The ritual of fall sports

Although it is only just on the precipice of fall, I was reminded of the ritual experience of fall sports this week.  On a lark Andy asked me if that evening I wanted to go see the Hudson Valley Renegades, our local Class “A” baseball team.  It turned out that they were battling for the Penn League Title in the second of three-series against the Tri-City ValleyCats.  In keeping with our pledge to “play” (see The world needs play), how could I say no?  He added that they would be displaying fireworks afterwards, so that made the decision easy.

I had not thought of many of my experiences as rituals but in deed they are.  I love the fall sporting events as both participant and spectator because they are imbued with ritual. In high school so many years ago, I played field hockey and the crisp air and communal experience of being with a group of other girls on the team has such rich memory for me.  We would sing songs and get “psyched” about the game.  Sometimes we would have this experience in the confines of a yellow school bus on the way to our rival’s school.  Other days, we would just head out to our field for a home game with all the excitement to unfold.  The best days were when there was a bit of a chill and we would have our high school-issued navy blue sweat pants on under our pretty blue kilts.  It was at once both snugly and cozy and inward of an experience as it was also very much outward and about the team experience.

My spectator memories move to college when I lived in a cooperative household at Berkeley and we would rent out our parking area for all the people who came to see the Big Game (Stanford vs. Cal).  After all the cars were carefully parked, our house of about 18 people would go together to Memorial Stadium.  I was lucky to have been present at one of the most famous games of all time in college football: I saw “The Play” on Saturday November 20, 1982.  Stanford was ahead 20-19 when in the last four seconds of a kickoff return, Cal ran with the ball and did five lateral passes all while the Stanford marching band, who thought they had won and the game was over, was already on the field.  Still controversial to this day, Cal won 25-20.  Just a few years ago, Cal played Rutgers in New Jersey so my parents and my husband went to the game.  (I met my husband at our cooperative household so we were at The Play together before we became college sweethearts.)  As we ate leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, we enjoyed the ritual of watching our alma mater play football (they beat Rutgers too, go Bears!).  The communal experience of food, fun and loved ones in the beautiful fall outside is beyond compare.

So as we watched the Hudson Valley beat Tri-City, even though we barely knew the teams, we felt connected to our local team and to the loyal fans around us.  We cheered, ate stadium food, and then feasted on the lights and sounds of fireworks.  The ritual of fall sports was alive and well on this beautiful evening.  PS – The Renegades won last night and took the title!