Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Head to Foot

Soccer and the sorry state of measurement

By Walter Jowers

OCTOBER 11, 1999:  Last Sunday, if a girl in the Northern Ohio Girls Soccer League scored a big goal or made a spectacular save, the parents and coaches on the sidelines were just supposed to nod with approval, for it was "Silent Sunday." This was by decree of league president Al Soper, who said, "We want kids to be able to learn and to be able to think and play without the constant yelling."

It worries me that 8- to 14-year-old Ohio girls can't play soccer without their parents getting busted for yelling. This is America. So long as we don't have a team with a real shot at the World Cup, surely no soccer crowd is going to be big enough to make any seriously distracting noise.

I went to a high-school soccer game just last week. Some parents kept yelling, "Push up! Push up!" I had no idea what "push up" meant, and I've got to tell you, that gave me a little twinge of patriotic pride. October is World Series time. It's American Football season. Those are things worth yelling about. Youth soccer is not. When little kids kick a ball up and down a field, we ought to think of it as a way to make 'em nap all afternoon.

Understand, I don't have anything against soccer, except that it precludes the use of the hands--which, along with speech and the ability to make tools, are the very things that separate humans from chimps. When I see a soccer ball come in high and a bunch of players run up and try to bonk the ball with their heads, I just have to laugh. It's like watching prairie dogs pop up out of their holes. Entertaining, yes. Worth getting all wrought up about? No.

Still, some people are getting wrought up. Just a few days ago, at a high school game in suburban Cleveland, the father of a high school soccer player was charged with punching one of his son's opponents. You Ohio sports daddies, listen to me: It's just a little game of kickball. No need to recreate the career-ending psycho meltdown of former Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, who punched a Clemson player right in the middle of the 1978 Gator Bowl.

If the soccer yelling and punching keep up, we could end up with the embarrassing spectacle of American soccer riots. That could start us heading down the slippery slope of Europization. We could end up thinking Disney World is nothing special, and maybe even switching over to that silly metric system.

Which brings me to this:

We're the country that put 12 men on the moon. We're the country that flew a boy monkey and a girl monkey into space, and when they landed, we got a husband for the girl monkey. And when that husband died, we got her a new husband. And when the girl monkey finally died, we buried her with her second husband, in front of the Space and Rocket Museum in Huntsville, Ala. We're the country that put a set of prescription lenses on the "eyes" of the Hubbell Space Telescope, so we could see out to the very edge of creation.

Given all those accomplishments, somebody please tell me: What in the hell were we thinking when we programmed our $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter with metric commands? That's what crashed it.

We had two engineering teams working on the Orbiter's guidance. One team wrote instructions in metric units, the other used English units for an all-important course correction. Because of that, information failed to transfer between the Orbiter team at Lockheed Martin in Colorado and the mission navigation team in California. The result: We flew the Orbiter into the Martian atmosphere, and it broke up.

"Our inability to recognize and correct this simple error has had major implications," said Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Edward Stone.

If we'd just stuck with good old feet and inches, which were good enough to get Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Sea of Tranquillity, we'd still have our fancy Orbiter. But no. We had to have an engineering team playing around with centimeters and liters and grams, and probably yelling at soccer matches on the weekends.

Because of the screw-up with the Orbiter, the Mars Polar Lander mission could be compromised. The Polar Lander, scheduled to land on Mars in December, carries a CD-ROM with the names of a million American children on it, one of whom is daughter Jess. If the kilo-weenies crash that one, it'll break the hearts of a million little American kids.

I say we ought to stick with our traditions of feet, inches, and miles, baseball, basketball, and football. They got us this far. There's no good reason not to keep 'em around for the next millennium.

Got ghosts?

Everybody likes a good haunted-house story. If you've got a haunted house, or you've had one, or you've been bothered or entertained by haints of any kind, e-mail me the story by Oct. 23. If I get enough good ghost stories, I might just put some in the Halloween-week column.

Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nashscene.com or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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