I didn't even make first cuts for my high school's freshman tennis team. It was the only sport I had ever really played (in first grade, I was on the soccer team for two practices) and I still lost all six sets in tryouts. I'm just not an athlete. No one in my family is. Our usual definition of sports is carrying a pile of books from one class to another or playing chess. But for some reason, come the annual winter family reunion, we act like the Kennedys and gear up for some healthy competition.
And for one day a year we're so athletic we schedule the games we're planning on playing. My extended family has plenty of players for our teams; my mom's four siblings and all of their kids come each year. In total, we number twenty-six. Two reunions ago we played volleyball. Last year it was prisoner—a game played mostly by elementary school kids, and us. Yes, every family reunion my relatives and I convince ourselves that we're athletic and every family reunion we prove ourselves wrong.
This year, on day two, we all bravely left our chairs in the Club Lounge—clearly marked by the imprints our butts had made—for a game of touch football. I was quarterback of my team and even though every pass of mine ended up in the ground, ten feet away from its target (always a little, or a lot, too far to the right), I remained "El Capitan."
Within twenty minutes, half of our players were sitting out with injuries. If you asked them, they were all quite serious. My sister had a scrape on her arm from my cousin's over-eager tackle—she referred to it as "something that looks really serious" or, even better, "a gash." One cousin had a stomachache, one had run into a prickly bush, two were tired, one had hurt his shoulder, and four just grumbled unintelligibly about being unhappy.
I sat out with my sister, watching what had turned into "three flags up," a complex game in which a thrower tosses the football into a mass of people and whoever catches it gets a point. I think if the afternoon became anti-athletic, this was the turning point.
One cousin stood on the side, wearing a fedora, announcing. "Annie almost caught it, but other people had to be jerks," he yelled. My youngest cousin couldn't compete with the taller relatives for the ball so he ran after the thrower, my sister's boyfriend, who handed it to him. It bobbled in his hands for a few, heart-pounding seconds before falling to the ground.
Another cousin sat amongst the players, tugging at the grass, while everyone ran around him to get to the ball—an obstacle that made the game just a little more challenging. The fedora cousin told everyone, "I'm tired of announcing. I'll start playing!" Twenty seconds later, however, he had already declared, "Never mind. I just remembered I don't like running."
My youngest cousin, now sitting with me behind another relative who was sleeping in the grass, looked up and said, "I really want to play but I really don't." I felt the exact same way.
I bet JFK could hit my brother Ted with a throw tougher to catch than a 5'3", 13-year-old cousin. We don't play at a compound, but at a 100-foot long field on a steep incline. They definitely didn't play with a nerf ball.
But maybe that's not the point. I guess, in the end, it's not what our family can do for football, but what football can do for our family. A few minor injuries and twenty-six rumbling stomachs later, we headed home.