Sunday, April 26, 2015

Under The Lights

“You'll look out for O’Shea on the field?” His Mother asks in the beginning of the season.
“What number is he?”
Dana Hills High School stadium has a peek at an ocean view; but dry rot in the bleachers. An unusual request comes from a tall black lady in this white community.
Lacrosse isn't a popular sport in Orange County. Football reigns in High Schools. The stadium is never full for Lacrosse games.
The Stats Mom who brings snacks on the bus, carries the first aid kit, knows which players have asthma or are allergic to bees or peanut butter asks, “There’s no 28 on the roster?”
“Just got a jersey.” O’Shea’s mother answers.
“Okay. Fill out these forms - your cell phone number, his height, grade…”
The blonde lady pauses, “Permission forms seem like duplication - Coaches don’t see the papers the High School Administration gets.”
“Will do.”

O’Shea attends practices but his parents didn't buy him a stick or pads. Parents pay to have their children play Lacrosse in public schools. Even the bill for the electric lights is paid by fundraising. At games O’Shea stands leaning to his left side wearing his jersey. O’Shea has Intellectual Disabilities and physical limb abnormalities. No one asks the name of his syndrome, the boys accept him as one of the team. His troubles are more visible than other boys on the team. Teenagers struggle to fit in. Perhaps in a wealthy beach community there is more pressure to assimilate.
When Junior Varsity lines up to watch the older boys play, a player shows him where to stand and what cheers to repeat. He learns to honor the opposing team by following the boys.
Gentlemen who choose a sport like LAX (as Lacrosse is nicknamed) may have increased physical drive. Players on the Dana team are rough. Young  men have hormones that drive them to poke each other. This sport allows gentlemen to hit one another with sticks.

O’Shea participates in the pranks they play upon each other. Riding home from a game, Coaches count the boys on the bus, as some impulsively might catch a ride with a buddy. The boys tell O’Shea to duck down. For a few minutes he plays along with the gag that he is forgotten somewhere in Murietta, much to the dismay of the Coach. O'Shea might be left thirty miles from home in the dark.
“Driver go back!” Coach shouts.
Then O’Shea pops up, “Coooch!”
Everyone laughs that O’Shea was not left behind, and also at his progress to enjoy a joke.
“Oh sha oh oh shay,” they cheer.
Unexpected joy changes the boys.
In a home game a week ago, Coach plans to put O’Shea into the J. V. game. O’Shea doesn't physically practice, he attends but only helps on the sideline. It is difficult for him to keep up. Coaches tell San Juan Hills Coach that he will let them score a few goals if they allow O’Shea to play two minutes and not be treated aggressively. San Juan's team misunderstands the communication. Varsity boys loan O'Shea parts of their shoulder pads, arm guards and a stick. On the sidelines they dress him, pulling the arm guards over his elbows. He's padded like the Michelin Man. The referees do not understand what is happening. San Juan’s team do not comprehend the tenderness of treating someone with disability as capable. Only the Dana players know about O’Shea’s disabilities. Few parents understand the dynamic. With gloves and a helmet and his body covered, O'Shea appears under the field lights somewhat like any other player, but his stance and his gate are stiff. As the whistle blows the defensive players circle him and lead him to the fifty yard line. He’s a bit rattled about where to go on the field. O’Shea never played contact LAX or shot the ball. The boys shout instructions.
“We’ll run with you half way. Attacks will take you the rest.”
He says nothing.
“Two hands on your stick O’Shea!” Someone shouts.
The point player and bottom left and right surround him while the Middies protect the ball at the fifty yard line bringing him closer to the crease.
“This way!” They encourage.
O’Shea trembles as he jogs towards the ball on the ground. The boys toss and keep the ball ready, away from opponents for O’Shea’s chance to pick up the ground ball. With assistance, he manages on the second try. The audience cheers. The boys urge him.
“Shoot, shoot!”
The ball does not go in the net; however, all the players on the Dana team raise their arms to indicate a goal. They scream.
The referee whistles some violation. A player tries to explain that O’Shea can’t hold the stick properly with two hands, inside the glove is a hand that is formed like a mitten. The foul is called off.
Coach puts O’Shea in again in the fourth quarter but this time it isn't as dramatic. Winning tonight’s game is sweet.
At the end of the game, the announcer calls the player of the game. A Freshman player runs to find a pen and neatly write “game ball” on a new white ball. O’Shea beams. He holds it above his head. The field lights shine a neon glow.

Dana Hills High Lacrosse Team of 2015.
“Mainstreaming” theory believes a disabled person grows with acceptable forms of social interaction. This wonderful inclusion was perhaps one of the vital lessons that the Dana Hills High Gentlemen’s Lacrosse learned this year. Winning is the goal in sports. Growing into a good man is more important. Thank you O’Shea for sharing your heart. Thank you to the amazing men who shared their joy, drive and heart under the Friday night floodlights. 
Our last season game is Thursday, April 30th at Dana Hills High School Stadium 5:30 Varsity and 7:00 J.V. against El Toro.

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