This past Saturday morning the dogs and I went for our usual morning walk, along Buttolph Drive, left through the Memorial Sports Center parking lot and out toward the grass of the Middlebury Recreation Park.
If things are quiet — meaning no other dogs lurking — I often let them off their leashes, and they run around in circles and wrestle for a minute or two.
But no luck that morning: There were girls, 9 or 10 years old, learning to play lacrosse, on a field finally almost dry after last week’s late-season snow.
To me, on that particular day, it was a poignant scene. Later that morning I drove to Springfield, Mass., to watch my older daughter, Kaitlyn, play her last official sporting event, a women’s lacrosse game for Wellesley College. I took the gallon of Monument Farms chocolate milk for Kaitlyn and her teammates one last time.
How long ago was it I drove her to her first girls’ lacrosse practice? Probably 12 years ago.
We talked on the way there that day. Kaitlyn did not start the sport as early as some of her peers, and was worried she would not play much. I told her to volunteer for defense, and she would probably get all the time she wanted.
The die was cast: She became a defender.
A couple years after that, we were driving to the second day of the annual Green Mountain Shootout. She hadn’t played well the first day. I said to her, you are fast, why are people running by you? Get your feet moving quicker and run with them, harass them, I suggested. That day, something clicked in. People came up to me and said, wow, Kaitlyn’s playing great.
She never stopped. Before long, she started as a sophomore on defense for a state championship team.
Those memories flooded back as the dogs and I walked by that practice in the rec park. A parent I know waved at me. I wondered what she told her younger daughter that morning; her other kids are varsity athletes now.
Many other memories have surfaced since this past Saturday, which turned out to be a disappointing loss to Springfield. There was no Hollywood ending, not even when Kaitlyn moved into the attack in the final minutes looking for her first college goal — a pass to her cutting open toward the crease sailed high.
Back in elementary school, Kaitlyn did not burst on the athletic scene, although she took quickly to field hockey, always her favorite sport. She played town rec basketball for three years before scoring her first points, and her AAU coaches kept refusing to put her in.
I had a long talk about that issue with the AAU program head. All kids should play equally until high school. Kaitlyn is a poster child for that thesis. The same basketball coach by Kaitlyn’s senior year in high school was ready to make her a starter.
But early on? Kaitlyn told me once during her Mary Hogan School years she was going to be an athlete. To paraphrase, I said that’s great, but please don’t put down your saxophone yet.
Kaitlyn achieved her goal with ability, for sure, but also the immeasurables. Kaitlyn played her field hockey and lacrosse seasons in high school with two painful foot injuries that caused her to miss the basketball season in the middle; she brought those on herself by working out too hard in the offseason. She played parts of four seasons in college with one broken bone and three stress fractures. She won several coaches’ awards along the way, and she captained teams.
After Saturday’s game Kaitlyn cried tears of frustration because some of her teammates had, in her estimation, not tried hard enough. In the past, she was the one who would drive injured teammates to the hospital, and she always took younger players under her wing.
OK, I can brag a bit, but that’s not the point. It’s really about the stuff of life, what she and her mother and sister — also a fine athlete we thankfully can still watch — and I shared over the years, in person after games or on the phone.
We spoke of frustration with poor and unfair coaching decisions, injuries, and teammates who didn’t always get it.
We talked about her joy about shutting down top scorers, winning big games and a league title, making close friends, and knowing that she’s done her best, game after game, season after season, year after year.
After Saturday’s game, I talked with another senior dad. We said see you at graduation, and then looked at each other for a moment, and agreed that day would be an academic formality.
Our kids have been going to school since they were five; it’s basically a requirement. What we saw on the field at Springfield culminated years of commitment to something they chose to do for the love of it, for the joy of competition and the thrill of being on teams. Saturday felt to us more like an ending than a march for a piece of paper could be.
We won’t miss their playing as much as they will, I thought, but it might be close.
And earlier that day as I walked through the rec park I hoped the parents were paying close attention.