3:33 Sports Short #46 // After Work by Demetri Raftopoulos

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This week's final Sports Short comes from Demetri Raftopoulos. It's about Greeks and Colombians finding shared community through soccer in Long Island. Hope you enjoy! And check back next week for more Sports Shorts.

I walked out of the catering hall holding a soccer ball. New Hyde Park Wildcat logos were printed around the white of the ball; the first team I had ever played for at five years old, when positions were irrelevant and every player attacked together. My coach in middle school called it herd-ball.

The other valets followed me to the parking lot, unbuttoning their white collared uniforms. Summer had yet to relinquish its hold on Long Island, now early in October. Waiters emerged from the back of the catering hall, as we appeared from the front, meeting in the middle of the long, wide, now empty, lot. They removed their black suit jackets and vests, fighting the unexpected humidity.

At 27, I had long walked away from the sport I loved. Playing through broken noses, dislocated shoulders, asthma, and several failed attempts at a comeback after high school, my cleats now stayed in the garage. Unused, but still laced.  

The teams:

Valets against waiters. Greeks against Colombians. The first round of our after-work World Cup.

It had been a while since I played in anything remotely organized, with a team I could proudly call my own. We weren’t a team just because all of our parents were born in the same country, but because we were already family. Hustling together on the weekends, saving up our tips for better days; those filled with the lives we were all working towards; writer, accountant, computer-scientist, etc.

Just enough light snuck into the lot from the lamp posts standing on Jericho Turnpike, over the surrounding Evergreens. We lined up two sets of cones on each end of our new field, and the game began. At two o’clock in the morning.

Passes and shots on goal rumbled in the quiet of the night. Bruises and relationships were formed. Greek was shouted from one end, “ela, mesa, tora piso,” blending with the Spanish spewed quickly on the other, “rapido, pasame la pelota,” creating a cultural symphony, echoing alongside the cicadas who also refused to retire.

We often exchanged hellos with the waiters as we munched on leftovers in the kitchen, but our worlds had yet to truly meet; them on the inside, us on the outside. We both, however, were a part of a much larger whole. 

Goals were scored. Saves were made. We pushed and shoved, high-fived and cursed, argued and agreed. 

The valets wound up winning, although our victory was felt more off the field. That was the victory we recorded. It wasn’t about being able to play again that necessarily mattered. Of course I felt alive, reunited with soccer, but after that night, our team grew, consisting of more than just Greeks.

After the final goal was scored, we sat on our field, bottles of Corona and Mythos in hand. Greek and Spanish still flowed from our mouths, this time not in secrecy, but together.

Demetri Raftopoulos has received an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. His writing has appeared in The Good Men Project, Cactus Heart, Critical Mass, Aftertastes, and more. He writes all about sports as a regular contributor for RotoBaller, and continues to take the soccer field late at night. He currently resides in New York.