The final game of the season for Schuyler’s Miracle League soccer program always brings elevated emotion. Friends who have taken weeks to open up to each other, to overcome their own particular monsters, both neurological and social, suddenly find themselves saying goodbye just as they’re figuring out complicated social maneuvers. They’ve found a weekly routine that’s now ending. It’s unavoidable, of course. The season can’t go on forever. But at the last game and its trophy ceremony, emotions run high.
This time, it’s different. On this day, the game is stopped as one of Schuyler’s teammates, one of her favorites, has a seizure on the field.
A long seizure, probably three minutes at least. A terrifying one.
The kids are pulled off the field, and parents and coaches surround the young man. The room grows silent. It’s an indoor facility, and not a quiet one, but for the next ten or fifteen minutes, the only sounds in the room are distant whistles and shouts and shoe squeaks from the volleyball courts in another part of the building. Among the parents in these stands, there isn’t a sense of panic. It’s something more akin to resignation, and a familiar sadness. “We’ve been here before,” their faces seem to say. “We know how this goes down.”
The players are another story, though. They’re upset, they’re flustered at the unexpected drama, and they are deeply concerned about their friend. I see Schuyler pacing the sidelines, putting her face in her hands or hugging herself tightly as she goes. I walk around the field and meet her on the other side, where she immediately bursts into tears.
“I’m worried about my friend,” she says, repeatedly. She keeps watching him; all she can see are his legs sticking out from the crowd. They’re now motionless.
“He’s like my brother.” I’ve never heard her say this before. It occurs to me that she might only now be realizing she feels this way about him, now that he feels so far away.
I explain to Schuyler that her friend is having a seizure, a little like hers but also very, very different, and that he’s being taken care of. She calms down a little, but it’s clear that she is still thinking about him.
He is eventually helped off the field with the use of someone’s wheelchair (one of the benefits of Miracle League, I suppose; if you need to momentarily borrow a wheelchair, you’re probably covered), and game play resumes. The kids play hard again; they are battling it out at the other end of the field when the ambulance backs up to the doors and takes their friend away. This is probably just as well.
After the game, the kids line up for their trophies. Their names are announced, their pictures taken. Every child receives the same trophy, the one that recognizes their participation rather than some particular athletic achievement. The oft-maligned participation trophy, as it were. Everyone is thinking of the one kid who isn’t there receiving his trophy.
Like their missing friend, every player on that field earns that trophy. For the members of these teams, there’s no such thing as “just showing up”.
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