Oh Brother, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Riverton is as far from my home as I imagine a quick jot over to Topeka would be. It is far—damn far. On the other side of the valley at a place that makes Mt. Olympus look weird. Life above 6000 South trains the mind to look at the Wasatch Front with an eye towards normalcy. Head below this artificial line throughout the valley and the mountains take on a strange and unfamiliar look.
For somebody who hails from the Sunflower State, the mountains are utterly impressive. For those of us that dwell in Sugarhouse, anything south of 6000 make looking towards the east a study in confusion, trying to place off looking familiar landmarks. It’s like looking at the Mona Lisa through cellophane.
I was on assignment. Get a load of me, talking like a big time reporter. A simple stringer for the preps section of The Salt Lake Tribune, I was sent by my editor south to cover Olympus High against Riverton High’s girl soccer team. To put context in how far away from my Salt Lake is it took me nearly 25-minutes to drive to the high school grounds. With traffic and late afternoon Sunday drivers, I drove my beat-up truck to the pitch to watch and write about a seemingly simple affair.
I like girls’ soccer not because I am a creep-o but rather because women seem to have more of a finesse for the game than men. Alex Morgan’s exploits at the 30th Olympic Games against Canada in a nutshell encompasses what I love about the game—at any moment something incredible is going to happen. Much like baseball, soccer is a game of anticipation with the possibility of something great occurring at any moment.
With this in mind, Olympus and Riverton didn’t disappoint.
I am not familiar whether or not they have a natural rivalry but they should after today. 22 young ladies took to the field and began with a simple whistle. Play ensued immediately with both teams competing for the ball, passing and running up and down the field. The passing started out as crisp and direct but deteriorated gradually. The pitch had grass that had not been mowed recently resulting in long strands creating friction along the ball and slowing its movement. Passing lanes shortened and resulted in the players converging to make plays upon the ball.
I sat alone in the narrow bleachers snapping photos and making notes in my even narrower notepad. The single most difficult aspect of working for the newspaper has not been culture of the paper, the jargon, condenced writing or time commitment—it’s been not being able to be a fan and cheer when something amazing occurs on the pitch.
Granted, this has been my first gamer of the season but Lord Almighty, were there moments to cheer throughout the game. To start out with, both squads played with the ferociousness of a colony of honey badgers. Shoulder checks, jersey grabbing, sliding tackles and brutal collisions was the narrative of the day with both teams attacking every loose ball with an intensity not reserved for a preseason tune-up. I lost count of the midair headers that resulted in head butts and sliding tackles that torn through the athletes shin guards sending players to the ground in violent fits.
Sitting alone on the bleachers with paper in hand and pencil in mouth, I gasp at the sheer physicality of the play and wondered if I was going to write a recap of the game that resulted in players being pulled off one another instead of the standard narrative. I damn near bit a whole through my cheek not jumping in passion watching the exploits of the players on the field.
Riverton struck first with a talented player named Darian Jenkins drilling a shot through a sea of green jerseys 35 feet out that nearly tore a hole through the back of Olympus’s net. It wasn’t a wild, pray to God shot on goal but rather a seriously calculated attempt that paid off in dividends. She out dribbled two Olympus players and saw a narrow sliver of daylight that she quickly exploited with a towering right foot. It was in the 30th minute of play and could have put the Titans on their heels. But on this non-specific day of August, Olympus fought on and never laid down.
Girls on both teams launched themselves at any contestable ball and backed down from nothing. Fearless. Absolutely fearless. They played the kind of play reserved for game 7s and other must win situations. The bleachers that I claimed for myself quickly filled up with other fans and we witnessed ferocious plays and a must win determination that did not merit this preseason affair.
I took notes and notes and notes commenting upon the salty language of the players, the disgruntle comments from the fans and the sounds of bodies being thrown recklessly into each other. The game mimicked a rugby match without the scrums but I want to be clear—it wasn’t sloppy play. They weren’t acting thuggish or malevolent. Both teams played with the reckless abandonment reserved for much more important games than the second game of the season.
And I was there.
I hope Olympus and Riverton remember this game until the end of the season. Years from now, all participating members probably won’t even think of the heroics, passion and desire they exhibited on this particular field. They’ll grow up, attend dances, graduate and go on to college to begin the next phases of their lives. The 80-minutes spent crushing into one another will get lost in the pool of memories that their young minds will eventually forget but I won’t. This afternoon, in a nook of Utah that I never visit, will resonate with me for a very long time.
It will be the day that I saw the excitement and hard play from youthful women surrendering all of the pressures of the outside world for a brief period of time. I was trained by Danyelle White to limit my reporting to the winning team and I filed a story that glorified Riverton’s accomplishments on the field. But somehow, I felt hallow sending in the story because I felt that Olympus deserved special recognition for the courage and hard-as-nails performance they demonstrated.
The final score was 2-0 with the Silverhawks defending their turf against the Titans. Great game. Not great in the sense that it was one for the ages but rather a game that will leave lasting impressions upon me as I continue with my coverage of other games this year.
I am impartial to any of the high schools in Utah. I graduated from Bonanza High in Las Vegas and I don’t have a dog in any of the fights in Salt Lake City. I can attend any prep sporting event and loose myself in the experience without fear of secretly rooting for any club simply because I am still a Nevadan at heart. I sit in the stands and report what I see for The Tribune. They don’t pay me to be a team’s super fan but rather to report to the readership what occurred in a place far from home on a field that desperately needed a mowing and players that couldn’t give a damn that it was preseason.
In a perfect world, I am going to get an assignment from the editors to cover a post-season championship game this year with the Silverhawks and Titans taking the field. Hopefully, I’ll sit in the stands with paper in hand and pencil in mouth and witness something that was a fraction as amazing as today. Those that spend a lifetime trying to recreate special moments will always fall short. Covering this potential post-season match could only disappoint simply because it would be impossible to replicate this brutal and honest game that I reported on today.
Here is the story that I filed: Riverton Outslugs Olympus. It might only be a snapshot of what occurred for 80-minutes but it might give you some insight why I am lucky to have two of the best jobs in Salt Lake City.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out his podcast, SLC PubCast, on iTunes. He has pencil and paper and is willing to travel.