Welcome to Beverly Hills AYSO Region 76
by Rob Kerby, Central Ozarks Soccer League
If you come to the Country Kicker: Dogwood Challenge '99 tournament in Green Forest, Arkansas, April 17-18, don't stare at the loud lady in the mummy mask.
Twenty years ago, a little girl in the rural Ozarks community of Omaha, Arkansas, just south of Branson, Missouri, had a minor facial flaw. A big-city doctor convinced her family that if they would raise an incredible amount of money, he would fix it. They raised the money, took their child to town for surgery, and put their faith in a man who had exaggerated his ability.
Instead of being made beautiful, Samantha was disfigured. The doctor was not a plastic surgeon, but an ear-nose-and-throat specialist who overestimated his skills. When the bandages came off, Samantha looked as if she had gone face-first through a windshield.
Her nose was pushed to one side. A large scar ran down one side of her face. When I first met her, I tried not to stare. I didn't ask any questions. She had agreed to be the first-ever soccer coach in Omaha.
She and her sidekick, Serina Bailey, had about 60 whooping, excited kids age 6 through 14 whalloping soccer balls around an old baseball diamond. Half the fun was slide-tackling the ball into the stratosphere, then having to climb over the barbed-wire fence of the adjacent pasture to retrieve the ball out of the cow pies.
The tiny school district had basketball and baseball for its 300 students in northern Boone County. But these 60 kids wanted to play soccer -- and two foreign-exchange students from Denmark and the Czech Republic, Christian and Andre, wanted to teach everybody.
Samantha agreed to coach. So did several other parents, including one dad who wanted to record statistics and kept after me during the first practice, trying to understand how to tally shots on goal, saves, assists and so forth, so he could write everything down.
From the first, Samantha got out there and played with the kids -- although she had never played before. She is loud. She is aggressive. She is outspoken. She defies you to reject her. She is hilarious much of the time and gets into rollicking arguments with kids -- just for the fun of the fracas.
This spring, Omaha soccer will be played at the local rodeo grounds -- which has bleachers, restrooms and a concession stand. I am a tad skeptical. I don't see how soccer can share its fields with bulldoggers, calf-ropers and barrel-racers. However, Samantha tells me not to "worry your little head. We have it all worked out."
It is not difficult to immediately like Samantha.
Just as she was getting soccer going in Omaha, I flipped on my TVone afternoon and was astonished to see none other than Coach Samantha on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. There, she was describing in detail the pain of growing up disfigured. She comes from good people.
People who do not sue anybody.
People who did not go after the doctor who destroyed her face.
They just went home and loved their little girl in a community that embraces its own. Darn near everybody in town is Samantha's cousin.
She lived with her pain -- over-compensating a tad perhaps with a gregarious personality somewhat akin to Ellie May from the Beverly Hillbillies. A few months ago, I was supposed to meet Samantha at the truck stop north of town to talk about registration issues. I waited for about 30 minutes, then asked to borrow the phone.
"You that soccer man?" asked the cashier.
Yes, I said, I was.
"She's at the vet. Some dogs darn near killed her goat. She loves that thing -- you know how Samantha is."
Astonished, I just grinned stupidly -- the cashier had known who I was the minute I walked in the door, as well as why I was there and who I was waiting for. "Did she call here?" I asked.
"Didn' have to," said the cashier. "Them kids sure do love that soccer, don' they?"
The goat lived.
Maybe a year ago, I described Samantha's plastic surgery needs to some soccer friends on the Internet. I received an astonishing response, particularly from folks in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Soccer refs and coaches came forward, offering to arrange for Samantha to get her long-awaited surgery. One of Tulsa's best, Connie Mathies, was ready to line up her anesthesiology team and was finding out if we could get free operating room time. She even talked to a surgeon who, as I remember, is also a respected Tulsa ref.
When I told Samantha, she was strangely silent. I realized that she was so touched that she was choking up -- something I had never known before in her. The trip to the Sally Jesse show had been very anti-climatic; I think she'd hoped to get immediate corrective surgery.
Now, hurting at home, she was immensely touched that total strangers who had nothing in common with her -- except soccer -- were willing to help.
In a couple of weeks, Samantha goes under the knife -- finally.
She is going to a clinic in Chattanooga that the Sally Jesse show located. The surgeon there is supposedly the best in the nation. Samantha is grateful for the gracious offers from the soccer community. Frankly, all the willingness on the part of soccer folks to help make a difference made a big impact in little Omaha, Arkansas.
There aren't many secrets there. I suspect the cashier at the truck stop knows more than I do about the soccer folks who wanted to help a smalltown coach they had never met.
At our spring tournament, Samantha will still be in bandages.
The Omaha Soccer Eagles will be there in the Under-12 local league division. Under Arkansas rules, Level 1 rec teams don't attend tournaments . . . unless they just happen to have regular league games that day against regular rec opponents. Since one of the reasons we have our tournament is to build local excitement, we give all our local recreational teams league games on tournament day -- on fields in the middle of the tournament festivities.
The Eagles will be there for all the hoopla. Watch for them in their emerald green T-shirts that proclaim "OMAHA SOCCER."
Coach Samantha will be there, yelling her heart out, her face encased in wraps that would make King Tut envious.
Inside she's always been beautiful.
That must be why she loves the Beautiful Game.
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-- check out HIDDEN CHAMPIONS, a weekly column about soccer in the Ozark mountains in a darn good soccer Internet magazine, www.soccerspot.com --
-- and if you're looking for a fun recreational tournament near some of the Ozarks' top tourist attractions, come to the Country Kicker:
Dogwood Challenge '99, April 17-18. There are still some off-season motel rates available in scenic, artsy Eureka Springs, just down the highway from our fields. "Challenge" divisions are shaping up in the Under-12 and Under-14 age groups -- chances for tough travel teams to try themselves against out-of-state all-stars and classic squads. Ours is an Arkansas State Soccer Association (USYSA)-sanctioned tournament put on by a dyed-in-the-wool USYSA club, but we welcome teams affiliated with the U.S. Soccer Federation, including Soccer in the Streets, AYSO and SAY. Good room rates are also available at nearby Branson, Missouri and around the Silver Dollar City theme park.
Y'all come now, y'hear? --
copyright (c) 1999 by Rob Kerby (posted with his permission).