sports

Posted by Ellen

Last week saw the finals of the 2016 World Figure Skating championships, and needless to say, Bobbi Cochar was there for every minute of every program. Ever since she sat rinkside at the Canadian national championships in Ottawa in 1984, this Toronto native has never missed a major skating event, no matter where on earth the venue might be.

She cheers on her Canadians, of course, two of whom, Megan Duhamel and Eric Radford, did skate away with the gold medal last week in the pairs category. But Cochar is really there for all the skaters, making sure that every single one of them receives one of her trademark needlepoint skate ornaments as she or he goes out on the ice, along with a personal note of encouragement and thanks.

Skating looms large in Cochar's heart, especially since her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis at the age of 28. She had always been a noncompetitive dancer, and after her diagnosis, she was stunned to realize that she could still skate, even performing complicated moves and routines. "But once I was off the ice," she recalls, "I couldn't walk to save my life."

Multiple sclerosis has since cost her the hearing in one ear and the color vision in one eye, though the doctor who predicted she'd never walk again was incorrect. She skates six days a week now, four days for her work with the CanSkate program and two days on her own, just because she can.

Until recently, Cochar's mother, also a longtime ice dancer, traveled to skating events with her. The two of them collected autographs on their jackets from skaters all over the world, and took personal responsibility to make sure that anybody at all who was brave enough and hard-working enough to go out there and skate their hearts out in front of a crowd would go home with words and tokens of appreciation from skating's unrivaled superfans.

Posted by Ellen

Even in organized tournaments, an ultimate frisbee game generally features no referee or scorekeeper. Teams call fouls on themselves and keep track of the score using a spare frisbee and a jumble of shoes; after each goal, a shoe is moved to one side or the other of the frisbee, depending on which team made the score. When this picture was taken early in a game at the 26th annual Potlatch tournament over the July 4th weekend in Redmond, Washington, the score was tied, one up.

Despite what seems obvious from this picture, ultimate frisbee players don't usually compete barefoot. Out on the field, they wear soccer cleats or running shoes.

And if the goal scoring should happen to outpace the number of available scorekeeping shoes, one shoe can be turned sideways to stand in for five vertical shoes, much as tick marks are slashed sideways in bundles of five.

The Potlatch is among the largest tournaments in the ultimate frisbee world, with teams coming to compete from as far away as Korea, Alaska, and the east coast of North America. In the game being scored above, the Garden Gnomes of Olympia, Washington, eventually fell to a team from San Francisco; the Gnomes have changed their name to O'School and signed up to try again at the 2016 Potlatch.

Posted by Ellen

Runners lunge across the line in the 60-yard dash, 80-pound class. This race was won and lost on September 6, 1924, on the track in back of Central High School, Washington, D.C.

Posted by Ellen

When last we spent our Saturdays at high school wrestling tournaments, back in the decade of the twenty-oughts, we were parents of wrestlers, which meant that we were working the concession stand or down on our knees with a camcorder or scanning the scene from the bleachers, looking for indications of wrestling drama.

We can report with confidence that in the winter of 2015, all the drama is still much in evidence. Even before you enter the gym, you can't help but notice the kid standing all by himself out in the cold parking lot, hiding his face, struggling not to cry.

The only big difference nowadays is that somehow, magically, our wrestlers from way back then have returned to this scene as what might be called wrestling facilitators. One of them is now a referee with striped shirt and whistle, and another is an assistant assistant coach, a guy who sits in the corner of the mat during each bout and yells, "Circle! Circle! Good–keep that elbow. That's all right, don't worry, now up and out!"

High school wrestling matches last six minutes, except when they're over in a few seconds. That can happen when a newbie, with panic in his eyes, is up against an experienced wrestler who knows a few moves. Of course it can also happen when an experienced wrestler underestimates an opponent, or when he forgets for an instant to do or not do something critical that he knew perfectly well he was supposed to do or not do.

The drama actually begins before the wrestling even starts. Kids wearing hoodies pace back and forth in front of the bleachers, headphones clamped on their ears, eyes focused in some alternate universe. They're trying to psych themselves up, or calm themselves down, or both.
 
By the time they strip off the hoodie and walk out to the center of the mat, some of them already look destined to lose. They've heard something about their opponent that scares them, or they just know from lessons learned the hard way that their performance will likely be disappointing. They may surprise themselves, they really may win, but their posture and eye movements are already broadcasting what they figure are the dismal odds against them.
 
Other kids work hard before the match at presenting body language that says something different: "I'm the man," or "You're dirt," or "I will break you." They're swaggering out there, playing the part in the script that they want for themselves; maybe it will work, maybe it will backfire, maybe it won't matter at all. But there's no wrestling without broad drama.
 
From the stands, kids cheer on their teammates and yell at them to shoot. They talk smack with each other and steal each other's drinks and snacks and pretend not to give them back. Some of them are smartasses. Some are trying to nap. They're high school kids, and it's a Saturday.
 
And on display in the gym are adolescent bodies of every imaginable size and shape, all looking at least a little bit goofy in those singlets. There are little guys with twigs for limbs, and thick-necked muscle-bound jocks, and mountainous heavyweights with serious guts and no necks at all. No other high school forum welcomes all these physical specimens, offers them all a chance, however slight a chance, to be a hero.
 
Among the hundreds of boys are a few girls. During our years as wrestling parents in Maine, there were girls on some of the teams, and they wrestled boys, occasionally with some success. This year in western Washington, girls appear to be a bit more numerous on the mats, and they wrestle one another.
 
We attended the Marysville Premier tournament, in the company of the Blazers from Timberline High School in Lacey, Washington. Four girls wrestle for the Blazers, alongside a couple of dozen boys. They all wear black singlets unless they make it to the tournament finals, when they dress in special gold singlets decorated with a double-bladed axe, their school logo. 
 
Three Blazers wore gold in Marysville, and one of the three won his final match to claim the tournament championship at his weight class. The next week, at the Jaguar Invitational tournament in Puyallup, four Blazers took championships, and in the 126-pound weight class, the two wrestlers in the finals were both Blazers.
 
The regular season is winding down now, leading up to regionals and then states. Go Blazers! Shoot! Shoot!
Posted by Ellen

Long before football season has wound down, the winter sports are upon us. Basketball and hockey are in full swing, but what we see here is wrestling, or rather wrestling refereeing, as demonstrated for the enlightment of Ruby the cat, who chooses not to reveal whether or not she has chosen enlightenment.

Posted by Ellen

The posture of number 6, who's been playing football this season for the Electrons of Ben Franklin High School, is ambiguous. Perhaps he's a kicker focusing on the ball on a tee; perhaps he's just unhappy about something in the game, or something unrelated to the game. Certainly, he's not celebrating.

But the evening the picture was taken, on Philly Photo Day in mid-October, the Franklin Electrons won a big game; they beat perennial city powerhouse George Washington–at G.W.–on their way to an undefeated regular season and a Philadelphia Public School AAAA championship.

Had the picture been snapped this weekend, however, interpretation would be straightforward. Yesterday, Franklin, the public high school champion, faced off against Saint Joseph's Prep, the city's Catholic school champion and last year's state champion. The Hawks of Prep crushed the Electrons, 44-27.

The magic is over now; there will be no trip to states, no undefeated miracle season. Still and all, they made a pretty good run of it, those Electrons of 2014.

Posted by Ellen

Back in June, the women working behind the counter at this ice cream place in Germany took a break to watch the German national team win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Next June, there will be another soccer World Cup competition, this time hosted by Canada and featuring women's national teams. Last month in Philadelphia, the U.S. women officially qualified for the 2015 tournament by beating Mexico 3-0 and then Costa Rica 6-0 to claim the regional CONCACAF Cup. A clear majority of the 12,000-plus spectators cheering them on were women and girls.

Posted by Ellen

Next week, for the first time in Little League history, a team of 12- and 13-year-olds from the city of Philadelphia will be playing in the World Series in Williamsport, PA.

They are our Taney Dragons, who play at Taney Field in our neighborhood's Schuylkill River Park. To wangle an invitation to the big dance, the Dragons had to pull off a string of upsets, becoming the first Philly team ever to win districts, to win regionals, to win states, and then last week to win the Mid-Atlantic championship.

The way Little League works, it's almost always the well-funded suburban operations that come away with the postseason prizes. Taney had to raise money all year long to go out for these tournaments; they scrounged for practice fields all over the city, sometimes using a hangar out by the airport. Many of the parents can't afford to travel to watch their kids play, but they managed to raise $20,000 in a few days to send the team to Connecticut for the Mid-Atlantic tournament.

The Dragons' victory in Connecticut was a stunner; they dispatched Newark, Delaware, last year's Mid-Atlantic champions, 8-0. Their bats were hot, obviously, but their pitching was pretty much the same as always: a cool clinic of 70-mile-an-hour fastballs and heartbreaking curveballs, a shutout with just three hits allowed by the Dragons' star Mo'Ne Davis, who will be the only girl this year in the Little League World Series.

Although Little League has permitted girls to play since it was forced to by the courts in 1974, Davis is still a rarity. She says she has never pitched to a girl batter. But baseball is not really her passion; that would be basketball, her favorite sport. Her dream is to play in the WNBA.

Meanwhile, she's the Dragon who gets all the attention, which may be a good thing since she's unflappable, never discouraged or distracted, nothing at all like a typical 13-year-old. It's the boys on the team who crank up the drama, along with the energy level. 

Tune in on August 15 on national TV for the Dragons' first World Series contest, against a team from South Nashville, Tennessee.

Posted by Ellen

Marco's rock is right on track for the U.S. of A.

RTR

Posted by Ellen

Juniper Self, shown here with her mother Daphne, came dressed to cheer at Bryant-Denny Stadium last week for her first Alabama football game. The Crimson Tide beat University of Tennessee–Chattanooga, 49–0.

Today's Iron Bowl game at Auburn is for all the marbles. Roll Tide Roll.