My children have always been active in sports—not in that ‘future college draft’ kind of way, but in that ‘future case-of-beer-in-the-park-with-your-buddies’ kind of way. Even so, we’ve had our share of, ahem, incidents.

We’ve all read the stories of fathers beating up their kids’ coaches, parents running on the field to protest a call, etc. So, it was with some trepidation that I faced the world of high school sports. Cranky is now in the ninth grade and plays on her high school tennis team. I try to avoid her matches because frankly, I tend to get a little irrational myself (I secretly dread a viral video of myself berating my child in front of a crowd of drop-jawed composed parents).

On a side note, I walk a fine line in terms of crowd etiquette with my child. I can clap, but not cheer; sit, but not stand. I can chat with another parent, but not talk on my phone—a fine edict coming from a 14-year-old girl whose phone seems to have melded to her palm.

So with girded loins, I attended Cranky’s first match—a doubles tournament at a local Catholic high school. Cranky was on the court with her partner in a close match, with the mothers of her opponents sitting on the bench next to me. The other team hit a terrific put away shot. The mothers cheered for their daughters and I bristled— maybe partly due to the fact that they were permitted to cheer. I start grinding my jaw. I sense their animosity and I know they can sense mine. My daughter double faults. Come on! I mutter under my breath. That’s when it happened.

The woman sitting next to me turned. She looked at me with a smile, and with a charming Southern accent said, Which one is yours? The nerve, right? I point to Cranky and said, Ponytail. She smiled and said, Oh, she’s a beautiful player. It’s an advantage to be a lefty. It’s suddenly dawning on me that it might be possible to be civil while rooting for your child at a sporting event.

She clapped for her daughter and I complimented the shot. I learned that their family had just moved to St. Louis a couple of years ago and that her daughter, a senior, is the youngest of two. The match ended—her daughter won—I congratulated her and mentioned offhandedly that it was nice chatting with her. What a nice introduction to high school sports. Turns out there is such a thing as friendly competition. Who knew? It may be late in the game for this, literally, but is it possible I’m growing up?

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