Ball boy | Front Porch | Indy Week
Pin It

Ball boy 

click to enlarge frontporch.jpg

Between the crescent waves of western winds behind me and the swaying loblolly pines across the field is a thin chalk line. I roam that line, goal box to goal box, with eagerness and focus, and unexpected joy.

In front of me, 22 girls are engaged in a brilliant physical battle of first-to-the-ball, make-a-run and have-at-it soccer. Behind me, parents and brothers and sisters raise all the levels. Someone in the visitors' bleachers yells, "Hey Nicole, keep it away from No. 16 in the middle!"

On a bright spring Carolina late afternoon, there is no place I would rather be. I'm the ball boy.

I fell into this vocation by chance. My tenure will be completed in a few weeks. Last year, at an early season home game for my daughter's high school team, the ball kept disappearing down an embankment. I shepherded it back up half a dozen times. I loved getting out of first gear and sprinting down the hill. Nothing virtual about it. I appreciated being so near the action.

Running the lines is exhilarating. I'm about as close as I can be to the game. It's rather intimate. I see how hard each girl is trying, how exhausted or determined they are. It gets intense inside the chalk lines. Privy to all the team-to-team dialogue, I stay quiet, in awe of how these girls have grown up.

Years ago, I coached a handful of these girls in the Durham Girls Soccer League. One year, we were Russia and all that mattered was the jersey color and playing time equity. Oh, and the snack schedule and having enough orange cones.

I love the flow of sports. It's rare in life to find that flow for any length of time. Soccer has a running clock: The game should flow seamlessly, up and down, switch-backed across the field, from the middle to the sides and crossed back inside. When the ball goes out, intersecting the plane of the chalk line, I want to be there, with the new ball. It's all about the fluidity of a white ball in space. I am invisible, one with the chalk line.

When I was in junior high, my hometown hosted the NCAA men's tennis championships. That was cool, so I volunteered to be ball boy. Looked easy on TV, right? It was all about getting the ball to bounce just right, into the server's left hand.

The first rounds were a party. We felt like we were the show.

Then came the finals, and Arthur Ashe. I ball boyed his single's final. We were scared to death crouched at the net. He had the hardest, most beautiful service on the planet. Each time, as he tossed the ball in the air on his first service and twisted his body, we thought the serve was going to come right at us. As he uncoiled his body and exploded into the ball and toward the net, we were wide eyed and wary.

On a sprawling green field in Orange County, a defender arcs the ball down the sideline. A pair of forwards streak toward open space.

Play on.

  • Running the lines is exhilarating. I'm about as close as I can be to the game.

Latest in Front Porch

More by John Valentine


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Front Porch

  • One vote

    • Nov 12, 2014
  • Box of one

    Was I paying to be helped or to feel important, a bona fide expert on only myself?
    • Sep 24, 2014
  • The Old South (Hills)

    The Old South (Hills)

    • Sep 17, 2014
  • More »

Twitter Activity


'Anna Lee' is a truly beautiful song, Ms Dossett. And I love Levon Helm's rendition. You are blessed with a …

by Byron Miller on A song for Levon (Front Porch)

Just now seeing this....Liz and I were super close friends in the early 80s. She was so special. I had …

by RoBert 1 on In memoriam: Liz Holm, 1959–2013 (Front Porch)

Most Read

  1. End to Begin (Soft Return)
  2. Thoughts and Sprayers (Peripheral Visions)
  3. Guns & God (Back Talk)

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation