On the Ball: Defense never rests

Let’s just say I have the background to respect defense in athletics. I played defense, one season for my high school varsity soccer team and then two years for the Middlebury College B team. My daughter started on defense for a total of five seasons for two varsity teams at Middlebury Union High School, and now she does for her college field hockey team. Championships are rarely won without good defense; I won’t say that no one recognizes that more than I, but believe I understand the value of defense as much as anyone.When I cover a high school game, I make it a mission to mention good defensive plays, or even list the starting defenders, as I have, for example, in the two stories I wrote this fall about the Mount Abraham field hockey team, which posted shutouts while I watched. I have to believe those who have read my work carefully over the years, even over a few short weeks, would surely recognize that to be the case. Yet every now and then we still get comments, and we got one recently: Why don’t we mention defenders in our stories? I suspect the main source of complaints comes from the lack of defenders’ names in our sports briefs and wrap-ups. (Sometimes one can substitute midfielders for defenders into the questions. I still remember an MUHS field hockey mom years ago who griped middies weren’t being mentioned in my articles. I sent her a story that predated her complaint. It contained a half-dozen paragraphs mentioning midfield play, which I highlighted in yellow.)Readers should understand how we get our information about the many games we can’t attend. Middlebury College provides accounts of its teams’ efforts via email. High school is more problematic. Generally, home team coaches around the state call in game results to the daily papers, and we weekly writers use that information, which is by then public record, to create our briefs and wrap-ups. Coaches can only call so many people, and we don’t have the staff to work around the clock to get calls. We use that info with the knowledge of the dailies, and we in turn help them whenever we can. I give the Free Press information on local athletes when their reporters are selecting all-star teams, for example. That process for games we don’t attend, unfortunately, means we typically only get the names of offensive players and goalies. If a coach is sharp enough — Tiger field hockey coach Kelley Higgins listed a back who made a save this past Tuesday, for example — we get a defender’s name, and we use it. If a coach sends us an email — Otter Valley’s Gary Hodder likes to do so — we also can get a couple extra names.To sum up, we do what we can to get all players’ names in print, not just the kids who score, especially when we’re there in person. What I won’t do is use a name of a defender, at least at the high school level, who makes a mistake or simply has an off day. There is also a larger issue. Participating in a sport is its own reward. I played soccer from about third grade until my sophomore year in college, not to mention another dozen years for the Middlebury town team as adult. Playing was its own reward. With one exception, which came as a big surprise to me, I never got my name in the paper, and never gave it a thought. The surprise? When I got home to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving during my sophomore year at Middlebury, my mom showed me something she had clipped from the Fall River Herald News about my soccer exploits. That year, I took the penalty kicks for the Panther B team and scored three times, and the college athletic department sent a release to my mom’s hometown paper. So a humble defender made the news. For scoring goals, of course.Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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