Wednesday, April 9, 2008

coolest gift ever

OK. I’m going to do something I truly hate doing and talk a little bit about myself on a personal level.

As the bio on the jacketflap says, among other things, I coach Rugby for a high school team. Our team has been around for only three years, but we’ve done quite well. Trust me, it is not because of me. I just happen to be lucky enough to work with kids who are gifted athletes, smart, want to play, and are nice guys (all things you need to have going if you’re going to play Rugby properly).

More than one of our players has caught the attention of the USA national team coaches over the years, but only one of them ever made the team – the USA Eagles. Making a national team in Rugby is kind of like playing in the Olympics (without the Free Tibet protests). In fact, the last time Rugby was in the Olympics, the USA won the gold (not that we would be able to do that now… but we’re working on it).

I think the most important element that elevates a player to this very elite level of abilities is the support of his family at home and his friends on the field. Let me say it again – the coach has almost nothing to do with it, which is what makes Rugby such an incredible, and perfect, game. I may as well just be a water boy, which I am, frequently.

Like all of them, our player who made the Eagles is a pretty terrific kid on and off the field. And I’ll be honest and say that it hurt our team to have him travel to Europe for two weeks during a crucial mid-season stretch of games to represent America in international competition. He got capped three times. In Rugby, a player gets a “cap” whenever he plays for his nation in international competition. Some countries actually give caps to players the first time they do it.

Well, he came back to the US a few days ago and showed up to practice, jet-lagged and worn. We were relieved to see him again. Our team has only two matches to go before state championships and we are beaten-up, sick or hospitalized, and running on fumes and guts at this point.

When I saw him at the field, I went to shake his hand, but he gave me a hug. He held his USA Eagles jersey out in front of him. I asked him about the games he’d played in, complaining that I couldn’t find the US vs. Romania score anywhere on the Internet. He told me they beat Romania, too. He held the jersey out again and I said something like, “That’s really awesome.”

And he said, “It’s for you, coach.” And he told me it was the jersey he wore in the USA’s match against England. The number on the back was still mud-stained, too, which made it even cooler.

I don’t believe in luck, so I’ll never say that I’ve been lucky in my life. I have gotten some pretty cool gifts, though, over the years. Some of them you can touch and some you can’t. But that jersey’s got to be up there somewhere near the top.


And, if you come to BEA next month and you don't know what I look like, just look for the guy signing books in the USA Rugby jersey.

(Note: I capitalize the word “Rugby” because it is a proper noun, and not just a sport.)