First shout out to all the females out there as we celebrate National Women’s Day Panther Elite style as we introduce you to our female athletes starting out with Chelsea.
OG Nebraska: Chelsea was the original female Panther Elite playing for first session on both comp and rec before having to move to Nebraska- yes Nebraska. Might be faster than the Captain Bis, and is dearly missed.
Migonne: Her nickname maybe Mini but she is taller than Ami- with a personality bigger than bellies on mall Santa’s. Able to play all three positions- Mini is able provide a calm and steady presence on the rec team. She was officially the second female to become Panther Elite.
Hawa: She might be the true Panther Elite enforcer after all the bodies she has left in her defensive wake. Fearless and brutal to those who dare cross her path- she anchors the Panther Elite Crimson defense, and is destined for a career aa WWE Superstar one day.
Kushang: Whether she’s in the midfield- or back on defense- she has a real nose for the ball, and always shows real grit and determination whenever she is on the field. Also she babysits her little brother during games, who is now my assistant coach even though he is like 5 years old, and is more interested in watching Coco Melon than discussing formation strategy with me. Her brother also picks on Sumaili which makes me smile.
Eugenia: Rounding out the fabulous foursome of fiery females is Eugenia: who many on the internet claim could be the sleeper MVP of the team. Best offensive player on the rec team- with the ability to match up on any opponent on defense. The elusive Eugenia will be leaving defenses clueless goal after goal after goal all season long.
So here at The Panther Elite Soccer Club we are a bit different: we change it up by bringing the season right to our fans with insight, information, and tales of the squad. As session 2 has kicked off I, Coach Bernard, am here to properly introduce you, the rabid Panther Elite fan base, to the U14 team. A team who the pundits of the NH Youth Indoor Soccer Competitive Division B Draft King preview podcast have predicted to finish in 5th place out of 12 teams. I, however, as their faithful coach predict first place because as we all know Panther Elite is every opportunity shot! Everything Panther Elite! And Panther Elite over everything cause all those other teams are just lacking.
But I digress…So sit back, and relax as I take you Panther Elite fans to some of the U14 Standouts:
Captain Biswas: The heart of our defense- faster than hiccup and just as annoying to the strikers he terrorizes on defense. Top notch to speed to close down on a striker like a precise driven drone. Also most likely to end up on GQ cover.
Dedieu the Saint: A player so good you might think he was a demon who sold his soul for his soccer prowess. Anchors the defense with Biswas- and is our point guard on offense starting the attack from the back.
Paul Junior: Paul is not a junior-though he thought he was- not realizing your dad would have to be named Paul for that to work. Maybe he is a junior in the sense their is no true father to his soccer style and he is the love child of Messi and Neymar Jr. He’s also the player who made me fall in love with soccer, and carried the middle school team I coached to a second place finish while leading that league in goals. Has the the ability to take over games and score at will when in the right mindset.
Sumaili(pronounced Smiley): Smiley is our midfield general- an elite scorer and the one player I never have to yell at to run back on defense. In fact the only time I have to yell at him is off the field- and then it’s plentiful. Also is always asking me for chocolate.
Classified information: Player can only be witnessed in person. Last seen vacationing in Dubai.
Sadiki: Silky smooth scorer who can play all over the field. Might have the most drip on the team as proved here.
Sosthene: Panther Elite’s Draymond Green. The soft spoken enforcer who provides power, scoring, and strength off the bench. Don’t let his easy going demeanor fool you: he is not one to be tested.
Tall Guy: The goalie. He’s very, very good. Sometimes coach calls him Jaden. That’s not his name. Neither is Tall Guy.
King Ami: One of the top players from the U12 squad that round out the U14 bench. Been teammates with Tall Guy since September- still only knows him as Tall Guy. Ami is not very tall. Controls the midfield for U12- controls the bench for 14U.
Sabin: A call up from the U12 team and player whose name I “used” to always butcher- mostly because Sabin and his teammates would always tell me I was wrong when I was right pronouncing it correctly: or vice versa telling me it was right if I was saying it wrong: funny I know. Deceptively fast: provides defense and energy for U14-but is a top scorer for the U12 squad.
Connor: The new kid added for session 2: dropped into the den with the rest of the panthers and fit right in- not sure what that says about him 😂. Hustle and grind speed striker off the bench that provides energy, grit, and scoring. Probably would would be described by an older sports writer as a gym rat.
The Panther Elite are currently 2-4 coming off a dominating and avenging 4-1 win over fifth place Flood(yes that same Flood that had beaten us last session).
The record of the three teams we have lost to is 13-2-and they currently reside in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place. We blew leads and lost closes games to all of them- so revenge is on our mind as the season goes on. And make sure to keep checking back for more updates on all the teams as the weeks go on. And always remember every opportunity shot! Everything Panther Elite! Because Panther Elite over everything!
I was doing an interview about Panther Elite last night and just felt so much happiness when discussing the team- it was pure elation at just thinking about how far we come so far in such a short amount of time. I been trying to do this epic introduction to the team- but it’s led to me pressing and going against the mindset I preach. I let fear, doubt, and worry cloud my thoughts- thus leaving me paralyzed with my pen- or in-reality the fingers to my phone keyboard where I write most of the time these days. So now I am going to smile, relax, and write. You take your best shot when your most relaxed- and smiling subconsciously causes are bodies to relax. During high pressure situations a simply smile can increase your performance. So with a smile I hope this tale allows you to understand what it means to be Panther Elite and the love it is built upon.
On a cool crisp Sunday I sit next to my sister, niece, and nephew’s gravestone as the leaves paint a backdrop trinity of yellow, orange, and green as my dreams hover like lost leaves clutching to a branch now too cold to let it stay.
It’s my sister Tricia’s birthday today, and on her birthday I am trying to figure out a way to to honor her, and to benefit the refugee and at-risk students I work with and coach soccer to. I knew being closer to her and the kids would allow me to figure out the best way to forge ahead.
This year Tricia would have turned 48. In the past; birthdays and anniversary’s were brutal for me. In those days, when depression clung to my neck like two chains of sorrow and sadness, I always dreaded fall coming. In the past it was just the culmination of all my fears, repressed emotions, and the boiling cauldron of hate I kept bubbling in a dungeon locked in my belly over their murders. I ran from fall for over fifteen years, and then fate intervened this year and I became a soccer coach.
Now mind you when I first signed up to coach I had no clue what I was doing, getting into, or that it would spark this idea to help these kids. I became a coach because the middle school I work at was in desperate need for coaches so I jumped in. My experience with soccer ended in 6th grade, and It wasn’t a sport I watched or even was any good at playing. I had no connection to it so going into my first practice of tryouts I figured I’d just get my Ted Lasso on, and let the power of positivity propel me. For the record I have never watched that show- and my coaching style definitely runs the gamut of emotions from Bill Belichik to Phil Jackson to Pep Guardia.
I learn best from jumping right in- usually failing at first- and then finally excelling. I mean I failed at making Mac n cheese once when I was babysitting for Tricia and making food for my tattletale niece Gillian. She wanted microwaveable macaroni and cheese- which to most people is very easy to whip-up. Yet I was a jabroni and forget to put water in the bowl for the macaroni. Yes, at nineteen years old I screwed up making microwavable mac and cheese, which I think is nearly impossible, and yet I managed to ace that test. So I ended up burning the noodles and making the house smell awful like cabbage water that has been left on the dashboard of a car in the middle of July for weeks. As soon as my sister came home Gillian sauntered right up to her and sold me out, “Uncle Patrick made the house smell.”
When I was real young I was really close to Tricia, but as I got into my teens we would always fight. I knew how to terrorize and push her buttons. I perfected the annoying little brother role so well that one afternoon while watching MTV’s The Grind she got so enraged at me she broke the TV remote controller by chucking it at my head. Luckily, I ducked. But after she had Gillian all that changed and I become the go to baby-sitter, and was no longer the ten year old terror looking to torment my nineteen year old sister. Yet she did get her revenge because this team to most was a terror- on the field and off.
This is how my season started via posts on Facebook:
9/18: I am not saying I am the greatest soccer coach in the world- but my team is undefeated after our first game. After a dominant 2-0 pre-season- including a thrilling 2-1 win over a very physical and aggressive girls B team- we are now poised for a championship run.
9/25: Still undefeated as a coach after 10-0 and 8-1 victories on the pitch. I am not saying I am John Wooden yet…but there are some people saying loudly on the internet I might be the greatest Middle School B Team 2 coach in recent history. I mean I am humble as they come- but the internet doesn’t lie.
Our first game was on the road versus Wyndham Summit. On the bus the kids were blaring and losing their minds to Cocomelon- a YouTube kid’s show where this cartoon Cailui looking like family just redoes nursery rhymes and popular kids songs. When I was in sixth grade I was getting into trouble because my friends put on a mixtape I made during gym class and the lady gym teacher was not as impressed as I was that the Wu Tang Clan was nothing to fuck with. However the power of cartoon positivity did the trick to fire up the squad and we won 7-5.
Tricia also had horrible taste in music. Like, brutally bad. In her car she would play really cheesy Euro techno. The stuff you hear in 90’s aerobic classes-which was fitting since she was a personal trainer and was always in ridiculously good shape. Things that were not in as good shape though were my ears as this dreck pulsated them- however James and Gillian loved it- vibrating and bouncing up and down in their car seats with huge grins plastered on their faces. My sister also loved Barry Manillowe, and even went to see him in concert. Before she passed she was going back to school to get a nursing degree. She had always wanted to be either a nurse, or a school teacher. She really would been great at either since she was such an amazing mom, and person.
Speaking of amazing my team had the leading goal scorer in the league- a charming sixth grader from the Congo with immense talent that should had been on the A team had he tried out. In our first game he scored five of our 7 goals, whiles assisting on the other two. Luckily I worked with him during camp this summer and found out he was a ringer and snatched him up fast. You will learn in coaching that a talented player can make your life a lot easier by covering up any defects your team or you as a coach may have. And believe me I had and still have plenty of defects when it comes to coaching- but I think my ability to connect with players, and my Bill Belichick like love of history and strategy has me ever improving.
Things we also led the league in was getting yelled at by the referees for swearing, players being sent to PPR(where you get sent when you get kicked out of class),being in ISS( internal suspension), and coaches with red cards. Think a sober middle school version of the 1986 NY Mets meets Bad News Bears. I relate well to the kids that get into trouble a lot, and I made that abundantly clear a couple days after the dreaded anniversary of their deaths when I received a red card versus our top rival Shaker in a showdown for first place.
The first time we played Quaker we lost 7-3- it was our first loss and first time we had trailed in any game. My team fell apart as soon as we went down- arguing with the refs and themselves. We stopped hustling to plays and played abysmal team soccer. We had faced adversity and failed our first test, and I was determined that would be the last time this happened.
The rematch for first place was set for October 4th- but this year my brain was not locked into a cycle of despair over that previous horrible day- but rather in a YouTube k-hole of soccer formations and false 9 videos trying to figure out the best line-up and game plan to defeat Quaker.
The God’s of rain pushed the game back to Wednesday, and the rematch was an epic back and forth match. We scored early in the first half- but immediately gave up a goal right back to them as they tied it up one to one. Quaker was able to sneak another goal in late and we ended up losing 2-1.
Reflection made me realize that I was definitely more emotional and hyped up then usual for this game- first I really wanted my players to realize they were the better team and could beat them if they just played together. Also I think it was definitely a release for me embracing my new normal. One of the strangest feelings I think for those that dealt with anything that took away their spark for life, and had them living by a nightlight is how to live life with out the comforter of depression. For those blessed with never dealing with depression, or any debilitating mental health ailment, tragedy, or setback that destroyed your whole world view- this might seem like a very foreign concept. But when happiness has alluded you, either by circumstance, bad brain chemistry, or a combination of both, living a life without it can be terrifying to embrace. So when your biggest pressing worry is a B league middle school soccer game life is going pretty good.
But if you listened to a supposedly “concerned” Quaker parent my red card exit occurred after I had cursed out my players, then the refs- then like I was cosplaying 2Pac exited the field with both middle fingers in the air. I wish I was making this up- but they sent this to my athletic director and principal. Obviously they knew this Quaker mom was full of malarkey-but my AD, who is a really talented and successful coach, needed to bring it to my attention because of perception. Just getting a red card gives me a target on my back. It doesn’t help I am extremely loud, and animated on the sidelines- I pace a couple miles each game- but I never would yell or curse out a kid. I do loudly praise them for their hard work on the field- but I am also not changing my whole style cause some rich asshole doesn’t like me or my team- but I will definitely keep myself more in check from now on because I understand- regardless of reality- I need to be even more careful about my actions because people like that will prey upon it. Also I need to not be so damn stupid next time a situation like this occurs. I got thrown out arguing subbing rules during throw ins. I finally lost it when the ref let their team sub on our thrown in- and then the next play they had a throw in, and I had a sub waiting and I asked, “So can I illegally sub now,” and he goes no- and my last words were, “So I guess we are the only team that has to play by the rules now.”
The idea of the “rules” have always intrigued me. But the perception of me, and my team that Quaker parent had on me motivated me to realize how I could honor my loved ones by giving kids a chance to play indoor soccer come the winter months. A lot of the kids I work with deal with negative perceptions that are not their fault. Having options like this to learn and grow at a sport- while also bonding with and forming life long friendships with teammates is huge in a child’s development, and the perceptions others may have of them. Indoor soccer costs can be exorbitant- so that’s why I decided to make my a team in my sisters honor where price is never a barrier to play- a team that could become elite. A team that could provide a lifetime of dreams.
As that dream grows the frost tickles the windows, and outside a chimney billows stacks of warmth to the sky. A squirrel chases some haphazard snow-flakes, while a shivering sun reflects off the frozen front lawn. Through the main window the tree is sparkling with lights, ornaments, and this ugly joker ornament that has been a family tradition started many decades before. It is green and I think it is supposed to be an elf. But this is an elf Santa definitely beat with the ugly stick. That’s something I hear Santa is fond of. Yes, I am serious. I once read this book that exposed that the North Pole was really just an elaborate sweat shop, and one of Santa’s ways to make the elves work long hours for no pay was the threat of beating them with either the ugly stick, or the dreaded wand of abuse. It made him an extremely effective foreman, which is necessary when you are making enough toys for all the children of the world. And since he brings happiness to so many kids worldwide everyone just ignores this little know fact about his workshop. This is 2003 and the last Christmas my sister was alive.
Since I last left you my vague idea of an indoor soccer team to honor my sister, niece and nephew has blossomed into The Panther Elite Soccer Club that’s been featured on the cover of the Sunday Monitor and WMUR’s Chronicle- and the most dangerous team heading into the playoffs where we lead the league in goals and are 5-2-1 since everything settled down from the original debacle that began the season.
Then It was November, we were 0-4, and the only success I was having was making sandwiches for the players after the game. Chicken, turkey, or hamburger(what some players nicknamed roast beef) on a small sub role with cheese. I am my sister making lunches for her kids- my kid’s just happen to be over a baker’s dozen of soccer players who don’t always have enough food at home. So I hit the grocery store on game days, and then to the mom and pop soccer shop Suley’s to buy three pairs of indoor soccer shoes for the game tonite, plus a new pair of goalie gloves, goalie jersey with the padding for my rec team goalie- the goalie gloves I bought him from Dick’s he wore through in a month from all the practice he does at the park by his apartment complex. I find the perfect jersey; the one with the special padding on the elbow to help cushion his dives on all the goals he will stop this season, and a new pair of gloves to grasp on yo any shots.
Then I was much better at making sandwiches then winning games. My sandwiches worked well together- the cheese spilt in perfect halves to evenly cover the sub roll, the meat nestled in between the cheese- as the bread engulfed it all in a warm hug. My team had yet to gel so perfectly then.