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Brrrrr! Soccer season is here

When the weather is fit for neither man nor beast, the highschool soccer season plunges full-speed ahead. The prep soccerplayer is a devoted and determined soul, a hearty breed ofathlete.

High school soccer is a season of frozen fingers and toes andrunny noses. You can easily identify with the Green Bay Packer fanswhen you attend a soccer game during the nights of December andJanuary.

When my son, Terry, informed me that his daughter, Sarah, afreshman at Forrest County AHS in Brooklyn, had made the soccerteam as a midfielder, pawpaw smiled with pride. As a devoted,loving dad, Terry would try to make most of Sarah’s soccergames.

“Son, I would advise you to purchase some long underwear, alined trench coach, some insulated shoes and warm gloves. Oh yes,buy a hat or woolen, knit cap, too.”

Like most teenagers, Terry refused to wear a cap when he wasgrowing up. Now, as a mature adult, he still won’t listen tome.

Certainly, it gets cold in tropical Hattiesburg. No matter howhot and humid the atmosphere is in the summer when we areankle-deep in perspiration, Mississippi folks still shiver duringthe “winta” months. To me, a native of Wisconsin some 34 yearsremoved, 40 degrees is a cold wave in Lincoln County and it feelslike 20 degrees. When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, it’stime to seriously consider a winter vacation in Florida or theBahamas.

Certainly, it gets cold and damp in Lincoln County. Workingindoors every day, you are even more jolted by a cold wind when youstep outside.

Unfortunately, the Mississippi High School ActivitiesAssociation created the soccer season playing dates. It starts inlate November and concludes in February. Anyone familiar with theweather pattern in the Magnolia State realizes that winter weatheris unpredictable at best. If it’s warm outside, it’s usuallyraining. If the sky is clear, there’s frost on the pumpkin.

The soccer season is partially messed up because of theThanksgiving and Christmas holidays. School is out and most soccerteams don’t play games during that period, much less practice.

Brookhaven assistant soccer coach Rob McCreary gave up the headjob two years ago in favor of an administrative position in theschool district. He continues to be a loyal servant and works withBHS head soccer coach Kevin Bower.

McCreary has been coaching BHS soccer for seven years and hasendured the winter hardships. He’s a devoted jogger so he isaccustomed to the outdoors.

On Tuesday night, at the Hansel King Sportsplex, it was blanket,scarf and mitten weather for the handful of devoted fans.Temperatures hovered in the mid 30s and a light northwesterly windblew a chilly greeting across the playing surface.

McCreary has fond memories of crueler weather conditions. “I’vebeen in worse. We played one time when it started raining. It wasthe first game I coached. By the time it was over, it was sleetingat Magnolia. It was unbelievable.”

Most of the players, girls and boys, wear shorts, knee socks andlong-sleeve sweatshirts. Goalkeepers are the least active of theplayers on the field so they shiver the most.

“Our players warm up,” said McCreary. “Most of the time theyhave taken their sweats off by halftime.”

McCreary believes in layered clothing to stay warm. “You startout in your thermals and work from there. We have played in pouringrain and when it’s freezing.”

Like most soccer coaches, McCreary would prefer having thesoccer season at a more comfortable time of the year. “I would liketo see it sometime in the late spring before school gets out or inthe fall.”

However, there are conflicts with other sports; football,cross-country and slowpitch softball in the fall and baseball,track, golf, tennis and fastpitch softball in the spring. Besides,most recreation department leagues have fall and springschedules.

Recreation leagues provide a major funnel for high schoolprograms. The Brookhaven Youth Soccer Organization has over 200youth participating but interest begins to wane as the teenageyears approach. Many boys want a car and they need a job to financethat auto.

The Panther soccer teams hope to move back to the BHS footballfield next season. It would provide stands for the home folks andvisitors, a scoreboard, restroom facilities and a concessionstand.

By comparison, the Hansel King Sportsplex soccer field is stillhard as a rock, beaten down by excessive use. Muscles and bonesbruise a lot easier on an asphalt-like surface. It’s better in thesummer when the grass grows.

Diehard fans sit close to the sidelines in a variety of lawnchairs, venting their frustrations at the coaches, officials andplayers. They also provide encouragement to their favorites.

However, the Brookhaven Recreation Department’s facility isOlympic size and this can be an equalizer against a more skilledopponent.

“We can spread our players out,” said McCreary. “A narrow fieldmakes it tougher to pass the ball.”

Gate receipts are important, too. Three game officials must bepaid. The cost is $40 per game for center officials and $35 eachfor the two side officials.

That’s rain or shine, sleet or snow.