Sunday, September 30, 2012

Director's Cup 2012

As the summer of 2012 draws to a close and the first vestiges of fall begin to show in the brisk morning air--kids returning to school, traffic returning to Southern California levels--we should take time to reflect back on a season filled with major sporting events.  The summer kicked off in June with the Euro 2012 Championships preparing the very best European soccer teams for the World Cup on 2014.  In July, the Tour de France and Wimbledon officially announced the summer was in full swing.  In August, the Games of the 30th Olympiad opened in London England.  And finally, on September 20th, just a few days before the last day of Summer, A9 Sports Day kicked off its historic competition on the manicured lawns and trails of Bonair Park in Arlington Virginia, pitting active duty warrior and Washington bureaucrat in a high stakes athletic competition to hoist the coveted Director’s Cup and garner bragging rights at the water cooler for the coming year.  

The annual event actually started a few days prior at the Blue Ridge Arsenal, as small teams from each of the four Directorates (Big Red, Mellow Yellow, Black Eye, and Blue Bayou) assembled to display their sharp shooting talents.  Clinging to their guns, these four conservative groups competed on the Blue Ridge firing range shooting rifles and handguns as various targets and distances.  Rene M would claim active shooter honors as he completed the course at a blistering pace with high accuracy hits on each target.  His low score enabled him to carry his vision impaired, less accurate, and low-income-tax-paying-on-the-government-dole teammate to an early Big Red victory.

At 7:00 am, on a cool Thursday morning, amidst the rose bushes of Bonair Park, the competition planning committee began setting up for the day’s events. Blueberry cake donuts, assorted bagels, and gallons of black coffee were shipped in to greet the arriving athletes with a surge of sugar and caffeine.  Anger “I put 7,000 miles on my bike but have never watched the Tour de France” N arrived on his Fuji velo to supervise the early activities.  The volley ball nets were strung, cones were set-up to mark the boundaries for the field competitions, and the Frisbee golf course was walked off with the fresh patches of poison ivy duly noted.  Slowly the athletes would arrive to begin numerous attempts at stretching by swinging their legs back and forth, bending over at the waist, and letting out low pitch groans at various decibel levels and duration.

The first official event of the day would be the 5k fun run.  Fun because the planners wanted to attract a high number of participants and 5k because they didn’t want to lose anyone from the competition before the day’s events began.  The race would be run on the W&O trail that borders Bonair Park on the left and goes for 1.5 miles due west along I-66 with a return straight back into the blinding sun to the starting point for a total distance 3.1 miles.  Team Black Eye arrived in force, fielding ten participants and ringers.  Team Mellow Yellow fielded two with the Big Red showing with a single lone runner (see Southern California traffic above).  Team Blue Bayou was still in the bag.  And so it would begin, Team Black setting the pace, with SMSgt “I ran a marathon over the weekend” B taking the early lead.  Dodging bicycle commuters passing continuously on the left, B finished the course in a blistering 21:10.  Most of team Black and the two runners from Mellow Yellow would finish ahead of the sole Big Red runner.  And had it not been for an urgent, as they say in the Tour de France “natural break” at the halfway point, amidst the pesky commuters and school buses, the lone Big Red runner might have cut a minute or two off his pace.  He was forced to leave the course in order to find privacy in bush.  Honorable mention goes to Derek C  and Angie G who completed the 5k later in the morning.

Back at the pavilion the crowds of participants were growing.  Team members in cliques of blue, red, black, and yellow t-shirts began assembling to discuss strategy and drink coffee. At a few minutes before 9:00 am one of the event organizers picked up a bull-horn and welcomed everyone to this year’s A9 Sports Day.  After the obligatory speech from the leader of the Black Eye Team the day took flight.   

The first major events for the day included volley ball, Frisbee golf, and the soccer kick.  Lesser events such as darts and Jenga would take place in the pavilion.  Blue, Black, and Yellow team members stared up in awe as the Big Red giants, Dave “I’m tall but not so quick” Q and Glenn “The Dutch Giant” V, took their place at the volley ball net and looked down from the clouds at their competition.  Needless to say, with that kind of height advantage at the net, the Reds, easily took their first major field victory of the day.  

Over at the soccer kick, life wasn’t going so well for the Reds as Lucky Tucker laid down a withering barrage of smack and Dave H showed everyone he could effortlessly direct a soccer ball with his instep.  Fred S, a.k.a last year I dressed as Bastian Schweinsteiger, aggressively tried to convince the Team Yellow that it was the right decision to put him in this event.  For the Reds, Rhett, “Apollo is my Doberman” M, was forced to carry his blaze orange shoe wearing teammate to victory in the semifinal…but they advanced.  As the final began, Lucky continued his verbal barrage of his adversaries stopping only when taking his own kicks.  Hickman continued to accurately place kick after kick and score point after point, with Ray the Referee dutifully declaring successful hits against the backstop.  However, the Big Red slowly accumulated points in machine like manner.  At the final distance, orange shoes had given honor back to the blaze orange he wears (which happen to be the colors of the famous Netherlands Football Club) with a near perfect score.  As Lucky and Rhett shanked a sufficient number of shots for the teams to be dead even at the final kick and with the orange shoed competitor bending it like Beckham on every kick the pressure was squarely on Hickman’s back.  His final kick dropped low, “no points” Ray called.  Victory in soccer belonged to Team Red.

After the consolation heat to determine 3rd and 4th place in the soccer kick, Fred a.k.a. Schweinsteiger, feeling a surge of frustration for their loss, demonstrated the correct way clear a soccer ball by launching one hard from behind the 50 ft line.  Coffee and Duncan donuts…$5.  BBQ lunch at Famous Dave’s…$10.  The look of surprise on Charlotte L’s face after taking the line drive of Fred’s kick to her spine…priceless.  Fortunately there was no injury other than to Fred’s pride which would later be redeemed during Frisbee golf.  A special mention should go to Cyber-Girl “I never saw a soccer ball before I left Texas” H for stepping in to kick for Team Black Eye despite how Kevin A might now feel about having someone who never saw a soccer ball before she left Texas on his team.

After the Red victory in soccer and volleyball in the first period ended it was time to begin readying for flag football as the crowds divided and some migrated to the free throw-line to begin practice for the basketball toss.  As one approached the blacktop, Dave “I can dunk the basketball on this court” Q could be seen standing shoulders above the other players warming up.  Q, along with his teammate, Derek “I have long shorts and a sleeveless shirt” C seemed, at first glance, to be favorites in the completion.  Q has the ability to go 5 for 5 at the line.  Sadly, “Spacemen can’t jump” and just as Cyber-Girl Hayden grew-up in a soccer-ball free Texas, Derek played water polo while growing up in Southern California. The two sports are as different as sports can be. Tossing 2 for 15 in his first round, it was clear Q would be called on to go 15 for 15 each round if the Big Red was to stand a chance.  Although Q put up a fight the deficit was too large for the Big Red to advance to the finals.  Red would have to fight it out for third place in the consolation round.  As the teams changed positions and prepared for the final rounds, the swimming Ralph Lauren was offered advice to throw “granny style”.  Q demonstrated the proper technique.  The transformation was instant and Derek went 4 for 5 during the 3rd rotation to add to Q’s commanding lead and easily take 3rd place.  Every point counts in this furious competition so Big Red was happy to steal 3rd place.

Most of the players then migrated to the main field to watch the results of the flag football competition.  Due to injuries at past competitions, flag football had been banned from Sports Day.  However, assuming some risk, the Director approved the competition this year on a trial basis and everyone was admonished to “Be Safe” as this wasn’t, after all, Super Bowl Sunday.  Of course that advice was abandoned after the first kick.  The inner-self,  the American instinct, the Friday night lights, the marching band, the cheerleaders, the Vince Lombardi speeches, all conspire to cloud the judgment of even the most conscientious players.  When that pig skin arcs high in the blue sky turning slowly, end over end, time stands still.  As the ball drops into the outstretched hands of a running back suddenly all hell breaks loose.  Players are frantically scrambling forward to block the on-rushing team.  The grass field erupts in a cloud of dust as players cut back and forth committing body and soul into the melee to grab at the dangling flag being advanced forward.  It only took a few moments to comprehend that this was indeed Super Bowl Sunday.

Wanting to atone for the humiliation of throwing granny style in the basketball competition, Derek suited up to play flag football.  His impact on the field was immediately noticed as John “I played D8 ball in college” H took command as the QB for the Big Red and connected with C in the end zone.  This combination proved effective as John would fade back into the pocket, pump fake long, as Derek would come short and sprint inside across the center.  Meanwhile, Glenn and JED “It’s not a motorcycle baby it’s a chopper” D would block as Rich “Don’t call me Sulu” Sand Wade McG went deep down field.  In the end the Crimson Tide of the Big Red out powered each opponent to win a second major field competition.  Were the gods of fortunes finally smiling on Big Red?  Momentum was certainly in their favor. 

In the second round of Frisbee golf Smacko McM and Rebel Lewis would serve as course officials.  Lucky Tucker started talking smack early.  As Rebel and Smacko led the teams through the first several holes on the course, everybody learned two things.  First that those seemingly wasted hours of Frisbee practice in college weren’t for naught.  And second, that Tasha “I played softball in college” T, didn’t play Frisbee in college.  As the casual observer might judge based on Tasha’s Frisbee throwing abilities, just like there are no soccer balls in Texas and no basketball courts in California, there are certainly no Frisbees in Arizona.  Note in Derek’s case, since there are actually basketball courts in California, we are left to scratch our heads.

As the game progressed the field was separated into three groups; those whose college prowess at throwing the disc returned; those who never could throw the disc even though they played in college; and Lucky Tucker who could talk smack while simultaneously chucking the disc.  This round proved to be a relaxing way to spend the afternoon while Ultimate Frisbee would rage on the main field.  Toward the end of the round, hidden deep behind the award winning Bonair Park Rose Garden and a leafy outcropping of bushes standing atop a grassy knoll, Lucky Tucker would pause along a lush depression in the fairway to gaze down at a loop of color lying casually on the soft blades of grass.  He announced to the other players that here in this secluded area of the park a circus clown had been making balloon animals.  The others stepped forward to see what Lucky had found.  Snop Johnson, more experienced in the ways of the world, or perhaps more versed in quotations from the Blues Brother’s looked at the thin balloon exclaimed, “One prophylactic…slightly soiled”.  The golfer’s gave the heinous find a wide berth as they continued their march toward the next hole.  As they walked forward Lance “I won arm wrestling” J reminded everyone that although we may have the vision of a secret love between Romeo & Juliet in our minds DoD policy reminds us to equally consider a Romeo & Romeo version of the park rendezvous.

Over the course of the day speculation on which teams were winning could be heard ringing throughout the druid woods.  No one knew for sure as the competition officials guarded the results tightly to prevent the unfortunate shenanigans that occurred in sports days past.  Previously directors, equipped with the knowledge of their standings, pressured their teams to seek a competitive advantage.  Not unlike election officials “getting out the vote” directors could be seen personally selecting who would take the field and who would sit the bench.  Ringers were brought in, identification was not checked.  Lopsided competitions were the direct result.  Vicky “My little dog is cuter than your big dog” White might end up arm wrestling Lucky Tucker, for example.  Whereas lopsided, no one could ever be quite sure which way that particular line-up would end. 

Back at the pavilion the first and only snafu of the day occurred.  The Director, in person, came to collect water for the thirsty participants of Ultimate Frisbee.  To the shock and horror of those present in the pavilion the understanding was universal…A9 Sports Day had run out of water.  And in front of the Director…immediately grasping the gravity of the situation Stephanie “Magenta is the new Red” W jumped into her car and quickly returned with six more cases of water thereby saving the day and quite possibly the promotion opportunities for the Lieutenants on the organizing committee.

Lesser sports of the day included Jenga which was cancelled due to the inferior quality of the playing blocks, which upon inspection, turned out to be “Tumbling Tower” blocks manufactured to a much lower standard.   Instead of smooth wood surfaces that would glide over one another, the TT blocks were pitted and rough creating a safety hazard for the Jenga players.  Gone are the days when Thomas “Jenga Champion of the World” C, wearing a hernia belt and taking a wide stance, would relentlessly pursue each Jenga victory…perhaps safety wasn’t quite the concern back in the old days.

Yet other competitions included darts, poker, and of course the creative relay.  Competitor to the end, Scott “Snow” L, could be seen personally coaching his Mellow Yellow Team to victory as well as asking for Marie “SoH” L to stop holding hands with her inked beau and to compete, no less, in three consecutive heats of the creative relay.  Much later, Chris “the God of Sky & Thunder” Z, who also competed in the creative relay was discovered wandering through the ancient druid forest of Bonair still dizzy from his run in with the dizzy bat.

Lunch time was at hand, Famous Dave had delivered his Famous BBQ, but before the athletes could eat the final event had to be settled.  Tug of war is the traditional final event at sports day each year.  Tremendous planning goes into the selection of each side, Who will anchor? Who brought gloves or was still wearing cleats? and most important of all, Who has the most girth? It’s funny but when you are searching for members for the tug of war team there seems to be a statistically improbable sample size of participants who had broken their backs sometime in the past and thus had to turn down the opportunity to participate.  Needless to say, sufficient bravery won over and full teams stepped to the line including at least one participant who had cracked his spine while racing motorcycles.

Anger Newman, ever vigilant for safety violations, made sure the anchors were not anchoring the rope around their necks.  There would be plenty of time for hanging ones head after the competition so there was no need to hang anyone during the tug of war. Black and Blue stepped up to the rope, seven to the left and seven to the right.  The rules of the competition were read aloud.  Last minute spacing and organizing of athlete places around the rope occurred.  Finally, the official announced, “Pick-up the rope”.  As the rope drew taught so did the anxiety in the crowd.  The official called for slack on one side, then the other.  When the center flag hung straight down over the center line he dropped his arm and the pull was on.  The crowd erupted in cheers for both sides.  Black got the drop on Blue and advanced backward step by steady step.  Just when Black was about to pull Blue over the line, the Blue warriors held firm. Blue began working in unison chanting Pull, Pull, Pull at even intervals.  Slowly they turned the momentum around.  Back they walked with more organization… Pull – Pull – Pull – Pull and suddenly the Black Team was broken, they fell forward, dropped to their knees, and were drug across the center line.   Big Red and Mellow Yellow were up next.  Angie “I’ll be at Langley next year” G and Tina were selected to lead the coxswain chant for Big Red. When the officials gave the call to step to the rope the Dutch Giant instinctively took his place as anchor with the rest of the Big Red side spacing along the rope.  Team Yellow dug in.  When the official’s arm dropped the Pull—Pull—Pull—Pull of Tina and Angie rose upward from the park with twenty or more assembled Red members joining in.  Yellow fought valiantly but they never made a stand.  Red pulled them straight over the line.  Big Red would advance to the finals against Blue Bayou.  

After the consolation round, and after taking a chance to breathe, Red and Blue took to the rope for the final competition of the day.  More care was taken during the spacing with each player stomping the ground looking for vital traction from a tired turf field.  Once again the pull was on.  This time Blue got the drop.  Red was pulled forward a few steps.  The Red coxswain’s were trying to reestablish a rhythm for Big Red... Pull – Pull – Pull – Pull– Pull…the Blue advance was halted but not turned.  Slowly the direction switched and Red was gaining ground one step back at a time.  Pull – Pull – Pull they were now in perfect unity.  Yard after yard was gained but within inches of crossing center, Blue held firm and halted the movement.  Red reached deep.  Some questioned their remaining strength and knew they couldn’t hold out much longer.  If Blue had any strength left it was over.  Reaching deep, Red listened for the call of the coxswain…Pull – Pull – Pull and with one mighty final Pull, Blue was defeated.  Big Red had prevailed tabulating a number of major field victories and now adding tug of war to the list.

Back at the pavilion lunch was served.  Famous Dave’s BBQ was opened and everybody dug in.  Some expressed remorse at the absence of Red Hot & Blue and wondered if they were witness to yet a second sports day snafu.  The noise in the pavilion was deafening as the tired participants re-lived each event and awaited the announcement of the final results.  After everyone had eaten the Director was handed the bull-horn to thank everyone for their participation and to announce this year’s champion. If there was any remaining doubt all was erased as Big Red was confirmed Champion of A9 Sports Day for 2012, the first time in a decade that Balf’s Team would take home the elusive honor.  The only thing left to do would be to decide how the trophy would be shared between two office locations over the year to come.

There were a thousand stories at sports day, my apologies for not capturing the action associated with each and every one.  Also, I did my best to capture the stories as I remember; some stories were relayed to me second hand and have not been fact checked.  In a few cases I took liberties with the exact wording to add levity or drama as the case dictated. I would like to thank all the folks who put sports day together for it allowed us to have fun and build memories.