By Jeff Martin

ll this soccer talk has got me thinking about the sport.

In talking with some volunteer coaches throughout the area, specifically Myrna Reynolds of Little Valley, I began drifting back to when my oldest son started playing the sport. That was back in Ohio in the early 2000s. Like all kids, he experimented with a number of sporting activities including baseball, which to this day doesnít interest him. He even dabbled in a little touch football, which excited him more than his mother.

When we learned of soccer, specifically about the sport itself and what it instilled in the players who played, our interest was piqued. There were many sponsored teams in the city, and depending on where you lived, you either played for a team financed by a pizza shop, an auto shop, a beauty shop and, in our sonís case, an insurance firm.

The first practice among children four years upon the earth was a demonstration of wayward limbs and impatience. Our son kicked the ball like it was an angry hornet coming to attack him. The coach, a well-dressed Ken doll named Peter, flapped his arms as if he wished for nothing more than to take flight.

The kids were a school of fish on drugs, darting to all compass points.

This went on for a period of a few weeks. When the first game came around, me and my now ex-wife were amazed at the skills that suddenly appeared inherent in the players. They were dressed in their uniforms, shirts tucked in. Socks were pulled to the knees. Pads were laced. Soccer shoes, whose sharp cleats could prick skin, dug into the earth.

They had learned technique and strategy and teamwork. Players who led the attack passed to players who worked the side of the field ó and always the players who kept in the rear, in the event that the offense broke down and the other team began their own advance.

Scores were kept, but there were no winners and losers. Sure, the kids had to learn and understand this concept, but they accepted it after a while. Some of the parents also had to accept that their services, namely volunteering to help hold a flag during play or stepping in after work to help with coaching, were needed. I was asked at one point, and you know what I said? I said no.

You regret decisions as time passes. When life delivered us to Missouri, my oldest continued to play soccer, which is very popular in the Midwest, and, again, I declined invitations to help out.

An athletic complex, built and maintained by the local school district and maintained by the city, had eight soccer fields. At any one time, there were eight games going on simultaneously, the complex jammed with people on Saturday mornings.

Wondering how well my sonís old team was doing out there in Missouri, I emailed his old coach, who was someone I came in contact with a number of times while working as a news reporter. I got a response and he said he still coached and that kids still showed up to practice. In other words, the sport is still popular ó for a host of reasons.

ìWe could use some help,î he wrote. ìYour son still play?î

I emailed him a snapshot of MapQuest, showing the 1,002-mile commute.

Finally, I thought, a legitimate excuse.