Column: Soccer trains for column

So you want to be a sports columnist?

You long to make astute observations about collegiate athletics, enlighten readers on the stories behind the stories and offer predictions so accurate Nostradamus would blush?

You understand I graduate this month, and you want my job. So, if it's convenient for me, you wonder if I would mind taking a couple minutes to give you a few pointers.

How do I do it, you ask? Where do I get my insight?

Well, kid, it's pretty simple. Insight isn't gained overnight. For a person to understand the University of Missouri sports program - one of the most underachieving programs in the Big 12- you must experience firsthand the doldrums that go along with mediocrity.

Want to understand a loser? You've got to be one.

Whoa, readers. By no means am I saying that I — your friend and confidante — am a loser. I'm merely pointing out that perhaps once or twice in my life, things being as they were, I was placed, through no fault of my own, in a losing situation. And that is why I can empathize so brilliantly.

Take, for instance, the Truman High School junior-varsity soccer squad for which I played goalkeeper as a sophomore. This was not a good team.

During one game, we were down 6-0 at halftime, and the coach had this brilliant strategy for a comeback: Pull the goalie.

Now, in case you're unfamiliar with European football lingo, "pull the goalie" does not mean "bench the goalie." Oh no, that would have been a blessing. Instead, the coach instructed me to spend the entire second half as an offensive player in the midfield. However, if by the slightest chance the other team were to threaten against our goal, I was supposed to sprint back and make the save.

I did a lot of running that day, shed several pounds and made a couple of spectacular saves on plays that otherwise would have been quite routine. We lost 15-0.

This was the same coach who once ordered the entire team to run several laps because one of the varsity players was caught smoking a cigarette on the team bus. The only problem was that particular player injured his leg in the previous game and wasn't able to run.

Oh, how I wished I had then what I have now: a forum to expose the incompetencies in the world of sports.

Thanks to high school soccer, there is no sports situation I cannot appreciate.

When the MU basketball team beat Kansas last year in double-overtime, I remembered my game-winning goal against arch-rival Chrisman. Everyone but my girlfriend at the time saw this brush with greatness. She missed the game because she was buying food for her hamster. (Our relationship didn't last long, but the hamster was forever grateful).

Two and a half years ago, when the basketball team lost at the buzzer to UCLA's Tyus Edney, and this year, when the football team suffered a similar travesty against Nebraska, I remembered a heart-breaker from my soccer days. While playing goalie, one of my own defenders (the only girl on the team) tried to pass me the ball. Unfortunately, I wasn't looking, and it went right in the net to win the game for the other team. My peers ridiculed me, although I don't know whether it was because she was a girl or a teammate.

I hope it wasn't because she was a girl. If Jenny Reisinger has taught us anything, it's that a girl can do things just as well as a guy can.

A couple years ago, when the Athletic Department turned down a student proposal to have better basketball seats than the alumni, I remembered my soccer team's old hazing ritual. Stay with me here, okay?

Before the season opener, the seniors would dunk all the freshman players in a mud puddle. Although the freshmen vowed to halt the ritual when they became seniors, they always acted on the opportunity when it was their turn.

I figure this is the same mentality behind the basketball seating issue. Students cry out for better seats than the alumni, and when they finally graduate, they grab the good seats they had once been denied.

Well, this stops now. This December 1997 graduate hereby announces that I refuse to accept a better seat than any MU student. Somebody has to be bold, you know. I'm willing to make the sacrifice. (Heck, with my projected salary, why not?)

Readers of "Balls," here is the underlying point of the last two years' worth of columns: Lighten up. Sports is supposed to be fun. Losing is funny. Why does this university take itself so seriously?

Here we have a basketball coach who seldom smiles, a football running back who works like a robot, and an athletic director who chooses his words so carefully, he puts the slickest politicians to shame.

Laugh at them, dear readers. Don't be afraid.

I've discovered there are more pressing issues in life than "Balls." It's time to go confront them.

Prediction: Missouri 48, Colorado State 13.

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