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The rarest of victory and the hilariity of defeat

Column/Martin Dickau

We were tied, 3-3. My performance up to this point certainly had left much to be desired. My opponent was advancing toward me again. As he launched his attack, my arm shot out, and the point of my blade hit his chest.

"Attack misses," the director said to us. "Stop thrust was good. Touch right." She glared at me. I grinned back sheepishly. We were both well aware that I knew better.

Good intentions, however, do not hold up well under panic, and on my opponent's next advance, another counterattack and another scathing look.

Fencing is but the latest symptom of my unwavering willingness to try my hand at yet another intramural sport, secure in the knowledge that I will probably make a fool of myself.

Although Penny was angry with me, I took some comfort in that she was not laughing at me, at least not within my hearing. Another fencer had assured me she would stop by to laugh, but was out of luck -- the competition ended a day earlier than expected. But she had gotten enough laughter out of my team's recent C-league softball game.

I glanced behind me at the infield and outfield. Everyone was in the proper position. Everyone was watching me, waiting. I turned back to the batter and launched my pitch. He swung. The grounder shot back toward me. I put my glove down just in time to deflect the ball past my shortstop into left center field. Bases loaded.

Disgusted, I slammed the ball back into my glove and contemplated the next batter. I threw my best slow pitch. Twelve feet of arc, dropping across the batter's right shoulder. He swung. The ball sailed over my head, sailed over the center fielder, sailed over the center field fence.


I had just given up a grand slam. "Hi Marty!" I heard a voice. Ann stood at the fence separating Briggs' Field from the Alley. She was laughing. Not every C-league team can lose 21-1.

Some sports, fortunately, do not lend themselves to attracting the attention of passers-by, and a humiliating loss can remain a fairly private affair.

I had never played water polo, but when the sign-up list appeared on the F-Entry bulletin board, I figured here at last was a sport I could handle. After lifesaving, anything in the water had to be easy.

A scene I had become much too familiar with in the past dozen or so minutes was repeating itself. I swam toward the center of the pool to meet the oncoming attacker. I treaded water, blocking his way. Finding no open teammates, he raised himself with a strong kick and threw the ball over my outstretched hand, past our goalie, and into the net for another goal.

I suppose the score turned out to be as close as it was only because our opponents' arms were tired. Not every C-league water polo team gets to score 13 goals. As I lay by the side of the pool, frantically gasping for breath, I reflected on our loss. Hadn't lifesaving taught me that nothing in the water is easy?

My affair with intramural sports is not complete masochism. I do not find the idea of winning all that repulsive. Once in a while, I even find myself on a winning team.

"Set, Mitch," I called as I hit the volleyball into the air. For once, it missed the rafters, missed the referee, missed the back wall, and came down on our side of the net. Mitch jumped, he struck, and the spike struck between two members of the opposition. Game and match. Victory.