It is finally summer for teachers and students alike. And while the last days of the school year are often filled with tears, goodbyes, and heartfelt hugs, I much prefer when they’re also peppered with pointed comments about who will win the cup of the moment, and tinged with trash talk.
So as soon as Ecuador trounced Haiti, I made a mental note to check in with Ananda, one of my students from Ecuador and arguably the most ardent fan I know. Before our winter break, she had turned up a little apologetic, she knew a paper was coming up, but so was an arguably bigger event: the finals for the Ecuadorian Serie A season.
“And who will you be supporting?” I asked.
“Quito, of course!” She explained, with the same tone of embarrassed explanation as when I misidentified Taylor Swift songs. From then on, I could rely on Ananda for energetic opinions about all things Amarillos. Even when Emelec denied Quito the season trophy, she was upbeat. Even when Ecuador was drawn with Brazil she was confident. Now that Ecuador was due to play the US I had a feeling; I knew she would have something to say.
I needn’t have reminded myself to check in with her either, she was already waiting with the trash talk: “Ecuador’s going to beat the US so bad Mr. Mack”.
“Is that so?” I asked over the heads of her soccer oblivious friends.
“Oh yeah, did you see what we did to Haiti?!?”
“Yeah, but we’re not Haiti…”
“Psssh, c’mon, Mr Mack…”
“Alright, give me ten reasons Ecuador will win.”
Sure enough, while her classmates kicked off the summer with epic gaming sessions or runs to the mall, Ananda started with an assignment, and quickly sent me this list (with my rebuttals after)
1. Ecuador is a team with more experience together. (The US had mostly veterans who have even maintained the same line up and formation)
2. They have been playing together longer. (Ecuador has also got players who have been playing longer in Europe (9 months before the tournament, while many U.S. players are just hitting their stride over 3 months))
3.They beat Haiti 4-0 [which] gives the team a boost of confidence.(The U.S. just beat Paraguay (better than Haiti) 2-0 for even more confidence)
4. Soccer is the main sport in Ecuador. (Soccer’s crazy popular in Seattle and should have a big pro US crowd )
5. Kids grow up with only soccer in Ecuador no other sport, unlike the USA were there are many options and kids experiment. (true…but these US players chose to keep going with soccer)
6. The team wants to give Ecuador a win after the terrible earthquakes and losses. (The U.S. wants a win after Orlando)
7. They are hungry for triumph. (So is the U.S.)
8. They haven’t won a Copa America yet (Neither has the U.S.)
9. If they win they will make history. This is a very important Copa America because it is the 100th (It’d be huge to be the first North American team to take South America’s trophy)
10. They have a fast attack force and with Yedlin gone the US doesn’t have much pace for defense. (Oh, shoot…maybe we are doomed…)
In the end, the US won. I was in Cincinnati, howling with my father, when Dempsey struck, cheering with my mother when Zardes tapped in the second, and squirming with countrymen from sea to shining sea as Ecuador pushed for a late equalizer. When it was over, I offered condolences to Ananda and her family
— Mr. Ben MacKenzie (@MrMacK_MN) June 17, 2016
But Ananda didn’t really need condolences, remaining every bit as excited and enthusiastic as ever, because, like me, the match was a thing she shared with her father, and her family and all the people she loved.
— Ananda (@anandapanda13) June 17, 2016
At a time when fans in Europe are chasing each other down with steak knives and bottles, shouting fascist slogans, and throwing flares onto the field, endangering stadium employees and their own teams for the sake of “making a point”, I can’t say enough about how much I wish fans were more like Ananda. Proud, sure. Opinionated, obviously. Willing to challenge others, absolutely. But at the core of it all is a love of the community you are in, your family, your fellow fans, your countrymen, even your ninety-minute rivals who love the game just like you.
Those “fans” who riot and rumble aren’t there for love of the community, they’re there for love of themselves, making a beautiful game a selfish plea for attention. It may be summer, and she may not be my student anymore, but Ananda is still teaching me.
(Thank you to Ananda and family for sharing their story)