As I mentioned last week, I spent my middle and high school years criss-crossing the state and my college years criss-crossing the nation because I fell head over heels in love with an extracurricular activity. Which is why, when I read this article about a JV girls soccer team from Alaska, my heart went out to them. You’ll see why…
Players from the Ketchikan High School girls JV soccer team, the Lady Kings, wait in the Ketchikan airport for their final trip of the season. They’re flying to Sitka, a slightly smaller town that’s about 200 miles north, also on an island. The past month and a half, they’ve traveled nearly every weekend. They flew to Juneau twice, then Anchorage, now Sitka.
Marissa Medford, the team’s head coach, acknowledged that the trip was exhausting. But she was nevertheless confident and optimistic.
“They’ve got this down,” Medford said. “They’ve pretty much been living out of their bags for a month now. Pretty much enough time to get home, wash their stuff, get the new set of homework and hit the road again.”
Wow, have I been there. My first year competing for collegiate forensics, before our team had travel restrictions in place (mandating students couldn’t travel over 3 weekends in a row), I felt like I was in a constant state of motion with my eternally packed suitcase in tow. I can remember doing laundry with my roommate before our last and most important tournament of the season and tearfully confessing to each other, “I don’t want to go.” We were just so exhausted. Because not only were we sleeping nights on buses, putting in long days and coming home to paper due dates and tests to study for but we were never alone. As an introvert, this was the most tiring and scary aspect of a rigorous travel schedule. No time to slip away and recharge one’s batteries; having to be “on” all the time.
Indeed, if soccer is such a huge and exhausting commitment, some might wonder if playing in the first place is worth it. But according to Coach Medford, the experience of being on the team does more than give the athletes a chance to play sports.
“I think it helps them grow, and it brings them closer,” Medford said. “It’s different than people down south. You hop on a bus, go play a game, hop on a bus, go back home. [The Lady Kings] are with each other all the time. They grow friendships, and they grow up together.”
And she’s right–friendships forged in this manner will last a lifetime. More or less because… you’ve been. through. some. shit. My coaches and teammates saw me at my absolute best and my rock-bottom worst. And I saw them. We were thrown into some pretty wacky situations that only travel can create…and became closer as a result.
[Medford] believes the payoff is worth it, despite the brutal schedule.
“We have a really bad issue with substance abuse and domestic violence,” Medford said. “Not just Ketchikan, but Alaska in general. So it’s good for them to stay involved and have self-worth, and a sense of purpose and meaning. So that’s good to see.”
But this is the part that struck me right to my core…how in the face of shitty consequences, extracurriculars, whether that means debating or kicking a ball or strumming a guitar, give a different option. In simplest terms, they give kids something else to do…something BETTER to do, than the outlets that can look so enticing when you’re young and dumb and not thinking about consequences. The girls on the Ketchikan JV soccer team may miss a few homework assignments. They may not be as chatty at the family dinner table because they’re reserving their words for strangers hundreds of miles away. They may, on certain days, question why they even chose to play soccer in the first place. But they will also have beautiful bonds with their friends and memories. They will have opportunities perhaps otherwise overlooked. And maybe they will play that much harder because the journey was just as important as the destination.
And whether they know it or not, they will have a forever fan way down here in the Bluegrass State who realizes how meaningful those journeys can be.
(Pictures of the soccer team from the original article and by Emily Files. Pictures of the WKU Forensics team from Facebook culling and by various friends and old teammates who I hope don’t mind. ; )