers

Truck Stop Jugglers

As you can see in the photo, the brainwashing of Izzy is nearly complete. If you ask her to spell Georgia, she does it in the same cadence as the Bulldog fans. She turned down a birthday party invitation to go watch the Gym Dogs. All that’s left is to wean her off of that dang stuffed alligator she’s so attached to. We may have to accidentally leave it at Chick Fil-A.

Believe it or not, I’m actually the idiot that bought that gator for her. It was an hour before her first visit to Athens and I wanted to have a present for her upon arrival and I knew she loved stuffed animals. I was scrambling through Wal-Mart and the dang thing was the first one I saw and it looked cute so I bought it for her without thinking and of course Izzy immediately fell in love with it. I don’t think her affection was because it was an alligator, but because it was a gift from me. I really could have gotten her any animal. Heck, I probably would have given her a piece of PVC pipe and she would have been thrilled. But no, I had to go and get the kid a gator. Because it’s not tough enough just to be the new kid in town. Nope. Be the new kid in Athens carrying around an alligator. Great way to make friends. By the time I realized my mistake we had reached a point of irreversible devotion. Fantastic.

Anyway, let’s talk about March Madness. What an understatement. First there was the Rutgers v St. John’s fiasco where three officials decided to clock out a few seconds early, because ya know, it was a week night. That was a pretty good indicator of how the rest of my March would go. Like every other self-respecting sports fan, I dutifully filled out my brackets, and before the Sweet 16 teams were finalized, I was in last place – in the world. It took all of three hours for my brackets to have more red Xs than the annual father-son tic-tac-toe tournament at the Politburo. I mean Morehead State? Really? But to be fair, that was hardly the root of my demise. Fact of the matter is that I’m just not very good at this prediction thing. I predicted Y2K would occur in June of 1998, so you see my point. I’m hoping next year will ring in the creation of the Bracket Quik-Pick at the Gas-n-Go and I’ll be spared the humiliation. Pay a dollar and the computer randomly generates your brackets. Get all 63 games right plus the play-ins and the Mega-Plier and you win a dream date with Gene Keady and the DVD collection of Everybody Loves Raymond Season 1.

Speaking of predicitions…

I had to laugh at the beating Rex Ryan took from the talking heads at ESPN for predicting that the JETS would win the Super Bowl. Why you ask? No, not because JETS and Super Bowl almost never collide in the same sentence. But because of all the prognostication we’ve gotten from anyone who has shown his face on ESPN over the past ten years. Apparently you must be on the ESPN payroll to wax prophetic. Ten minutes before the Ryan segment aired a couple of suits were predicting the finishing order of the NFC West… a division that wouldn’t play its first game for another five months... you know… if there was going to actually be a season! They were making predictions months before preseason had even begun for a sport that is currently engaged in a lockout. Is this really the right time for NFL predictions? Wasn’t the Super Bowl like last week? But RexyesRex is the idiot. SportsCenter used to be a ‘reporting’ show that recapped the day’s events and previewed upcoming games. Now it’s 1/3 highlights and 2/3 call Ms. Cleo - because I’d rather listen to John Clayton’s never-ending quest for an invitation to sit with the cool kids than see every great goal, check and save from a night in the NHL. But when an active head coach has the audacity to make a prediction, it’s unprofessional. You see the irony of this one? And by the way, wasn’t John Clayton the scientist on the Muppets?

But the capper to all this madness – the award winner for Head and Shoulders Above Absurd goes to Chad Ochocinco and his MLS tryout with the Kansas City Desperation. Have you seen the video of this? Well then don’t. I mean, ugh. Just ugh. It’s literally painful to watch. Carnival stunts aren’t what our sport needs right now. Or ever. However, since what’s done is done, I’m inclined to believe the NFL owes us one. How about a little quid-pro-quochocinco? My suggestion? David Beckham plays one game as punt returner for the Bengals and the fair-catch rule is suspended. Who’s with me on this?

On the bright side, buried deep inside your newspaper occupying two column inches beneath the fold, Charlie Davies had a triumphant return to professional soccer by netting two for D.C. United the other night. How about we join the media in keeping that little secret to ourselves? Any other country in the world and that is front page news. In the U.S…. well, is anyone really surprised? Nah. Me neither.

Okay… The Dawgs travelled to Knoxville this weekend for a doubleheader of spring matches against Tennessee and UNC-G. That sounds a lot easier than you might expect. Let’s rewind to Friday. For whatever reason, our bus company decides to make a late switch on our bus, so the bus that picks us up is low on gas. Thirty minutes north of Athens we pull over for fuel – something that never would have happened if not for the late vehicle switch. As he’s gassing us up, our driver, Jeff, dutifully checks the tires and discovers that our rear left tire has a gash in it about 20 inches long, half an inch wide and deep enough to be a serious health risk. Our bus is grounded. We aren’t going anywhere without a new tire. Fortunately we’re already at a truck stop, so massive tires are practically in abundance. Unfortunately, we’re fourth in line for service behind some 18-wheelers and being a Bulldog doesn’t carry much weight here so we have t wait our turn.

Making lemonade out of our lemons, we decide to enjoy a beautiful day at Truckstop America. Some of the girls relaxed and caught some rays. A few studied. And some of us broke off into groups for a one-touch juggling competition. Let’s be clear on this… the coaching staff was undefeated in this particular endeavor during the fall and much to the dismay of the players, we successfully retained our title once again . The trio of Pollock, Powell and Eddy came in a distant second. And if you were wondering how to bring a truck stop to a screeching halt, show up with twenty-some college girls. I saw one guy pumping gas for twenty straight minutes – and he was driving a Civic.

The unscheduled stop threw our ETA for a loop and by the time we got to Knoxville our 4 hour trip had taken 7 hours and I was ready for some shut-eye.

On Saturday we squared off with Tennessee at 10 A.M. and decided to experiment a little bit. We’ve been focusing a lot on possession this spring so we decided to stretch ourselves a little bit. So we put the team under a restriction. For the first five minutes we weren’t allowed to score. All we were allowed to do was keep the ball.

This is not an uncommon restriction toward the end of a game in which you’re absolutely clobbering an inferior opponent by seven or eight goals. To spare them on the scoreboard, a coach may institute some type of keep-away rule. But this was not some schmoe of a team. This was the Volunteers. And we weren’t doing it at the end of the game, we were doing it right from the start. So how did it work?

Well, it actually worked way better than we anticipated. We started the game with a 16-pass run and for the vast majority of the first five minutes we played an exceptional game of keep-away. We took away the restriction after five minutes but our rhythm had been established and a great tone had been set and a few minutes later Ashley Miller took a pass from Pollock and drilled it into the upper corner from 22 yards to stake us to a 1-0 lead. And then, for whatever reason, we decided to stop doing what had made us successful and the game became fairly ragtag – which exactly what we said would happen if we stopped possessing the ball.

UT equalized from a corner five minutes later and then two minutes after that they went ahead 2-1 on another corner. That was all the scoring the game offered and we had suffered our first defeat of the spring. Tennessee worked hard, and fair play to them for the result. And frankly, a little kick in the backside may do us some good. Spring Break ended last Sunday and despite their physical presence in Athens, I’m not sure everyone actually made it back. Our heads haven’t been exactly right since before the break. Training has been erratic. We’ve looked a little complacent and Tennessee made us pay for it.

The one truly bright spot for us was Ashley Miller who is just a joy to watch when she’s on form. Miller is as smooth as they come and feels the game on an instinctive level. As coaches are wont to say, she just gets it. Miller’s goal was a peach, but her entire body of work was equally alluring.

Miller’s encore performance in the matinee against UNC-Greensboro was no less sensational. She danced through a trio of Spartan defenders before poking a shot past the goalkeeper to open the scoring. Nicole Locandro finished at the near post off a low cross from Holly Tomlinson to double our lead and we went into half-time up 2-0 and playing very well.

Injuries have left us a little thin up top, so as with Kennesaw State, Torri and Chewy saw some time as forwards. On the bus ride up I told Torri she might play a little up top and she said her dad would be excited, as Torri’s parents were making the trip down from Virginia. Midway through the second half, Locadro’s pass slipped Torri in behind the Greensboro defense. Torri outraced the field before side-stepping the keeper and passing into an empty net to cap off the scoring.

We felt a lot better about the way we played in the second match. We were a lot more patient and disciplined and kept the ball for long stretches. Most importantly, once we had the lead we didn’t abandon our style. We won 3-0 and looked pretty good doing it.

On the bus ride home we watched the U.S. men square off with Argentina in the Meadowlands. Argentina’s performance was simply sublime. It’s one of those games where, if you didn’t see it, I can’t possibly convey how amazing it was to see a team so adept at passing and moving and keeping the ball in tight spaces. It really was an honor to watch, and I haven’t said that very often in this lifetime.

The game was made even better by a gutty American comeback fueled by a youth movement to draw level and even create a couple of chances to go ahead. In the end the U.S. can draw satisfaction in a 1-1 tie with one of the world’s very best teams.

Hey! Don’t go yet! On Tuesday we’re going to play against a professional team! Yep, Tuesday night at 7 P.M. the Atlanta Beat of the WPS is coming to Athens. Admission is free so you should come out and be loud and root for the Dawgs. Hope to see you there.

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March Gladness

March Gladness

Congrats to the Georgia Bulldogs for getting a bid to March Madness! We’re probably the only bubble team that would be a top four seed if the basketball games were five minutes shorter. Hopefully we’ll continue our run of great starts and add a dash of close-the-door finishes. Women’s basketball is also dancing, so congrats to them, too! And while we’re at it, congrats to our softball and women’s swimming teams which are both ranked #1 in the nation. I guess the equestrian team isn’t really pulling its weight these days as they only check in at the nation’s #2 spot. Men’s tennis is ranked 9thwhile their female counterparts are ranked 11th. And the uber-dynasty that is the Georgia Gym Dogs rounds things out with the #8 national ranking. All in all, not a bad week for the Dawgs.

Izzy is a HUGE fan of the Gym Dogs, so I’ve been to a few of their meets and I gotta tell you, I’m completely blown away. I mean it’s just completely amazing! Talk about a show! When those girls come out of the tunnel through the smoke and the music is blasting and the lights are flashing and the student section is going bananas, well, it’s downright electric! It’s more than enough to give a soccer coach chill-bumps. And that’s all before their bodies start hurtling through Stegeman Coliseum like shiny red kernels of human popcorn.

I’m absolutely fascinated by the Gym Dogs. At Georgia they are total rock stars. I mean I knew nothing about gymnastics aside from that Olympic girl Mary Lou Hoo who vaulted over Mount Krumpet or something. Now I’m an avid counter, in hundredths of a point increments, and a hawk for deductions in the opponent’s routines. And to be fair, I sometimes find myself secretly hoping an opponent will… you know… fall. Okay, okay. Don't judge. I’m not looking for injuries. Just deductions. It’s all about deductions you see.

It took a few meets for me to figure out this newfound fascination, and then one night, as Cassidy McComb was blasting off the vault like NASA had launched her, it finally occurred to me… these girls are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to super heroes. I mean think about it. They’re freakishly strong – they can all lift like 72 times their own body weight; they can do more pull-ups than I can do toe-taps; they can climb pretty much any wall that isn’t coated in butter; and best of all, they can jump as if immune to gravity. And oh yeah, they’re completely fearless. I mean think about the pure absurdity of some of their exercises. Okay, I nominate the balance beam. On my honor I couldn’t walk from one end of that thing to the other without falling. Meanwhile, these girls just jump right up, do a complete back-flip and land right where they started. That thing isn't made out of goose down you know. It takes some serious courage to give that one a whirl. What prize nutter came up with that idea? If a coach ever told me to do a flip and land on an elevated piece of wood the size of bread loaf I would respond with a convincing, “I don’t reckon.” But these amazing, shiny, monkey-people do all that and more.

Can you imagine what it’s like to be a gymnast? They can be standing in line at the AM/PM and just do a back-flip without thinking twice about it. How cool is that! If I could do what they do I don’t know that I would ever just walk anywhere. I would totally abuse my powers. Want to watch me do front handsprings across this row of desks? Hold my Coke. I’d sleep on light poles and do somersaults over parked cars. I’d hang from ceiling fans like a bat. I’d be a total menace to society. Ah… If I only had the power of the Gym Dog.

As for Izzy, well, I think she just likes the costumes.

In other news… I’ve picked the top three for American Idol so you can just stop watching for a few weeks. The three finalists will be Casey, Jacob and Pia, with Casey edging out Pia in the finale.

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There is so much talent on that show this year it’s spectacular. James Durbin is my dark horse pick. I’m also holding out hope for our Georgia Peach, Lauren, but I fear that she may be just a bit outmatched in a field so deep. Pity. (Get it? About the peach???)

And when I start talking about American Idol and making peach pit jokes it means I’m tired and getting punchy so let’s just call it a night.

Go Dawgs!

The Beat Monkeys

The Beat Monkeys

Today I asked Izzy what she learned about in school. She told me that her class was studying the middle ages. I’m big on history so I thought that was pretty cool. I asked for more detail. Well, apparently they talked a lot about a king named William the Carpenter. Yep.

I should have mentioned this a couple of entries ago, but a new coach has joined our staff. Athens native and all around good guy Jon Harvey is now the Georgia Bulldogs’ goalkeeping coach. When Nooj left for UNC-G, we quickly poached Jon from his assistant coaching gig at North Georgia College and no one is more thankful for that than me. It’d been a long, long time since I did any goalkeeper training and I was coming perilously close to reassuming that role.

Shortly after Jon’s arrival we introduced him to the Monkey of the Day theory. Like many upon the MOD introduction, Jon was initially skeptical. But monkeys won’t be denied. On Jon’s first day on staff he was walking through campus and sure enough, on the wall of the Continuing Education building, he saw a picture of a monkey on a palm tree. He looked in disbelief. Other sightings followed in short order. Jon is now a believer.

Personally, I still can’t get over the MOD. I mean they really are everywhere. And sometimes, when I can’t find them, it’s like they find me. Last week we had a dinner at the Georgia Center which meant parking in the adjacent four-story garage. With the Gym Dogs hosting ‘Bama that night and whatever else was going on, the garage was pretty darn packed. But in an otherwise full row of cars I found one empty space. As I turned into it, there on the wall in front of me, someone had spray painted a monkey. I was like, you’ve got to be kidding. If that thing was painted in any other spot in the garage I never would have seen it. Instead it was right there waiting for me. Good monkey.

During the NFL playoffs I met Kate and Kevin at the Blind Pig to catch the Eagles game. When you’re with the Ks, it doesn’t take long for the topic to get around to monkeys. They’re big time MOD disciples. So we were wondering, why monkeys? Is there anything else that is prevalent enough to see each day yet only prevalent enough for you to notice once or twice a day and only if you’re paying attention. Dogs, pigs, chickens and cows are too easy. Emus too rare. Are monkeys, in fact, the perfect animal?

It occurred to me that in each of the two previous days I had seen something regarding aliens – the outer space kind – and that perhaps aliens could rival monkeys. It seemed plausible. Then, seconds later, and this is no lie, I noticed a poster over Kate’s shoulder and sure enough, there was an alien looking right back at me. Too weird. A minute later I got up and went to the bathroom. Know what poster was in there? Yep. A monkey.

Okay, I’ve gotten just a little off topic.

Jon was on board before our spring openers against South Carolina and FSU, so he already had a pair of shutouts under his belt as we headed into Saturday night’s tilt against Kennesaw State. With games so few and far between in the spring, the girls look forward to any match against an outside opponent, but the Kennesaw match had an undeniable peripheral benefit – the chance to play in the home stadium of the WPS’ Atlanta Beat.

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The Beat have an amazing venue that features 8,000 chair-back seats, a digital video board and one immaculately groomed playing surface. It’s one of the nicest soccer venues in the country. Rains kept a lot of would-be spectators away, so it was like we had this giant stadium all to ourselves.

Unlike the abbreviated matches we played last weekend, this time we were going the distance, playing two 45-minute halves. However, exactly like last weekend, it took a few minutes for the Dawgs to come to life.

Kennesaw took it to us a little bit for the first five or ten minutes, but eventually we settled into a rhythm of passing and moving and once that happened, the chances started creating themselves. The first goal started with a goal kick from Baker that found Sooz at midfield. Sooz knocked it down to Eddy who found Gibbo down the right side. Gibbo beat her defender on the dribble and then laced a low driven cross that Lex took on the full volley, turning it off the back post and into the net.

Because injuries left us a little short on attackers, we got the chance to let some of our defenders run around up front. I don’t care what level you coach at, it doesn’t matter how long someone trains to play their assigned position, no matter how many practice sessions they endure or how many hours of film they suffer through, they all want to play somewhere else. Forwards want to be goalkeepers. Goalkeepers want to be field players. And defenders want to be forwards and get their chance at scoring goals. And every once in a while, dreams do come true.

Torri moved from center back to center forward and two minutes later doubled our lead by outracing the Kennesaw defense and neatly tucking away her breakaway chance. At that moment Torri was averaging 45 goals per game. (Think about it.)

One of our training topics in the week leading into the match was overlapping to get our outside backs into the attack, and that paid off handsomely with our third goal. As part of our defender relocation program, Chewy was moved from right back to left wing. With ball at her feet and Nikki, the left back, steaming past her down the sideline, Chewy spun and threaded a pass to her overlapping cohort. Nikki picked out Nicole Locandro with her cross that Locandro popped home at the near post and we went into the intermission with a 3-0 lead.

Once we decided to keep the ball we had a pretty stellar first half. The only notable failure was when I nearly took out the KSU coaching staff with a driven ball that had them employing Matrix-like evasion techniques. But that’s another story.

The second half was much like the first. We survived KSU’s initial five-minute burst and then settled into our style, keeping the ball, stringing together long runs of possession and then watching the chances create themselves. I don’t like that it takes us so long to get going, but once we get there, it sure is pretty to watch.

We didn’t add to our total in the second half. KSU’s goalkeeper had a sensational performance to turn away chances from Lex, Nicole, Miller, Gibbo and Torri. We had one goal called back and hit the bar twice. It would have been nice to inflate the margin a little bit, but in the end it was a pretty convincing result. The shot total stood 17-6 in our favor and Baker was never tested, having to only make one pedestrian save. All in all, a good night’s work the Bulldogs.

The Coach-Parent

The Coach-Parent

Yes, it’s been quiet here lately. Part of that can be attributed to the lack of external stimuli in my soccer world as of late. And a bigger part can be attributed to the surplus of newfound stimuli in my personal life. About two months ago I had what some might call a major life event. Let’s just say that after 42 years of dodging responsibility in remarkable fashion, in December I became an adult.

You’ve heard of parent-coaches, right? They’re the parents who become coaches. They make the world of youth sports spin round. Yes, some of them are qualified. Some of them have actually played the sport they coached. But many more are just those good natured folks who volunteer because someone has to and before they know it their mini-van is packed with muddy nine-year olds, orange peels, juice boxes, three ball bags, a clipboard and whistle. They are their own brand of hero and if it were up to me they’d be honored with a paid government holiday.

Recently I’ve fallen into a new designation: the coach-parent. After a coaching career that has spanned five colleges in as many states, I recently became the proud stepdad of a frighteningly beautiful, blue-eyed six-year old girl named Izzy. I am the coach who has become a parent. Finally.

As a bachelor for 40+ years, most friends doubted that I ever gave much consideration to parenting. They were wrong. Decades ago I decided what I wanted out of parenting. More accurately, I decided what I absolutely didn’t want – a really pretty daughter. And now I am certain that God is absolutely doubled over in a fit of laughter. I didn’t just get a pretty daughter; I got a freaking model. I mean no one is going to mistake this girl for my kid. Just my luck.

A little background… I met Izzy’s mom, Beth, a few weeks before I left for my freshman year of college back in a little place I like to call the 1900s. Our families vacationed at the same campground in Myrtle Beach. Neither of us remembers precisely how we met, but I was a lot cooler back then so the possibilities are endless. Maybe she spied me rockin’ the mullet at the arcade, jammin’ a new high score on Ms. Pac Man. Maybe she was awed by my chic pipe-cleaner physique. It could just as easily have been my superior body-surfing abilities and my Jersey accent/vocabulary. Maybe I let her watch me carry around my best friend’s guitar while I espoused to being “in the band” and regaled the campground groupies with tales about life on the road.

More plausible, I marinated in the ocean for an hour and a half before working up the courage to let a seven foot wave slam me into her, accidentally of course, before apologizing profusely then bragging that I had jammed a new high score on Ms. Pac Man. However it came to pass, from that point forward I was spending the week with the prettiest girl in the campground, which gave me infinite amounts of street credit amongst the other awkward teenage yahoos that had been eyein’ her up. When Beth was off the market, they turned and walked away like a flock of dejected seagulls when the last French fry gets eaten. And I was just fine with that.

To be perfectly fair, calling Beth the prettiest girl in the campground is a lot like calling Barack Obama the most powerful man in Northern Virginia. Beth would have been the prettiest girl in pretty much any campground, playground, fairground or Ground Round. She wasn’t just pretty. She was, “What the hell is she doing with me” pretty. She was without question the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. Her eyes were downright hypnotic. And the strangest thing of all… she was CRAZY about me.

Knowing that I had a good thing going and not wanting to overplay my hand, I played it cool for the next 25 years before asking her to marry me this past fall. Okay, since we met pre-internet and pre-e-mail, back then we had to do this thing that involved a pen, an envelope and stamps for about six years. Occasionally I would make forays back down to Myrtle Beach and we would reconnect, but for the most part our relationship was of the pen-pal variety. As was typically the case in the eons that preceded the World Wide Web, the letters became less and less frequent until one day they just stopped all together. And we didn’t have a whiff of contact since 1993 when I was an assistant coach at Wheeling Jesuit.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Kid Rock releases his hit All Summer Long. Okay, I’m a big fan of that song anyway, but there’s this one line that I paid particular attention to: Sometimes I hear that song and I start to sing along and think Man I’d like to see that girl again. That line just stuck.

I think every guy has that girl. Stashed away somewhere in the not-so-deep recesses of a fond memory is that amazing girl who managed to somehow just float out of his life for no real good reason. She’s the one whose departure he’s never been totally at peace with. Beth had always been that girl for me. And although there wasn’t a lot I could recall about our times together, I clearly remembered two things: Beth was stunning and I always felt fantastic when she was around.

Back in 2007 it seemed that every soccer team in the nation had that Kid Rock song on its pre-game CD. Everywhere we played I would hear it during the warm-ups. And every time I would hear it I would decide to track down Beth. Just to see. Just…in…case.

Problem was that after that song was played in this stadium or that stadium, there were still two hours of a soccer game to be played and then a meal and a bus ride and by the time I got home or to the hotel, I had forgotten all about it. This was a reoccurring thing and each successive time I’d hear that song (and start to sing along) I’d grow a little more frustrated with my forgetfulness and promise myself that next time…

Then one day I’m recruiting up in New Jersey. I’ve spent a long day at the fields and as I’m pulling into my parking spot at the hotel, that song comes on my radio. And I hear that line. And I decide that I will fight my A.D.D. tooth and nail to remember my mission all the way up and into my room, which is where I used the power of Facebook to search for that girl.

There were about a dozen girls who shared Beth’s name in the search results. But when I saw the little thumbnail pic at the top of the page and those stunning blue eyes jumping off the screen, well… there’s just no mistaking those eyes. I recognized her in an instant. One of us hadn’t aged a day. So I sent her a message. And then I married her.

Beth and I had already decided on being married before she and Izzy moved to Athens. There was no actual proposal or announcement. It was just something we evolved to pretty quickly. Beth is every bit the beach bum that I long to be, so she was fine with the Poet Special, a skeleton package consisting of a no rings, no frills trip to the express lane at the Justice of the Peace. We weren’t longing for whistles and wedding bells. We would have been happy to do it at the ATM. But the more I thought about it, and the more I listened to my boss advise me against mailing in the effort, the more I didn’t want to entirely skate past the formalities of tradition. After all, this was a pretty big deal and I was only gonna get one pitch to hit. Beth deserved a formal proposal. Plus, I didn’t want to bury her with the hassle of explaining to her gaggle of girlfriends who’d never met me why her husband-to-be hadn’t ponied up at Jared. Besides, three decades from now when we’re having some blowout argument over where she left my Flyers snuggie, I don’t want her coming over the top with the whole, “You never even proposed to me” argument. Let’s face it, that’s the mother of all trump cards and it never gets shuffled back into the deck. Nope. I wasn’t gonna chance it. I was gonna go full Richie Cunningham. That meant buying a ring.

After a disastrous debut day of ring shopping and the realization that I had no taste and not the slightest idea of what constitutes an acceptable ring other than roundness, I made a savvy tactical decision to recruit some help. There are times when having a team full of college women at your disposal can come in real handy. Catching up on Grey’s is one. Shopping for jewelry is another. So the next afternoon Laura Eddy and Maddie Barker met me at the ring counter, gasped in horror at my initial selection, then promptly picked out a beautiful ring that they were certain would knock Beth’s socks off. So I bought it. And I was promptly paralyzed by the thought of losing it.

I can’t explain the wave of emotions that was overwhelming me once that ring was in my hand, but it was pretty intense. The thing was worth more than the Jeep when it was still running and it was the perfect size for me to lose in no time at all. I was terrified of leaving in the shopping cart. I asked the girls to walk around the store with me for a few minutes just so I could calm my nerves. Suddenly everything in my life revolved around one idea: Don’t lose the ring!

I was overcome with paranoia. I was suddenly suspiciousof everyone who crossed my path. It’s like they all knew I had this pricey jewel and they were just waiting for their chance to snatch it. My eyes darted across the parking lot as I exited the store. On the drive home I became a secret agent behind enemy lines. I kept one eye on the rear view mirror, switching lanes for no reason whatsoever, looking for a tail. Once safely back inside my house I searched for an adequate hiding spot which would undoudtedly pose another daunting problem. Hiding a diamond ring is no job for a guy on the A.D.D. bonus plan. Once I chose a hiding spot it was basically a coin flip about whether or not I would remember said spot. It was entirely possible that in a matter of a week I would be talking to police officers about a ring that I think was maybe stolen although I couldn’t be positive about remembering exactly where I had hidden it. Yes, officers. Yes, you heard that correctly. I can't be certain it's been stolen, but I have a feeling it was. So I left myself a series of cryptic notes – notes that weren’t too descriptive, consisting mainly of symbols and stick figures and a doodle of Chaka Khan. The notes needed to be vague, in case they fell into the wrong hands. And again I feared that even I wouldn’t be able to decipher the clues I was leaving for myself. I couldn’t believe that something small enough for me to swallow was causing so much stress. Finally I just refused to be consumed by the worry. I made peace with the fact that I was probably going to lose the ring and even if I did, life would still go on.

Beth and Izzy moved in on December 20th. I officially proposed on a snowy Christmas Eve out on the back deck. Mainly because I figured it would be an easy date to remember. Plus, we’d been unpacking boxes for five straight days and it was the first real chance I had. And honestly, I was still petrified of losing that ring and figured the safest place for it was on Beth’s finger. Beth’s parents were staying with us and while Beth was in the shower I made my first all-in move of the night. I needed to get Beth’s parents together in the same room. Her dad was an easy mark, relaxing on the sofa watching some television, digesting. Nothing was gonna move him. But Beth’s mom… the woman wouldn’t sit still. She was always cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. My kitchen counter was already shinier than an ice sculpture and she was applying a third coat of Pine Sol. I tried waiting her out. I was certain she would lose steam and join us in front of the TV, but the woman was like Hazel on Red Bull and Beth’s shower wasn’t going to last forever and I was working with an imminent deadline. Fearing I could wait no longer, I went proactive and asked her to take a break for a minute. She looked at me with momentary suspicion but quickly relented. Once I talked the sponge out of her hand and got her into the living room, I jumped back into the kitchen. I steadied myself with a deep, deep breath, then returned to the living room and handed her dad a beer. I said, “Here, you might need this.” Then I said that if it was okay with them, I’d officially like to propose to their daughter. They were delighted. It was a very cool moment.

As much as we may have enjoyed a traditional wedding amongst family and friends, we needed function over form. We needed to get Izzy on my health insurance ASAP which meant a trip to the Justice of the Peace. Well, in our case, a very nice judge in probate court.

Our wedding date was set for January 10th. Yes, a Monday. The 10thcoincided nicely with the biggest snowfall Athens had seen in decades. The irony was lost on no one. My best friend, Scott, who lives in California, texted me on the 11thto see if I was married. I told him we got snowed out. He asked how I made it snow.

Funny guy, that Scott.

Two weeks later, despite another forecast for heavy snow (Really?), Beth and I made our way to the courthouse. The judge was fabulous and kind and a lot more serious about the ceremony than either of the people who were about to commit to a lifetime of togetherness. He immediately stressed the importance of the commitment we were about to make and asked how long we had been together. This had all the earmarks of a disaster, so remembering something I’d heard in a marketing class about telling the best possible truth, I told him we’d been on and off for 25 years. That seemed to appease him and the ceremony commenced.

Steve served as my best man. Julie and the kids attended. As did Dee. It felt weird not to have at least one soccer player at my wedding. To be fair, there are probably a hundred or so I would have loved to invite from all my stops along the way, but that just wasn’t realistic. So I decided to deputize Dee as the embodiment of all the wonderful players who’ve been such a big part of my life. I couldn’t think of a better person to represent all the players who I wished were there.

And finally, there was Izzy. Izzy watched the ceremony from the judge’s chair, gavel in hand, waiting for the high sign to make the proceeding official with a loud wooden bang.

I wish I could have kept my composure. I really do. It just wasn’t going to happen. Have you ever been in church when something struck you as funny and you started to laugh? And the harder you try not to laugh the harder you actually do laugh? Yeah, that was me. It was a disaster. The whole time I tried to distract myself by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance backwards in my head and breathing out of my eyeballs. Thankfully I held it together just long enough to say, “I do.” Izzy banged the gavel, I kissed the bride, and just like that we were ‘til death do us part. And I was a dad.

Naturally that scared the bejeezes out of me. I mean of all the things you really don’t want to screw up, being a parent has to be near the top of the list. But I was convinced that 20 years of coaching had given me a leg up on anyone else who could have stood in my shoes. For starters, I wasn’t going to be the push-over dad. And I’m not. I refuse to be Izzy’s campaign manager and her on-call rescuer. I remind myself that I’m not raising a kid, I’m raising an adult. When she tries to get her way by batting those big baby blues, I flat out tell her it won’t work. I remind her of exactly what it is I do for a living and tell her that girls have been trying to manipulate me for over two decades so she’ll need to bring more to the table than a pair of sad eyes. Oddly enough, I only had to explain that to her twice. Now she doesn’t even bother. Another thing we’ve miraculously dispatched with (for the most part) is crying.

Crying was a major concern for me. I was at peace with the solitude I was leaving behind. I understood that I would no longer have a monopoly on the television. I could handle sharing my space with stuffed animals and doll houses and a battalion of zoobles. The one thing I wasn't prepared to handle was crying. I thought about the last flight where I sat in the same row as a crying baby and how it made me want to jump out of the airplane. And that flight was an hour and a half. I kept imagining being stuck on that plane for seven straight years. Crying was at the top of my list for crisis prevention.

I think that 9 out of 10 times, crying is a choice. My theory on crying comes from 20 years of running soccer camps for kids ages 5 and up. I’ve seen so many kids have some type of collision on a soccer field and they’re reaction is completely predicated on the reaction of the first adult/coach they see. If that adult goes into rescue mode and gets all soft and fuzzy and asks, “Awwwww, are you okay”, you can bet your butt the waterworks are about to commence. So I learned long ago that when one of those moments is upon us to run over and celebrate the campers heroism! Before the kid has the chance to decide that crying might be the appropriate response, I’ll congratulate him for being so tough. I’ll say, “Man, that ball smacked you in the ear and you didn’t even cry! You must be the toughest kid at camp!” And wouldn’t you know, that kid simply chooses not to cry.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s definitely a time and a place for shedding some genuine tears, but having to turn off iCarly isn’t one of them. So to maintain my sanity I decided to bring my camp philosophy home.

One night something didn’t go Izzy’s way and she started crying for whatever reason and I matter-of-factly asked her, with a hint of distaste, “Why are you crying?” – as in, Don’t you feel stupid right now? It totally broke her thought pattern. She must’ve answered that question in her mind and realized she had no idea why she was actually crying and she stopped. Izzy was so used to people running to her when she cried that it became a mechanism for her to get her way. Then all of the sudden she’s living with this new guy who is completely unaffected and keeps telling her that she doesn’t have to cry. “Just don’t cry, Izzy. It’s pretty simple. Just choose not to cry.” And if that doesn’t work, I just get up and walk away.

For Christmas Santa brought Izzy a pair of ‘moon shoes’, which are basically a bouncy pair of six-inch risers that I strap under her sneakers so she can stagger around as a hazard to herself and others. The first time we tried them out, before we left the porch, I instituted a rule. I told her that she might fall down and it might even hurt a little, but even if it does she’s not allowed to cry. She was good with that. She didn’t fall down that day but she’s fallen down since then, including once off her bike. I wasn’t there when she fell off the bike, but she told me all about it when she got home. Know what she was most proud to tell me? Yep. She didn’t cry. Now when she comes home from soccer practice she can’t wait to show me the bruises on her shins. We call them war paint.

Izzy cried at least once a day for the first five or six days she was here. I think she’s cried maybe twice since (at least when I’m around), and one of those was because she was losing a game of Chutes and Ladders. To be fair, if my kid is gonna unravel because she’s losing a game, who am I to argue with that? The competitive meltdown was my signature move.

Anyway, being a dad is a trip. I love it. Izzy cracks me up. She's already narrowed down her career choice to either an actress or a dog walker. So I'll be sending her to dog walking school. Izzy loves her new home and has totally drank the Athens Kool-Aid. Her closet is almost exclusively red and black. Yes, there’s some

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pink in there but I blame her mom for that. But make no mistake, Izzy is a Georgia Bulldog to the core. Just this morning I had to laugh when she declared, for no apparent reason, “I would just die if we weren’t UGA fans.” Good girl.

Most importantly, Izzy is crazy about Daddy. And there's just no words to explain how that feels.

Izzy’s been good for my health, too. When it became clear that I would soon be father to a beauty queen, I high-tailed it back into the gym and started pushing iron like it was my job. Just to shave a few more years off my life, Izzy’s pretty set on becoming a cheerleader. Fantastic. In no time at all I’ll be beating up... I mean, dealing with high school boys and I want those little punks to fear me like a SARS outbreak. I’ve already sketched out my master plan. The first time I show up at Izzy’s school I'm going straight Road Warrior. I’ll be wearing camouflage pants, a sleeveless shirt, face paint and brass knuckles, and with eyes wide as saucers I’ll be arguing emphatically with the ‘voices in my head’ as I march down the hall punching lockers and howling intermittently. I may even go to prison for a few years just to build up my street cred. I want Izzy’s name to be synonymous with Psycho Dad. Teenage boys, thy enemy is me.

Although coaching has certainly aided my transition into parenthood, it hasn’t exactly been the magic bullet either. I still have more questions than answers and to be honest, in a sense coaching has spoiled me a little bit. For example, I can’t understand why 25 college girls will come running from all directions when I say, “Bring it in,” but the other night at dinner I had to say, “Izzy!,” seven times before she even acknowledged my presence and took the asparagus out of her ear. I guess we’ve all got some learning to do.

Being married is easy. Beth's amazing and we spend most of our time together laughing. The parenthood thing... well... that takes a little more concerted effort. So you’ll have to forgive me if my postings have grown a little infrequent. The time once devoted to writing has been reallocated to playing Uno, watching Sponge Bob and helping with math homework (Hey. I’m serious about that.). Yes, a lot has changed. As much as it pains me to admit it, guess I’m finally a grown-up. Who knew?