Monday, January 11, 2010
With the Winter Olympics just weeks away, I'd like to make my proposal to the Olympic committee that they approve Refrigerator Soccer as an official winter sport. Refrigerator Soccer is played in several nations including Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Antarctica, and the northern United States. The sport follows the same rules as regular soccer – I'll call that Temperate Soccer – but has a different playing surface and different ambient conditions. True Refrigerator Soccer requires tundra, snow obscured lines, below freezing temperatures, and brooms and shovels. Players and fans of Refrigerator Soccer take terms like hypothermia and frostbite seriously, though neither condition has ever prevented a Refrigerator Soccer match from occurring. Without benefit of sideline heaters, hand warmers, or those giant capes football players wear, Refrigerator Soccer players may even forgo sweatpants, gloves, and hats. There's a certain purity to the sport that most true Refrigerator Soccer players and fans insist be respected.
My children have participated in and continue to participate in Refrigerator Soccer. Just yesterday Bryce had practice in a structure called appropriately "The Icebox." This structure has a roof, but is still exposed to the elements. It has a concrete slab on which a 2 mm thick carpet of green has been applied. The outside temperature was 18 degrees and the inside temperature was 20 degrees. Today we have a winter storm warning with 8 to 12 inches of snow expected. It is a balmy 19 degrees and the wind is increasing to 30 mph insuring white out conditions. And yes, there will be practice. This is what makes it true Refrigerator Soccer - the colder and the snowier the better.
A typical Refrigerator Soccer game is played between November and May on frozen earth covered by snow and ice. Spectators participate by sweeping off the lines and team benches. All the regular rules of soccer are followed, but it is the atmosphere which ultimately dictates the game. It's tough to kick a ball that has effectively frozen into a block of pentagrams. It's even tougher to sprint down the sidelines dribbling that ball and not slip on an ice patch or see the ball skitter uncontrollably on the tundra. Goalkeepers recognize the near futility of stopping a strong shot since the ball will have all the velocity of a soccer ball with the additional weight and rigidity of a frozen projectile. When icy objects meet frosted appendages it often leads to an unpleasant shattering. Referees learn to become students of the Force. For example determining out of bounds becomes more a matter of an educated guess rather than a clearly delineated violation. Placing the ball in the legal corner kick crescent requires a leap of faith.
Some of you in warmer climates have never experienced Refrigerator Soccer so you can't completely understand the purpose and the addiction. One February the Wisconsin US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program team was practicing at the Marquette University fields. These are located in a wind tunnel valley just below Interstate 94. The artificial turf was covered in ice and snow, made even slicker by the hundreds of feet pounding the surface into a rink. While standing there under the lights and bracing against the gale force winds I was aware of a gentleman with a camera next to me. "I saw this from the freeway and I just had to come down and take some pictures. My kids won't believe this." He was from Tennessee which has traditionally been a Refrigerator Soccer-free zone. In 2006 the NCAA College Championship was played in St. Louis following one of the worst blizzards the city had ever experienced. The two teams in the final had definitely never played Refrigerator Soccer, but UCLA and UC Santa Barbara got a quick lesson in the sport as they battled snow banks impeding the corner kicks and piled tight against the sidelines, not to mention the freezing temperatures. I'm sure the players had never played soccer in temperatures under 40 degrees.
Why does anyone play Refrigerator Soccer? Because when you live in that territory, you have to or lose out on outdoor training and playing for nearly half the year. Some very good players have come out of the Refrigerator Soccer tradition such as DeMarcus Beasley, Jay DeMerit, Abby Wambach, and Leslie Osborne, so I think that serves as proof that Refrigerator Soccer serves a legitimate purpose in the sports world. I can't think of a better endorsement than the fact that Refrigerator Soccer players could choose hockey for the same ice cold experience with a similar set of rules, but they opt out of the heavy shirts, thick gloves, long pants, and most importantly hockey skates, and instead stay true to the pure soccer experience while gliding across the ice in cleats. I think the addition of the sport could only improve upon the appeal of the Winter Olympic Games and would certainly attract those Temperate Soccer fans that are looking for a winter soccer fix. So Refrigerator Soccer fans rise up and demand the respect due this sport. Your efforts could create the groundswell for an historic change.