When I was in middle and high school, everything in my family revolved around sports. My brother Mark played baseball and basketball, and I worked the scoreboard and snack bar, because I had no athletic talent and not enough discipline to work out and eat well.
Mark and I made up some of our own sports to play in the yard. Some were variations of actual baseball and basketball, modified to be played one-on-one in small spaces. Some were combinations of existing sports, and some were just silly. We would pretend to be playing as teams with multiple players, so that, for example, if a goal was scored from a certain part of the field or court, it would be credited to a different player than if it was scored from a different place. I usually lost, since I had no athletic talent, but I enjoyed keeping statistics, such as who led the league in scoring or who needed to beat whom to make the playoffs. We would draw posters, pennants, and trading cards representing our fictitious teams and players, most of which had names based on puns, inside jokes, poop jokes, or double entendres.
Many students will have a class at some point in which they strongly dislike the subject matter, but love the teacher. For me, that teacher was Mr. Alfred Pereira, whom I had for physical education in ninth grade. PE was my least favorite class. Part of my grade was based on how fast I could run, how many pull-ups I could do (zero), and the like. I participated every day, and I got Bs for it because I was not athletic. But Mr. Pereira was funny, and he found ways to make his class enjoyable. We played a game in his class called Pereiraball, which was basically soccer with hands. A player could pick up the ball and run with it, but the other team could steal the ball by tagging the player carrying the ball. A goal scored by throwing the ball into the goal was worth one point, and a goal scored by kicking, the normal way in soccer, was worth two points. A header goal, hitting the ball into the goal off of an attacking player’s head, scored three points.
I taught Mark to play Pereiraball in our yard, using a Nerf soccer ball, and some old sawhorses I found in the garage for goals. We decided to add another element to the game: hockey sticks. All of the normal rules of Pereiraball applied, but players could also move the ball with the stick, as in hockey, and a defending player could tag a player running with the ball with the stick, as long as the tag did not aim for the head. A goal scored off of the stick was worth two points, the same as by kicking, and just for laughs, we added a rule that a goal scored by bumping the ball off of the scorer’s own rear end was five points.
I needed a name for my modified Pereiraball, but I was embarrassed to name something after my teacher. I called it “Modified Portuguese Football,” since Mr. Pereira had a sticker of the flag of Portugal on his file cabinet at school to honor his ancestry, and I quickly shortened that name to “Moport.” Mom, who has a tendency to get names wrong, called it “Ball Soccer” the first time we played; after I corrected her, she called it “Mopo-Hockey” the next time.
In addition to our usual one-on-one games, we would sometimes play Moport two-on-two, with a slightly larger field, when Mark would have multiple friends over. We used our own names as players when I kept statistics, but we had names for our teams. Mark and Eric Kingston were the Ice Monkeys of Rage, wearing homemade uniforms of black and light blue along with matching light blue bandanas. Cody Kaneko and Matt Bosworth were the Jammin’ Janitors; they also made uniforms, in red and navy blue. Two of Mark’s other sports friends, Danny Tsao and Nate Fisk, did not have their own Moport uniforms, but they called themselves Team Discovery Channel, referencing a scene from The Simpsons. Bart Simpson and his friends declare war on kids from the neighboring town, and tough kid Nelson begrudgingly pairs up with nerdy Martin, who calls their duo Team Discovery Channel. I played with anyone who was left over not on a team, or I acted as referee and scorekeeper. The Ice Monkeys usually dominated those games, and Team Discovery Channel had never won.
When I visited my family in June, I suggested to Mark that we have a two-on-two Moport tournament when I came back in August. The players were Mark’s friends, not mine, but I was mostly looking forward to keeping score and statistics. Mark liked the idea, and he found two other friends who were interested in playing, John McCall and Drew Schmidt. They did not have a name, I suggested the Unabombers, after the recently captured domestic terrorist with the wanted poster photo that I found humorous for some odd reason. We would play the games on a Saturday and Sunday, with each team playing each other team once, and the top two teams after that playing each other for the championship.
Cody was the first to arrive, in his Jammin’ Janitors uniform, as I was outside measuring the field and placing the goals. “Hey, Ogre,” he said, using the nickname that many of Mark’s friends had for me. “Are you playing this year?”
“If someone doesn’t show up, I might. Otherwise I’ll just referee and keep score like I always do.”
“Nice.” Cody went inside to play Super Nintendo with Mark until the tournament started, and I watched them play after I finished setting up the field.
“When are you going to start playing?” Mom asked, walking into Mark’s room.
“As soon as people show up,” I said.
“I have chips and salsa, bananas, grapes, Capri Suns, and Gatorade. I was going to make taquitos for lunch today and chicken nuggets tomorrow. Does that sound good?” No one said anything.
“Who are you asking?” Mark asked.
“Sounds good to me,” I said.
“Whoever. No one is saying no.”
Over the next half hour, Eric, John, Nate, and Danny showed up. “Where’s Boz?” I asked. “The Ice Monkeys are playing the Jammin’ Janitors first. The game was supposed to start twenty minutes ago.”
“I don’t know,” Cody said.
“I have an idea. There’s no reason the games have to be played in order, as long as everyone plays each other once. I had the Ice Monkeys against the Jammin’ Janitors first, but what if the Ice Monkeys play Team Discovery Channel first? Everyone is here for that game. And if the others don’t show up soon, then we’ll figure something out. I might have to play.”
“Whatever,” Mark said, shrugging.
“Eric? Nate? Danny? Is that okay with all of you?” I asked. All three boys replied in the affirmative. “Let’s go, then! Or you guys can finish your game first,” I said, turning to John and Nate, who were now playing Nintendo.
After they finished, we all went outside to start the game. As referee, I dropped the ball at the center of the field, as in a hockey face-off. Eric used his hockey stick to pass it to Mark, who picked it up and passed it back to Eric. Eric threw the ball toward Nate, defending the Team Discovery Channel goal; Nate deflected it sideways toward Danny. Mark quickly ran back to defend the Ice Monkeys’ goal. In a two-on-two game of Moport, the positions had evolved such that the goalkeeper typically would run forward to participate in offensive plays, then quickly return to the goal once his team was on defense. The forty-foot-long field was small enough to do this effectively.
Danny threw the ball toward Mark just as he got to the goal, and Mark missed it. Team Discovery Channel was up 1-0. Danny and Nate high-fived and cheered. Team Discovery Channel’s good fortune did not last, though; Mark quickly scored a kicking goal, putting the Ice Monkeys ahead 2-1, and by halftime, the Ice Monkeys were leading 8-4.
Mom emerged from the house holding a plate of taquitos. “Do you guys have a break coming up?”
“It’s halftime,” I said.
“And how long is that?”
“Five minutes, and each half is 10 minutes long.”
“You can eat after this game, then.”
Boz arrived as Mom was talking, leaving Drew as the one remaining player we were still waiting for. “Should someone call Drew to find out if he’s coming?” Mom asked. I really hoped she did not mean me. I hated calling people, and I did not know these people well in the first place They were Mark’s friends.
“I will,” Mark said. He went inside and came back outside a minute later, saying that Drew would arrive soon.
During the second half, Mark decided not to play with a hockey stick at all. When Mark had the ball on offense, I noticed that he would dribble the ball and pass to Eric as if he were playing basketball. The game of Moport had continued to evolve as different players brought different strengths and experiences to the game. At one point, Danny attempted to pass the ball to Nate, but Eric intercepted it; Mark had already run down the field, positioning himself near the empty goal. Mark turned around and bounced the ball off his butt into the goal just before Nate arrived. Five points. The Ice Monkeys went on to win the game, by a score of 21 to 9.
The Unabombers played the Jammin’ Janitors next; Drew had arrived in time. He and John used their hockey sticks much more often than the Ice Monkeys did. The Unabombers did not have matching uniforms, but Drew and John wore the same color, by coincidence. Cody and Boz played a game heavy on passing, like the Ice Monkeys did, but their defense was not as good, and the Unabombers scored the first goal off of John’s stick. Cody quickly scored a goal by throwing just seconds later, narrowing the Unabombers’ lead to 2-1. “Yes!” Cody said, giving Boz a high-five. The game stayed close throughout, but Cody’s speed proved to be just a bit too much for John and Drew’s stick and throwing skills. The Jammin’ Janitors ended up winning by a score of 18-16.
After a snack break, the Jammin’ Janitors played again, this time against the Ice Monkeys. Mark and Eric were collectively taller than Cody and Boz, and they often used their height to pass the ball downfield effectively. The Ice Monkeys won that game easily. The final game of the afternoon was between the Unabombers and Team Discovery Channel, and it was also the most unusual result of the day. The Unabombers led by a score of 11-4 at halftime; five of the Unabombers’ points came on a butt goal while Nate left the goal unattended, just as had happened in Team Discovery Channel’s first game against the Ice Monkeys. While most of us were snacking on chips and drinking Capri Suns through straws awkwardly poked into the plastic pouches, Danny and Nate actively discussed strategy.
“Game on!” I shouted when halftime ended, resetting the timer on my watch to ten minutes. In that second half, Nate spent more time in the backfield playing defense, so as to make sure not to give up any more empty-net butt goals. Danny used his stick to score more often, whereas Drew and John scored most of their goals by throwing. With about twenty seconds left in the game, Team Discovery Channel had narrowed the Unabombers’ lead to two points, with the score 18-16. Nate passed the ball forward to Danny, who passed it back to Nate, narrowly avoiding being tagged by John’s stick. Nate passed to Danny, who put the ball on the ground next to his stick, and hit it toward Drew in goal. Drew blocked the shot, but Nate kept trying to tap it in with his stick; eventually Nate scored, tying the game at 18 points each. As I counted down the final seconds, Drew threw a desperation shot that went over Nate’s head and over the goal.
“Tie game,” Danny said. “So does it go to overtime now?”
“No,” I explained. “It just ends in a tie, and that counts as half a win for determining who will make the final round.”
“Did we make it?” Nate asked.
“I think we still have to play tomorrow,” John said. “Right?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “Everyone plays against everyone, so the Ice Monkeys need to play the Unabombers, and the Jammin’ Janitors need to play Team Discovery Channel. Then after that, the top two teams play for the championship. So far, the Ice Monkeys are in the lead with 2 wins, then the Jammin’ Janitors at 1-and-1, and Team Discovery Channel and the Unabombers are tied with one tie and one loss.”
“So if we beat the Jammin’ Janitors, we’ll move into second place?” Danny asked.
I thought about it. “Yes. But if the Unabombers beat the Ice Monkeys, then they’ll be tied with you for second place, and the goal differential, the difference between goals scored and allowed, will determine who advances.”
“So we need to score a lot tomorrow.”
The Unabombers did not beat the Ice Monkeys on the second day of the tournament, surprising exactly no one. The Ice Monkeys finished the preliminary round of the tournament with a perfect record of three wins and no losses, guaranteeing them a spot in the championship game. Everyone showed up on time today, much to my relief. I got a bit stressed out waiting for Boz and Drew to show up yesterday, but it all worked out in the end.
Next, the Jammin’ Janitors played Team Discovery Channel. The winner of this game would finish in second place and play the Ice Monkeys next for the championship; in the case of a tie, the Jammin’ Janitors would advance with the better record of the two. Danny and Nate continued their strategy of playing defense and scoring stick goals, and they kept the score close. With less than a minute left, Team Discovery Channel trailed 14-12, and Boz tried to kick the ball to Cody, to set up a goal, but Nate poked the ball away with this stick, right in the direction of Danny. Danny ran down the field to the empty goal, turned to face Cody and Boz who were quickly approaching, and bounced the ball off of his rear end into the goal before Cody or Boz could get to him. Team Discovery Channel led, 17-14. “YEAAAAAHHHH!!!” Danny and Nate screamed as they ran back across the field to defend their goal. They blocked two more shots in the little time that remained, and when I imitated the sound of the time-up buzzer, Danny and Nate jumped up and down, cheering, as their first win in two-on-two Moport history advanced them to the final round.
“What’s going on?” Mom said, bringing a plate of chicken nuggets outside.
“Team Discovery Channel got their first win,” I explained. “And with their tie yesterday, that’s enough to make the final round.”
“That’s Nate and Danny?”
Since there were only three games today, instead of four, we took a break for about an hour to eat and let our food digest. Someone had brought a portable stereo and was using it to play rap and hip-hop. Dad’s pickup truck was parked in the street, and when it was time for the game to start, John, Drew, and Cody climbed in the back to watch, bringing the stereo with them. Boz sat in a lawn chair next to the truck, and I sat on the porch next to the scoreboard. Mom occasionally stepped out onto the porch to watch too.
Before the game started, I went into the house and came back outside holding a small trophy, about nine inches high, made from cardboard and aluminum foil. I took the trophy to the center of the field, where Mark, Eric, Danny, and Nate had gathered. “This is the Big Al Cup, given to the champions of Moport,” I said. “It will be awarded to the winners of this game.” I did not tell them why it was called the Big Al Cup. It was named after Mr. Pereira, but no one actually called him Big Al; that was an inside joke regarding something my mother said once and some of the inappropriate humor that my family seemed to enjoy so much.
“Shake hands and get ready for the face-off,” I said. The boys each shook the hands of both of their opponents, then moved into position to take the face-off. I dropped the ball and moved out of the way. Eric hit it backward slightly with his hockey stick, where Mark was ready to pick it up. He dribbled and passed it to Eric, who got open just as Danny was about to tag Mark. Eric passed it back to Mark, who threw the ball toward the goal. Nate caught it and passed it down the field to Danny, who made a throwing shot that Mark blocked.
As I watched the game and ran the scoreboard, I noticed how I had always explained Moport to people as a hybrid of soccer, football, and hockey, but now the game had evolved to the point that Mark and Eric were playing it more like basketball, and Mark was not using his stick. They were breaking no rules. On an actual soccer field with healthy well-watered grass, like the one we played on in Mr. Pereira’s class, it would have been more difficult to dribble the ball, but real sports sometimes have different quirks depending on what field or stadium hosts the game. This was the same sort of thing.
I made a loud buzzing sound with my mouth ten minutes after the game started. “That’s the half,” I announced. “Team Discovery Channel is leading, by a score of nine to eight.” If Moport fans existed, this score so far would have shocked them. The Ice Monkeys had always been the dominant team when we played two-on-two Moport, and before today Team Discovery Channel had never actually won a game. But now, Team Discovery Channel was just ten minutes away from the championship, if this score held.
When the second half began, Team Discovery Channel moved the ball forward using hockey sticks, leading to a shot on goal that Mark blocked and picked up. Mark and Eric began advancing down the field, passing the ball to each other to avoid Danny and Nate’s tags, but Nate blocked Mark’s thrown shot. Both teams played defense well, and no one scored again until four minutes had passed, when the Ice Monkeys tied the game.
“Come on, Nate, we can do this,” Danny shouted as Nate passed the ball using his stick. Danny faked a shot as Eric ran toward him, then stepped toward the goal and shot the ball off of his stick; the shot caught Mark off guard and went into the goal. Each team scored a few more times as the game continued, and with about thirty seconds left, Team Discovery Channel led by a score of 16-14.
“Thirty seconds!” I called out. Mark dribbled the ball and passed it to Eric, who held it waiting for Mark to get closer. As Eric looked to the side of the field toward the street, waiting for the right moment to pass it to Mark, Danny approached Eric from the other side of the field and tagged him with his stick.
“Tag!” I exclaimed. “Discovery Channel’s ball!”
“Aw, man,” Eric said as he dropped the ball to the ground. Danny picked up the ball and threw it behind him to Nate, who then threw it back to Danny.
“Five seconds!” I called out. Danny threw the ball up in the air vaguely in the direction of the goal; all he had to do at this point was stall for time, since his team led. Mark caught the ball just before I made the sound imitating a buzzer. “That’s game!” I exclaimed. “Team Discovery Channel are the champions of Moport 1996!”
“Wooooo!” Danny shouted, hugging and high-fiving Nate. The two of them ran to the porch and held up the Big Al Cup.
“Wait,” I said. “If you’re going to pose with the Big Al Cup, you need to wear these.” I ran inside and got out the gold medals I had made from string and yellow paper, and strung them around Danny and Nate’s necks. “Good games, everyone,” I announced. “Thanks for coming, and we’ll do this again next year!”
Team Discovery Channel, the perennial underdogs of two-on-two Moport, had won the championship. It was their only championship; we did this tournament a total of three times, and the Ice Monkeys won both of the other ones. I was glad that Moport was over for the year. I had a lot of fun, and the players seemed to as well, but it was stressful getting everything organized and worrying that some of the players might not show up, especially yesterday. That happened the following year; Drew did not show up the second day, so I got to play in one game for the Unabombers. We lost that game.
Although we played Moport off and on for several years, to my knowledge no game of Moport has been played since the 1990s. But many important life lessons can be learned through sports. Never give up. Do not underestimate anyone, especially someone who is determined to succeed. Most importantly, though, I noticed that some of the teams had changed their strategies depending on what their strengths were, like Mark and Eric bringing moves from basketball into Moport. My future seemed uncertain, but I knew that my strength was being good at school, particularly at mathematics. I had two years left as an undergraduate, and I needed to start thinking about my strengths, so I could make a decision about what I would be best suited to doing after I finished my degree.