Sports, Me, Title IX and the World Cup

What did I know about Richard Nixon when he was President? I may or may not have been aware he was the President before he resigned in the summer of 1974, almost exactly 40 years ago. I just recently found out that Nixon signed a set of amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965. One of those amendments was Title IX. Nixon signed the Education Amendments on June 23, 1972. Six days earlier, on June 17, five men had broken into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Building, the point at which the dominos of Nixon’s political downfall began at least to sway, if not topple.

I knew even less about Title IX, which is now best known for guaranteeing equal opportunities for women in high school and college athletics, than I did about Nixon. In 1972, I was 12. I was beginning to think ahead to high school in two years. I hoped I could successfully audition for my small Kentucky town’s elite high school girls’ choir, the Harlan Musettes.

Jump ahead to 1974. Nixon resigned in August, and a few weeks later I started high school. My Musettes audition the previous spring was successful.

A senior named Jill sat next to me in the second soprano section. Long red hair, freckles. Given the difference in our ages, Musettes was the only class we had together. Yet Jill generously made me part of her circle of friends within the choir, who of course were also juniors and seniors. That in turn gave me a welcome place to perch during the mid-morning break, 200 teenagers milling in the lobby with their Bar-B-Q Grippo’s and M&Ms.

Decades later, I realize the choir director probably asked senior members to “adopt” the new girls. But at the time, it seemed miraculous that someone like Jill (Popular! Senior! Football-player boyfriend!) had for no reason I could discern taken an interest in someone like me.

I was neither an athlete nor interested in sports. I was the oldest of three children, driven to succeed academically, an omnivorous reader who spent far more of my free time with books than people, although in summers there was swimming, and two weeks of riding horses at Girl Scout camp. And, the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby on television.

Jill is the reason I got interested in basketball. She played for the Harlan Green Dragonettes on what I have believed all these years was the very first Harlan girls’ basketball team ever to take the floor. Now that I know Title IX went into effect in 1972, I’m not sure that is true, but given that we always seemed to lag behind the rest of the world, or at least the country, it is possible.

I was quickly and fiercely loyal to Jill, so I went to all the girls’ home basketball games, and usually stayed for the boys’ games. I kept watching basketball through high school. (The Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA title in my senior year.) I still can’t spot a walk or double-dribble unless I get lucky and it happens right in front of my face, and sometimes not even then. Neither basketball nor sports in general had taken hold.

I went off to college in 1978 having never seen a soccer match. I can’t recall even knowing the word before then. What drew me to my first game? It might have been a certain defender I worshiped from afar and never spoke to in my life that I recall. But I was taken almost instantly by this game.

At the time, Goshen College had only men’s soccer. Women who might have gone out for that sport played field hockey.

I was a faithful Maple Leafs fan throughout college. Intercollegiate soccer happens within one of northern Indiana’s two charmed seasons, early fall, late spring being the other). Not much can match soccer in Indiana autumn: the slant of the afternoon light, the tang in the breeze, the constant action on the field. And I was fascinated by the idea of moving a ball around with only feet, with all that running, with a goalkeeper who seemed to have springs in his legs and hands a foot wide, with the seeming simplicity of the game compared to basketball or football or baseball or tennis. I could almost do that...

(When I came to live in south-central Kansas where the Mennonite college is called Bethel, I would eventually learn that women my age there had begun club soccer as students with a guiding force of several who had grown up as missionary kids in Congo and India, where everyone plays soccer.)

Years went by. I graduated from college, worked in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, moved back to Kentucky, returned to northern Indiana for graduate school, and finally ended up in Kansas. The first year, I lived in North Newton, just a few blocks from Bethel College, which had both men’s and women’s intercollegiate soccer.

So women are playing the game now. I’d spend an occasional Saturday afternoon watching them. Too new to the community to feel comfortable in the stands, I’d sit on the ground on the sidelines. This was in the days of Bethel’s old soccer field, which—Kansas notwithstanding—was not on completely level ground. If you didn’t choose your sideline seat carefully, the players would disappear over the horizon when they got close to the north-end goal.

Now it’s 2002. It is summer, which I am spending in Guatemala studying Spanish and hoping to figure out what to do with the rest of my life after getting laid off from a job I loved.

I went to Guatemala as part of a program that attracts mostly college students, mostly from Mennonite colleges. I was doing a repeat of Goshen College SST in a language I’d never studied.

The entire month of June, the two male Spanish instructors came to work with dark circles under their eyes and sucked down the caffeine at mid-morning break. I was told this was because they were staying up all night to watch something called the Feefa World Cup, taking place in Japan and South Korea. (Oh—FIFA!)

End of June, a bunch of us are in Panajachel, and several are going to spend all night in a bar watching the World Cup final, Alemania contra Brasil. Not me. I do awaken briefly sometime in the early morning hours to firecrackers popping somewhere nearby, but someone is always setting off firecrackers in Guatemala, so I fall promptly back to sleep. Later, I learn it’s because Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win the World Cup. Guatemala is happy because at least it was someone in Latin America.

By 2006, I was working at Bethel full-time. The brand-new Thresher Stadium and Joe W. Goering Field had opened the fall before. I was a dedicated Thresher soccer fan, at least enough to go to all the home games if the weather was good, which it usually is in Kansas in fall. I liked sitting high in what seemed like massive stands to watch the action. I could see everything. But it was still mostly about supporting the students, especially when soccer drew only a fraction of fans the football games did. I tried one football game, at Fall Festival. I love our students, but I haven’t been to one since.

Once again, I was out of the country for most of June. Late in the month, Coventry, England, Sunday late afternoon, streets completely deserted: everyone in the pubs watching England play Ecuador in the World Cup. It was, I now know, the Round of 16; group play had ended. All England were rejoicing the next morning on account of advancement to the next level. England won 1-0. (I consulted Wikipedia to learn that David Beckham scored the lone goal. Also that England lost the next game to Portugal. On penalty kicks. Not that I knew on June 25, 2006, what that was. July 9, I would learn.)

I had now lived in Kansas for a decade. Among my friends: a family in which Don had grown up in Peru playing fútbol and the three daughters were all soccer players, making Joan a dedicated fan by default, but also by affinity. They subscribed to cable TV for one month every four years (they would sign up, and then cancel), when their home became World Cup Central.

And so I ended up in their living room July 9, 2006, to watch Italy play France in the final. This family had lived in Zaire as mission workers (they had to leave when the upheaval began that turned Zaire back into the Democratic Republic of Congo) and had studied French in France. French was the second language I learned after English, the language I spoke on SST in Haiti. So we were for France.

The abiding memory is, of course, everyone’s. It was 1-1 at the end of regulation. Well into the second overtime half, Italy’s Marco Materazzi said something to the French star Zidane, who started to walk away, then turned around and head-butted the Italian. Zidane got a red card and was ejected, the game went to penalty kicks, and France lost.

I’ve had no use for the Italians since. More drama than a middle-school pool party, and less mature behavior.

And I hate penalty kicks.

Also, I was hooked.

I began to go see Bethel soccer for the sake of the game. At various points, a young woman I’d known as “one of the little kids” at church before her family moved to Honduras played midfield, and a favorite student assistant was a dogged defender. That had me devoted enough to be one of the faithful (perhaps lunatic) fans who would watch home games even in the rain (it did, once in a while). I also began a habit that continues to this day—since the last daughter has one more year of high school—of going to Newton High School girls’ soccer, sitting with Don and Joan and other cowbell-ringing friends and fans.

In 2008, halfway to the World Cup to be held in South Africa, I packed into a mini-van headed for Dallas and a weekend visit to Don’s relatives. Oh, and, incidentally, on the way back, to stop in the Dallas suburb of Frisco for a few hours to watch a “friendly” match, USA versus Guatemala. If you think we were crazy, what about the pile of Newton people who drove there and back in one day (ten hours of driving for about two of soccer)?

It was February. So what if it was Texas? It snowed. I was for Guatemala. They lost. I had never had so much fun at an athletic event.

Mid-June 2010. One school year wrapped up, another still just below the horizon—the beginning of the slow time at work. I discovered live streaming on ESPN and would have it on during the day. It got a little tricky, since rather than keeping the sound on and picture off to make it like listening on the radio, I’d have to do the reverse. This was because of the ubiquitous and personally despised vuvuzela, so beloved of South African soccer fans.

Despite usually knowing the outcomes of games, I would often spend the evening watching the taped games with a roomful of people on a home theater system; completely against my nature as an introvert. I have no explanation for this, outside soccer mania.

Kendra and Russ (they of the home theater) had a young Brazilian woman living with them through the Inter-Menno exchange program. It could get exciting. Tragic when Brazil lost to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. That had been eclipsed earlier, though, when the USA lost to Ghana in the Round of 16. No more Landon Donovan! (I didn’t care.)

The greatest tragedy, however, appeared to be the fact that although Don and I were both senior high youth sponsors at church, we had somehow allowed the summer service trip to be scheduled smack on top of the World Cup final. Fortunately, it was a “local” trip: part of our time in Wichita, the remainder at the Mennonite camp about 30 miles west. We were supposed to be in transit between Wichita and the camp July 11, when the Netherlands and Spain played in the final.

No problem! We’ll detour to Don’s house in North Newton, grill a few hot dogs, watch soccer, and then head for the camp. The kids were good with that. The youth pastor was on sabbatical, and thus not there to appeal to the other adults’ assumed maturity and proper priorities.

Oh, no, this final seemed headed for penalty kicks, too, ending regulation at 0-0. Then Spain pulled it out with a handful of minutes left in extra time. We packed ourselves back in the vans and pickups and drove to camp in good spirits.

And so we come to 2014. I’ve scrapped even the lowest-possible-level cable TV package, not that I got ESPN when I did have it. However, I am thrilled to discover that because I’ve retained my cable internet, and it is with an ESPN-compatible company, I can live-stream the World Cup games from the various stadia in Brazil anywhere I have an internet signal. At home. In my office. While volunteering at the used-bookstore.

Don and Joan live three minutes from my office. There are some long lunch hours. Since World Cup 2014 is in Brazil—only two hours’ time difference—we all watch the games in real time.

That may have been the biggest single difference between World Cup 2014 and World Cup 2010. That, and social media.

(Facebook, June 9)

There are many things I wish were different about Brazil's preparation for the World Cup ... and I'm not saying I'll be rooting for Ghana next week (or that I won't be) ... but IT'S WORLD CUP TIME. The only sporting event I ever get excited about. And the only one that actually deserves the title "World," where a Ghana is not only on equal footing with a USA but is likely to beat them.

I tried to let the injustice done to Brazilians—a choice by the government, ridiculous demands for hosting from FIFA—affect my World Cup watching. Like millions of Brazilians, though, once the games started, I was a goner.

The June 16 Group G match between Ghana and the USA was the only one I watched in a bar. It was a fundraiser for some friends who had left only months before for three years of mission work in Ghana. I expected Ghana to win. I was pulling for Ghana to win.

The USA won, 2-1. Abruptly, I was interested in the fortunes of Team USA, otherwise known as the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT).

German coach. Four players who are sons of an African-American and a German parent, who speak German as their first language (one of them, John Brooks, scored the USA’s miraculous winning goal against Ghana). The presumed striker for the USA, Jozy Altidore, went down with a hamstring injury, not to be seen on the pitch again for the remainder of the World Cup.

(Facebook, June 17)

I love me some great goal-keeping! Vive Ochoa!

Despite early declarations of neutrality, I kept soft spots for Mexico and the Central American teams (Honduras and Costa Rica). More on Colombia later. I also loved watching the goalkeepers. My sister, who has watched sports of all kinds for decades, nonetheless was not above referring to keepers as “dishy.” Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa qualified. And he had prettier hair than anyone on the pitch and maybe in the stands.

(Facebook, June 18)

AAAACCKKKK. Two goals in four minutes. Tie score. I'm not going to survive. I love soccer! (Work? What work???)
I don't know if I can stand that much excitement on a hot June day, even with AC. That was a great game. I'm always for the underdog, so I'd have liked to see Australia win, but the guys with the orange trim played some fine football.

The Socceroos went down to the Oranje 2-3. It was my last good feeling for the Dutch. The big news of the day, though, was Spain’s 0-2 loss to Chile. Two matches, and the 2010 World Cup winners were headed home.

(later the same day)

Let me just say, although it's nothing if not trivial, that the two ugliest uniforms in the World Cup are currently on the pitch (actually, in the locker room at this very moment). It's the socks—both the yellow and the cerulean. Ugh.

That would be Cameroon (yellow) and Croatia. Yes, I knew what was essential.

(still later)

Cameroon—disheartened. Me, too. Alex, how could you?

Cameroon’s Alex Song head-butted a Croatian player. Red card. Cameroon’s defense implodes in second half; they lose 0-4.

(Facebook, June 19)

A stadium packed to the rafters with Colombians. An Ivoirian reduced to tears by his national anthem. One week into the World Cup! No idea who to root for in this one. I want them both to win.

ESO!!! Goal, Colombia!

Is now 2-0 Colombia. Look at all the yellow and red jumping up and down.

I love this game! An amazing goal from Gervinho, and it's 2-1.

(Love that name.)
Colombia hangs on.

Los Cafeteros became my team. The coffee grower mascot! Being able to yell “Yepes” (as in Mario, Colombian defender)! James (pronounced HA-mez) Rodriguez’ perfect head-in goal! The post-score team salsa! What’s not to love here?

Colombia 2, Côte d’Ivoire 1. Enough to get Colombia into the Round of 16.

(later the same day)

A slight preference for Uruguay in this match (I like their president), but Wayne must feel 600 pounds lighter to have that gorilla off his back.

Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, is known for many things. Being a former Marxist guerrilla who served 14 years in prison. Refusing to stay in the presidential palace or ride in a motorcade (he lives on a farm and drives himself to work in a 1987 Volkswagen). Supporting the legalization of marijuana and signing same-sex marriage into law in his country.

Leading up to this game, England’s star, Wayne Rooney, hadn’t ever scored a World Cup goal. The final score, however, was Uruguay 2, England 1. Luis Suárez, allegedly one of the world’s greatest soccer players, scored both La Celeste goals. Remember that name: Suárez.

(Facebook, June 20)

ACK. This is a game I actually care about. Italy just annoys me. I guess I have not forgiven them for 2006. Come on, Ticos.

This is why. Italy think they are in contention for the Oscars as well as the World Cup. Give me a break.

ESO! Ruiz at 44 minutes. No more than CR deserve after the AWOL officiating.


They held. WHEW.
I wanted CR to win that match, but seriously, Italy looked like their minds were elsewhere. Their acting careers, maybe.

Costa Rica 1 (goal by Bryan Ruiz), Italy 0. Los Ticos and La Celeste advance out of Group D. England and Italy go home. Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas becomes my favorite player of the tournament.

But that was just the first game. During group play, there were three games a day, at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. local time (1:00, 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. in Brazil).

Well, dang it, Switzerland. Are you playing with 10? It looks like it, even with 11 bodies on the field.

Aaaand, Switzerland have salvaged several threads of their dignity. Made the French look like fools on that first goal, too.

511th minute is the charm! Thirty-year drought over for Honduras! Vive!

Alas, Switzerland fell to France, 2-5. My name means “one from Zurich,” so of course I would root for Switzerland. And although Honduras managed their first World Cup goal in three decades, they lost 1-2 to Ecuador. (Who to root for in that match? I have Ecuadoran cousins. But my sister loves Honduras’s Roger Espinoza, who played for Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City not so long ago.)

(Facebook, June 21)

Iran—a red brick wall that Argentina keep beating their heads against.

Iran is a red brick wall against which Argentina keep beating their heads. Let's have correct grammar here. Argentina is one South American team I wouldn't mind seeing the back of.

Just to screw up the grammar again.

Maybe I don't care for Argentina because they are the Italians of South America. Although it's the Iranians who are contending for the Oscars this afternoon.

DANG. After regulation, Messi with a goal for Argentina.

Late coming into this game. Don't let up now, Ghana.

I'm so happy there are no vuvuzelas in 2014. (My friend from Ghana comments: There are here.)…

(Facebook, June 22)

Nope ... nope ... Algeria's Goal #4. Now that was the prettiest little goal you ever saw. Be afraid, Russia. Be very, very afraid.

And Korea has the cutest little soccer team ever. Seriously, they're adorable. It's time for this game to be over, before I lose ALL sense of proportion.

Argentina beat Iran, 1-0, with a goal by another of the world greats, Lionel Messi. Ghana and Germany played to a 2-2 draw (no penalty kicks in group play). Algeria beat South Korea 4-2 and would go on to play Russia to a 1-1 draw in Group H and advance to the Round of 16.

By now, of course, Russia had long since annexed the Crimean Peninsula, “taking it away” from Ukraine. I had no interest in seeing the Russian team advance. Politics and sports mixing? Shocking.

June 22 was the day the USA, at this point unaccountably in the top half of Group G, played Portugal. Sunday afternoon. Don set up a large screen and projector in their living room. Most of the kids were flopped on cushions in front of it, with a gaggle of adults behind them watching the flat-screen TV. Munching on potluck snacks; playing with the new Viszla puppy, Cai, and the “old” poodle mix, Leo; making snarky remarks about Portugal’s star (another “world’s-best”), Cristiano Ronaldo; watching the action.

Tremendous cheers for the USA goals. Much excitement as the game wound down with the USA ahead 2-1. Five minutes of added time. Fewer than 30 seconds left in that—and Portugal scored on a Ronaldo assist. USA keeper Tim Howard kept saving and saving and saving … until he didn’t.

By now, there were several friends (from all over, Ghana to Philadelphia to northern Ontario to a half-mile away) who claimed to be scouring their news feeds for my every Facebook post regarding the World Cup. Some of these were clearly being facetious (you know who you are, Sam Smucker). Others were telling me I needed to start tweeting, that people would follow me. I tried, people, truly I did. Twitter and I just aren’t in harmony yet. And since I don’t own a smartphone, when I went to watch games in the company of friends and fellow lunatics, my comments stopped for the duration. When I watched at home on my computer, I had to go back and forth between tabs, one for ESPN, one for Facebook. Oh, dear.

June 26, a Thursday, was the last day of group play. The USA and Germany played to a 1-1 draw and advanced to the Round of 16, leaving behind Portugal and Ghana. I watched the game at Nate’s house, in company with his brother Joe’s roofing crew, taking an extended lunch break. Several people were apparently worried about my life and health, given that I was not posting Facebook comments during that game.

(Facebook, June 26)

I can't say I have any World Cup favorites yet, but it's clear from my relative indifference to the games today (except USA-Germany) that it's beginning to shake down to Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile. I've lost my enthusiasm for Uruguay and never had it for Argentina.

June 24 had been the last day of group play for Group D. In Uruguay’s game against Italy, which La Celeste won 1-0, Luis Suárez apparently bit one of the Italian players, Giorgio Chiellini, on the shoulder. (He’d been suspended for biting twice before. The man had a rough childhood and clearly needs therapy.) Social media exploded. Uruguay did advance to the Round of 16, but by then FIFA had suspended Suárez for the duration of the World Cup.

(Facebook, June 28-July 3; Round of 16)

"HULK"??? (1)

BRAVO! (The goalkeeper and the exclamation) As far as the passing—well, maybe it really did all come down to the rain the other day. (1)


Roll, Colombia! (2)

I love it when they do that dance! Not just roll—RULE, Colombia! (2)

Good grief, fútbol players and their HAIR. Gimenez—no. Just no. (2)

Quarterfinals, baby! (2)

El Tri! Fuerza! (If this one goes to penalty kicks, too, I'm going to be sick. Or something.) (3)

Not this time. The Oranje are not the right team to "try and hold on" with. Goodbye, Mexico. (3)

Exhausted by another shootout. (As if the players weren't.) This time it went as I hoped, but still. Costa Rica advance. It'll be a wild Sunday night in San Jose, and pretty much everywhere in CR. (4)

Not much invested in this Nigeria-France match, but I'm enjoying watching some lovely passing and play without beating up on each other every 15 seconds. (5)

OK, at least somebody scored. 1-0 France. They worked hard for it, too. Fine Nigerian goalkeeping up until that point. (5)

Well, that was sweet. Some VIP in her VIP box, much more interested in her smartphone than in the Argentina-Switzerland game. Although I tend toward Switzerland because they're the underdogs, the fact that Brazil doesn't want Argentina to win pushes me more to los Albicelestes. Fun. (6)

OUCH. Swiss bludgeoning. (6)

Aw, dang it, Mr. Cute Yellow Goalkeeper. Argentina 1-0 with a handful of minutes to play. But I'd love to see Brasil confounded. (6)

We cheered ourselves up yesterday while watching the USA-Belgium game by chanting "Howard! Howard! Howard!" every time he made another save. (7)

Notes for the Round of 16:

  • June 28—Brazil (known for its players with one-word names: Neymar. Jô. Willian. Hulk. Fred.) and Chile played 120 minutes to a 1-1 draw. No matter La Roja’s stupendous goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, Brazil won on penalty kicks.
  • June 28—Colombia dispatched Uruguay, 2-0. I was not a fan of Uruguay defender José Gimenez’s hairstyle.
  • June 29—Mexico were too cautious (right, like I knew). El Tri lost to the Netherlands, 1-2.
  • June 29—Costa Rica-Greece game went to penalty kicks. Los Ticos prevailed. Navas rules.
  • June 30—France versus Nigeria, with the French winning 2-0. (Germany won the other June 30 game over Algeria, and Africa was out of the World Cup.)
  • July 1—It took extra time for Argentina to beat Switzerland, 1-0. The yellow-clad keeper was Switzerland’s Diego Benaglio.
  • July 1—End of the road for the USMNT, who lost to Belgium 2-1. I watched that game with the roofers again. USA goalkeeper Tim Howard set some kind of record for saves.

Well, we’re down to eight. I still have two horses in the race, Colombia and Costa Rica. Oops, wrong sport.

(Facebook, July 4-5)

The Brazilians are bellowing their anthem. But I say: ROLL, COLOMBIA! (1)

Another day, another fútbol game. Should I be for Belgium because they beat the USA or for Argentina because Brasil wants them to lose? Decisions, decisions. Anyway, that first goal (by Argentina) really looked like soccer the way it should be played. (2)

I like Belgium. But I don't mind seeing the colonial powers go down. And Argentina played smart. Now if Los Ticos can somehow do the same and pull an upset. I am not a fan of the Oranje. (2)

NAVAS!! But give him some help, for goodness' sake. (3)

No matter what happens, I swear Navas should get the MVP or the equivalent for this World Cup. Whew. (3)

They're going to kill me. I can't believe I'm still breathing. (Comment: I hope you're watching soccer. Otherwise, I'm calling 911. Me: Thanks, Alissa. You guessed it. (HA) I am a wreck, though. That goalkeeper kept the Ticos alive for 120 minutes, got hurt and now has to take penalty kicks. Oh, wait ... IT'S ONLY A GAME.) (3)

(Message to members of my small group) I will be out there when this game is over, unless I have a heart attack, which is all too likely. (3)

Notes for the quarterfinals:

  • Colombia, alas, did not roll this time. Brazil, which couldn’t keep its composure and seemed about to lose its sanity, somehow advanced on a 2-1 victory. But they lost their star, Neymar, who was carried out on a stretcher. Diagnosis: cracked vertebra. (Germany beat France 1-0 in the other July 4 game.)
  • In the first of the July 5 games, Argentina beat Belgium 1-0.
  • Costa Rica lost to the Netherlands on penalty kicks.

When the Costa Rica game finally ended, I made the 10-minute drive to Phil and Zandra’s farmlet with my potluck contributions. The kids were setting off firecrackers in the driveway. The adults were in the kitchen where it was cool. They all took a good look at me, then Daagya said, “Here, have a mojito.”

Still three games to go (four, counting the one for third place), but with the teams I cared most about—which included, to my surprise, the USA—out, my emotions cooled and my Facebook posts with them.

I came into the July 8 Brazil-Germany semifinal at the half and as a result missed the first segment of one of the most spectacular train wrecks in soccer history. Final score: Germany 7, Brazil 1. There’s no sense adding my less-than-expertise to the millions of words already written about that. (Brazil would also lose the consolation match 0-3.)

In other news, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff’s chances for re-election this fall look a bit shaky. But soccer couldn’t have anything to do with that, could it?

The July 9 Argentina-Netherlands game went to penalty kicks. Argentina won.

Back to Don and Joan’s for the final, on Sunday, July 13. Not nearly as much spark in the air as for USA-Portugal—was that only a couple of weeks ago? The crowd was sort of leaning toward Argentina (one quote: “I’d like to see Messi win a World Cup”).

And then dang it, if that game didn’t go into extra time. One 15-minute half down, still 0-0. I will not survive another round of penalty kicks. One family was unabashedly partisan for Germany. Jason had shaved his hair into a mohawk: “If Germany wins, I get to buzz it off.”

With less than 10 minutes to go before penalty kicks, the sentiment began to turn toward someone just score a goal. And then Mario Götze did. Final score: Germany 1, Argentina 0. No waiting for the mohawk to grow out for Jason.

Lionel Messi did not realize his World Cup dream. He got the Golden Ball, given to the best player in the World Cup, but I doubt it was much consolation.

Keylor Navas was nominated for the Golden Glove but it went to the German keeper, Manuel Neuer. Highway robbery.

James Rodriguez burst onto the world (cup) stage. He got the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals of any player in the tournament with six.

When Miroslav Klose scored the second of Germany’s seven goals against Brazil in the semifinal match, he became the all-time leading World Cup scorer with 16.

One thing I learned about soccer from watching all those matches: As exciting as it is to watch Navas and Bravo and Ochoa and Howard make all those spectacular saves, they shouldn’t be doing all that work. Where is the back line?

One thing I might have learned from watching all those matches: I really should figure out Twitter.

One thing I did not learn: How to spot when a player is offsides. I still can’t do it.

And so it ends for another four years. I haven’t returned to that bookmarked ESPN live-streaming link even once in the past few months, although I believe I could watch Major League Soccer (MLS) that way. Two of the USMNT starters, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, play for MLS’s Sporting Kansas City. My sister says she knows someone who can get us tickets. Apparently Sporting KC is at the top of their league.

What is it about soccer? About World Cup soccer?

For one thing, it is actually “the world.” None of this “World” Series nonsense, a playoff in which one team comes from Canada and the rest from the United States, all within the same hemisphere. Or, even more ridiculous, the “world” champion whoever-wins-the-Super-Bowl. The arrogance of the United States can make me crazy.

Yet in this World Cup, I learned some respect for Team USA. They showed they could play. (They also showed they couldn’t pass, so Jürgen Klinsmann still has work to do.)

This was the first World Cup in my experience where “everyone” seemed to be excited about the tournament and about soccer. In Newton, Kansas, there was a lot of energy for El Tri, the Mexican national team. I had friends right here with reasons to be rabid for Germany and Ghana, Colombia and Costa Rica, Brazil and Honduras.

And of course, there were Switzerland and the Netherlands, cradles of Anabaptism. But I still can’t stand the Oranje’s Arjen Robben.

This excitement can probably be traced in some part to social media, not ly as much of a phenomenon in 2010. As Zandra (a native Colombian) said, “It’s fun to connect with my relatives in Colombia around the games.” Like me, they could converse in real time.

And then, the game. I was born before Title IX. The trajectory of my life took me, in the years I might have learned to play a sport, to a part of the United States where it was probably the new millennium before there was even boys’ soccer, much less girls’. And so far, only soccer has made any sense to me.

I would like to ask Jill, all these years later, what it felt like to play for the first-ever Harlan High School girls’ basketball team. Because she was taller than most of the rest of the team but not a strong scorer, she played center. Had she played basketball all her life? Was she just waiting for a chance to get to do this herself after watching the boys for so many years?

I can’t ask her, because Jill died of breast cancer far, far too young.

And Title IX. All my life, that term has meant one thing: gender equity in sports. Then last year, Bethel had its first “Title IX training.” It had nothing whatsoever to do with sports. This was a training about sexual harassment: what it is, what it might look like, what to do if you’re harassed, what to do if you witness it.

In fact, Title IX itself says not one word about sports: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Google “Title IX” and the top reference is TitleIX.info. The site’s “Faces of Title IX” have stories about bullying, going to school while pregnant or parenting, and encouraging girls to enter STEM fields (as well as about girls and women in athletics), all areas for which Title IX is relevant. Title IX also covers sexual harassment in education, defined as “any unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that significantly interferes with a student’s access to educational opportunities.” Women are beginning to use this to try to combat the epidemic of rape—enabled by an apparently too-frequent administrative wish to keep it quiet—on U.S. college campuses.

I was born before Title IX. My nieces were not, and nor were the students I see every day during a school year.

Thank you, Jill, for being my first example that “girls can, too.” Rest in peace.

So, four more years until I come under the influence of soccer mania again? Not this time.

2015. FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Go, USA!

About the Author

Melanie Zuercher

Melanie Zuercher is a graduate of Goshen College and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She currently works at Bethel (KS) College as a writer and editor, and has spent her entire writing and editing career at Mennonite institutions, including Good Books and the General Conference edition of The Mennonite. She lists Appalachian Kentucky, her childhood home, and Haiti, where she spent a term while a student at Goshen, as spaces that have strongly influenced her life.