This morning on the bus a little girl I’ve seen many times before got on, per usual, with her Justin Beiber backpack strapped on to her shoulders. Normally this wouldn’t merit a second look, but her neon orange socks were matched by a t-shirt of the same color. Even then, the only reason I cared was that I saw that shirt being distributed the night before but somehow never noticed her at the distribution site.
After the little snow New England saw this winter finally melted away, it seemed like my volunteering days with YES would be put on hold until next ski season. They have a full lineup of summer activities, but all of them are during weekdays. Or so I thought. Turns out they have a track and field team that meets twice a week in the evening. Even though I’ve never run track, I missed working with the kids and signed up.
The kids range in age from four to 14, and I think there are even a few three-year-olds thrown in there. Had you asked me at the beginning of the season which group I did not want, I would have told you the really little ones. They are fun in short doses, but I thought I would get more out of it working with the older kids. Turns out I was wrong, and that the four- and five-year-olds keep me both constantly smiling and forever trying to make sense of the senseless knock knock jokes they find so hilarious. (I wasn’t wrong about the short doses thing, though. By the time practice is over they are about ready to be done and I am about done trying to organize chaos.)
After practice last night they started handing out t-shirts to some of the kids, and it was one such shirt that I saw on the bus this morning. Turns out that if your child attends enough of this absolutely free program where they get to make new friends, exercise, and learn the fundamentals of a sport that could bring them eternal high school glory (and who knows, maybe even a trip to the Olympics), they get a free t-shirt. How is that for an enticement to get them to make 10 practices or meets where they have everything to gain and nothing to lose?
They also had some embroidered polo shirts for the coaches. It was a very nice gesture, and one that I should have been more appreciative of, but earlier events that evening made it all but impossible. Several weeks ago the other coach who works regularly with the little ones told me that the kids “adored me.” I didn’t believe her, but in fairness that didn’t stop me from bragging to my sisters that I was an object of adoration. They, not unexpectedly, had a reaction that could be described as something short of adoring.
Last night I began to think that my fellow coach may have been on to something. While keeping some sort of order as the kids jumped over hurdles that could be hidden by tall grass, one of the four-year-olds came up behind me and hugged my leg. Initially taken a little aback, I looked down and smiled at her. It was then that she looked those big blue eyes up at me and said, “You’re doing a great job, kiddo.”
Where she came up with a line like that I have no idea, but it sure meant a whole lot more to me than any polo shirt ever will.