Friday, April 14, 2017

Holy Hell on Holy Saturday

Holy Hell on Holy Saturday He adjusted his knee pads, shin guards and shoulder pads. He donned his helmet and strapped it in place. He slipped on his padded gloves and clutched the small iron bar hidden inside that his dad had given him to deliver crushing backhand facial checks to onrushing players. He watched the others as they warmed up. He had no fear of any of them. He wasn't the fastest competitor, but he was the biggest, strongest and toughest. He took pride in the fact that he had never cried during a competition, no matter how devastating the blow he absorbed. Tony Ames, his best friend and fifth grade classmate, was doing his stretches. He really liked Tony, but today he was the enemy. He knew that the strength of Tony's game was speed, and deft footwork including skillful tripping and kicking, usually away from the eyes of the referees. He looked at the crowd sitting in the bleachers and standing around the field in the warm Spring sunshine. They were already in high spirits and full-throated excitement. Hell, they were screaming for blood even before the game began. Until ten years ago, this was an activity that existed only in the parks and playgrounds of America when ESPN, in an effort to fill the air time between the end of the NCAA basketball tournament and the start of Major League Baseball, codified the rules and promoted it aggressively. Soon big time sponsors jumped in starting local and regional competitions and offering scholarships. It became a national sensation and fan favorite, because it combined the worst of hockey, football, roller derby, and professional wrestling. Checking, kicking, tripping, hitting with the open hand, hair pulling, and eye gouging were all allowed. Biting and scratching, however, were violations. As he lined up with the others, he looked toward the first goal some fifty yards away. He would break free from the bashing, smashing scrum that was the Pack, make a dead sprint for it, and try to gain his first point as quickly as possible. When the referee dropped the starting flag, he held the shirt of the player on his right and tripped the player on his left just enough to give himself a clean break. As he was distancing himself from the Pack, he felt another faster player approaching at an intercepting angle from the left. As the player dropped into his slide to deliver a hook trip, he whirled and struck with a solid knee check to his sternum. The player lay choking and gasping for air. He stood over him and sneered: "What's a matter, Tony, you little baby? Forget your inhaler?" The crowd of parents and fans was booing, cat-calling and giving him the finger. He started to do his muscle-man flex and Indian war dance over the fallen foe, but caught a flash of pink shooting by and streaking for the goal. God damn, Mary Margaret! His dad said she was the competitor he should fear the most. "Don't let the pink tutu and Minnie Mouse tee shirt fool you, she's as fast as lightening, and as cold as a snake," he said. He took off in pursuit. Just as he drew near, she came to a full stop, threw her left hand straight back and delivered a bone crushing backhand blow with her loaded glove to his oncoming face. Serenaded by the gleeful roar of the crowd, he landed flat on his back and felt with his tongue the gap where his front teeth had been. "Don't blame me! Mommy told you to wear your mouth-piece, you stupid jerk!", she taunted. His own little sister had knocked out his front teeth! He would never live this down. His head was spinning and he just wanted to lay there and cry, but he bounded up and took off after her. He decided he couldn't prevent her from scoring, but would go for the defensive take-away instead. She dove across the goal line and reached into the box on the other side. As she stood up to place her trophy in her pouch, he delivered a body check that slammed her tiny frame into the goal post sending the ovoid object into the air and into his waiting pouch. "Guess that sucks for you, Sis," he hissed as he stomped on her supine carcass and ran in pursuit of the other players. Two old men sat on a park bench watching the proceedings. One turned to the other, scratched his head, and said: "Jeeze Louise, Floyd, this sure don't look like the Easter egg hunts I remember."