Purple Comets and Orange Crush

First Gymnastics Class:

This is how June’s weekends will go this fall: Friday afternoon soccer practice, Saturday morning gymnastics, Sunday afternoon soccer game. This selection of extracurricular activities surprised us a little, because she was doing so well in Kung Fu we thought she’d want to continue with that, but she does like to try new things and we’d suggested gymnastics to her in the past more than once. She has the body for it, small, strong and flexible.

So two Saturdays ago Beth and June and I found ourselves entering the Silver Stars gym in Silver Spring. Beth has been there a few times before because it’s a popular birthday party venue.  In fact, June attended her nursery school friend Talia’s gymnastics birthday party there only last month.  Talia broke her wrist at this party, which you might think would dissuade June from the sport, but apparently not.

I’ve never set foot in the place, however, and it wasn’t what I expected. First off, it looks like you’re entering a retail space when you enter, because you are.  There are all manner of toys and dolls and art supplies and stuffed animals for sale, almost none of them gymnastics-related.  (We did peruse the rack of leotards because I’m thinking of getting June a long-sleeved one so she can slip on leggings and be dressed for errands or the ride home once the weather gets cooler.) June has her eye on one of those little stuffed animals kids clip to their backpack straps. It’s a purple monkey. Beth snapped a picture of it because whenever June wants something Beth adds it to the photographic Christmas list she keeps on her phone.

Someone at the door asked June her name and age and found her color-coded nametag on a clipboard.  The five and six-year-olds in the 9:10 a.m. class are the Purple Comets. Once we got past the store, we found ourselves in a waiting area for parents.  There are benches and cubbies for shoes and big windows that look into the cavernous gym itself.  The waiting area was packed with parents, some watching through the windows, others immersed in their laptops or phones.  There were several classes with overlapping times using the gym at once. A toddler class seemed to be dismissing from a separate, smaller classroom as we arrived and in the main gym there were some preschoolers and an all-boys class and a group a little older than June’s.

The Purple Comets warmed up by running in a circle and then they were divided into smaller groups of about six girls each to visit the different stations.  Between parents crowded at the windows and other groups of gymnasts in my sight lines, I often could not locate June.  Once while I was just staring into space, I happened to see her fly into my line of vision and land on the floor.  I craned my neck to see what equipment she’d been using and it was a balance beam.  She got into line to have another turn and I got off the bench so I could see better.  She walked a low beam just a few inches off the floor and then a regular-height one several times, pointing her toes carefully with each step.

We also watched her bounce in a straight line across a surface we couldn’t see.  (It was on a slightly lower level than the floor directly in front of us. I’m guessing it was trampoline-like because she was going very high into the air.)  Then she swung her body on the uneven bars, with help from the teacher, practiced backwards somersaults on ramp-like mat, again with the teacher guiding her movements, and she tried to do cartwheels on a mat with helpful handprints on it. One of the last stations her group visited was a zip line.  Beth speculated it was for upper body strength and confidence moving through the air. Whenever June’s group walked by the window, she smiled at us.  While she waited in line for her turn on equipment she hopped with excitement.

When the class was over and she came through the doors into the waiting area she said, “That was the funnest sport I’ve ever done!”  (And for those of you keeping track at home the list includes: soccer, t-ball, ballet, yoga, basketball and Kung Fu.) When I asked which station she liked best she said she didn’t know because “they were all fun!” I’d say she’s found her sport, but with June you never know.

I was surprised, for instance, when she told me she wanted to play soccer again this year.  She seemed to enjoy it last fall but she was quite firm about not playing in the spring. She was done with soccer, she insisted.  Beth thinks the existence of all-girl teams starting at the first-grade level might have swayed her.

First Soccer Practice:

The first practice was the following Friday, at 5:15. The girls are going to be practicing by moonlight by the end of the season, but for now it’s still light in the late afternoon. It was a perfect mid-September afternoon, warm and sunny with cirrus clouds scattered across a blue sky. Out of her nine teammates, June already knew three.  Her BFF Megan is on team, as is Sally from preschool and basketball, and Eliza, another basketball teammate and fellow Annie actress.  Beth said later she thinks that over the years we will just keep encountering the same girls and their parents over and over through June’s activities.

What with all the mom-talk, I sometimes forgot to watch what was happening on the field, but it seemed fairly standard.  They warmed up by running around in a circle; they spent a lot of time kicking the balls to each other; they played a game in which the coaches pretended to be mosquitoes bent on stinging the players (if a soccer ball hit them they were neutralized). Finally the team was split in two and they had a scrimmage.  Beth called and ordered pizza from the sidelines and we picked it up on the way home. Somehow this struck me as a quintessentially middle-class suburban thing to do, as if we were characters in a pizza chain television commercial or something.

Anyway, June seemed to enjoy herself and to be happy to see friends. At dinner she declared the completely average dipping sauce for the mozzarella sticks “incredibly delicious.” I think she’d worked up an appetite on the field because she ate as much as I did at dinner.  She went to bed a little early and fell right asleep.

First Soccer Game:

One of the things I liked about watching kindergarten soccer last year was that they played actual games, unlike preschool soccer, which is all practice. And unlike t-ball, the games were fast moving and exciting.  I had expected just to attend just the first and last games and let Beth take her to the rest but I ended up at almost every game last fall, even in November when it was cold and dark by the end of her late afternoon games.  This year I’m planning to be at most or all of her games, though I will probably leave the practices to Beth, when she can leave work early.

About a week before soccer started, June told me she would like to “crush” another team. “Not like basketball,” she added, referring to the Purple Pandas’ 0 and 8 record.  She reminisced about crushing teams in soccer.  In fact, her team had a losing season but they did win a few games.  “You won some and you lost some,” I said, happening to remember they won their first game. I wondered if they’d win their first one this year.

Beth and Noah were out of town on their annual late summer/early fall camping trip on game day so June and I got a ride to the game with her friend Megan and Megan’s mom Kerry. In the parking lot we saw Anna (formerly known as the Gray Squirrel) and her mom and brother. Anna’s playing on the red team.  We wondered if June’s team would play Anna’s but they were playing the teal team.  Clara from June’s kindergarten class and basketball was on that team.  We really do know a lot of first-grade girls.

Once we got to the field, the moms set up our chairs at the sidelines. It was cloudy and cooler than Friday but still pleasant. The team huddled and I thought I heard a few suggestions for the team name, Orange Tigers among them, being discussed.  Apparently they discussed it last week, too. Megan wants the team to be called the Orange Blossoms.  Kerry said she told her it should be the Orange Crush and she didn’t get the joke.  “You probably don’t let her drink soda,” I guessed, and Kerry nodded.  The question was never settled, June told me later. Maybe it never will be.

The orange team and the teal team were each divided in half and sent to different fields to play separate games. Sally’s mom Kristen, Kerry and I all hauled our chairs to the other field. Even in this very first game I could see a small but noticeable improvement in the players’ skill level compared to kindergarten league games.  Of course it’s likely some of them played last spring, when June didn’t.

We only got to see half of June’s teammates play and they will be split up differently every week, but from what I saw the team has some promise.  Sally’s an excellent offensive player. She scored two goals, plus one more that didn’t count because she shot from inside the circle. (They are introducing more rules this year.) June had a few decent runs down the field with the ball, and although there are no official goalies at this level of play, Megan appointed herself goalie and stayed there the whole game. Almost at once I could see why–she’s good at it.  Most of the play occurred in front of the orange team’s goal but Megan kept stopping ball after ball.  The final score was 2-0.

“They are crushing,” Kerry commented at one point.  So until they agree on a name, I will call them the Orange Crush.

There was an ice cream truck parked at the edge of the field and when the game was over Kerry treated both girls.  We walked to the parking lot with Clara, who was cheerful and said it didn’t matter who won as long as you have fun and try your best.  June was polite enough to pretend to agree.

“And did you have fun?” I asked Clara.  She beamed and said she did.

So soccer season is off to a good start. Meanwhile, June asked recently when tennis season is, because she’d like to learn how to play.