Column: Elite Time Is Nail Time

Deb Beaupre
 (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Deb Beaupre (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

This is the time of year in our family when we begin driving all over New England for games because our kids are on elite travel sports teams.

An elite travel sports team sounds so special, doesn’t it? It sounds like the kids are this close to advancing right up to the Olympics any minute now.


All it means is that their parents paid extra money for their kids to play more games against other kids whose parents paid extra money for their kids to play against other kids all over the region in fancy and not-so-fancy places. The hook is that this‘ll give your kid an “edge” — access to better everything: competition, accessibility and coaching.

During the regular sports season, this league stuff makes no pretense about any of this being for fun, which I appreciate, as it is so much more honest. Here, nobody makes sure everyone gets equal playing time; if you can’t cut it, you’re benched. If you cry, nobody notices. Sure, they do the cheer at the end for the other team and slap hands, but few really mean it.

Then, some clever person came up with this idea of extending the seasons by creating these elite travel teams. The thinking was that sucker parents like us with athletic kids would sign up for never-ending basketball — otherwise known as the Amateur Athletic Union, which, according to its website, “is a U.S.-based organization dedicated to the promotion and development of amateur sports.”

This thing is huge, I tell you, HUGE.

Basketball already lasts from like Halloween to Easter. With AAU, though, we extend that right through to the FOURTH OF JULY … and beyond. You have not lived until you are sitting in a gym when flowers are in bloom, when you could be at the beach, when there actually is something else that you could be doing in New Hampshire besides being in a gym watching kids run up and down a squeaky floor.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kid. I’ll watch and cheer. But clubs like these are above and beyond, kind of like finding out I had to push the placenta out after I just pushed the baby out. What? Can’t someone else do something, like go in and get it? I’m DONE here, people.

Basketball for me was something to do while it was winter in New Hampshire; Christmas was over, and spring was four months away. I’d sit and chat with neighbors, have a good laugh or two, yell encouraging things until my daughter gave me the stop-yelling-Mommy look, and then we’d go home.

The other travel team my kids do is soccer.

This, I figured out early.

Most of the games I drove to were south of the Upper Valley, and every woman knows that’s Target Territory, as well as the Land of a Nail Salon on Every Corner. Coaches always wanted the kid there early, anyway, so I would offer to drive, drop the kid off with Gatorade, healthy snacks, make a pedicure appointment, hit the local Target and then soak the tootsies. Ahh, heaven.

I have one confession to make. Since the players move so fast, and since the playing field is so big and since my eyesight is so poor, if I stay, I can’t always tell which kid is mine.

My kid is biracial, with light brown skin and light green eyes; he looks Puerto Rican, so if there are Latino kids playing — which, down in southern New England, there were — I’d really have to concentrate on the number to see which is mine, and that takes a lot of effort on my part. When I’d think of all the bargains I could be scarfing at Target and the dead skin on my feet, my mind would wander wistfully … and then he’d score in some amazing way that I’d missed anyway, so I should have just gone with my first impulse.

All this travel team business is just that: A business. And I know who is behind it — chambers of commerce.

After a certain number of games, like two, it is tournament time; and tournaments always take place far, far away from everyone’s home at a small college. Which means one thing and one thing only: Hotels.

Not just any hotels, either — hotels with pools. There is no way 10,000 kids and their parents staying at a hotel in spring or summer in New Hampshire can do without a pool.

My thinking is that elite sporting outfits and chambers of commerce are in on this together. All those families need a place to stay, food to eat and stuff to do.

These folks who host the tournaments are making a killing. Forget what you hear about the economy; prepubescent girls eat like wolves, and the term “shop ‘til you drop” was coined for them, OK? I am sure all the stores in towns where these tourneys are have the dates highlighted in red to stock up on low-slung colored jeans, T-shirts with snarky sayings and extra nail polish that glows in the dark. And sneakers, sneakers, sneakers.

Imagine the meetings. “Let’s plan the next tournament venue at a location beneficial to small business owners and really stick it to the folks thinking they have the next Mia Hamm or Larry Bird — some nice junior college near hotels with pools.”

Genius, really.

A brilliant idea that will continue to pay off because there will always be parents who want their cherub to have as much playing time as they can, to learn from and play with the best — a mixture of meritocracy and manipulation. Evil genius, more like.

Besides, where else will all the dads go when the games are over while the moms are out at Target or getting their nails done?

Deb Beaupre is the wife of Newport High School athletic director Doug Beaupre. Her column appears periodically in the VALLEY NEWS sports section.