As the soccer team takes its traditional walk across the field at the end of the game, freshman Scott Slapper stays back with the coaches. He scribbles down a few more numbers to complete the game’s stats.
Slapper isn’t that different from the other players on the soccer team. Just like the others, he began playing soccer as a kid, he attends every game and practice and he has as much passion for the sport as anybody else. The only difference is that Slapper is unable to break out into a dead sprint without feeling a sharp pain in his heart, forcing him to stop running. He puts his hand to his heart and he can feel the extra beat that is the difference between being a varsity team member, and the varsity team manager.
Slapper has a heart irregularity. His heart has a double beat in the right ventricle. The normal heart beats the monotonous da, da, da, while Slapper’s heart works twice as hard beating da-da, da-da, da-da. He first found out about this condition three years ago while playing soccer for his Strikers club team.
It was the last game of the season. Slapper was sprinting down the field, wide open and ready to go for the ball when he became short of breath.
“One minute my chest felt fine and the next it didn’t stop hurting,” Slapper said.
Slapper’s dad took him to the doctor and multiple tests were taken, including an electrocardiogram, which records the pattern and rhythm of his heartbeat. His results wouldn’t be ready for two weeks so he went on with his daily life as normal, thinking nothing of the pain he experienced at the soccer game. At the end of the two weeks, he and his parents were told to come into the doctor’s office, where they were informed of his heart irregularity.
“The first question I asked was, ‘can I still play soccer?’” Slapper said. “The doctor said no.”
The shock of the diagnosis didn’t really hit Slapper until the next fall when he realized there would be no more weekly soccer games and practices to attend. This year is the first time he has finally gotten the chance to get back into the swing of things and once again be part of a soccer team. Except this time, instead of playing, he is the team manager.
Slapper first got the idea to be manager when his older sister Blair, who now plays soccer for the University of Nebraska, played on the East varsity team. He enjoyed helping head soccer coach Jamie Kelly whenever he could.
“I can’t remember if I mentioned it to him or him to me, but I know the other said ‘of course’,” Kelly said. “Scott makes the practices and games more relaxing to be around.”
Kelly had been Slapper’s club soccer coach up until he was diagnosed with his heart condition. Kelly knew Slapper would be a perfect fit for the job.
As manager, he devotes hours everyday to attend each practice and game. At practice, he helps out by shagging balls or organizing practice jerseys. At games, he takes stats and sometimes videotapes. He helps with anything the coaches need in order to make things run more smoothly.
“A lot of the stuff he does goes unnoticed, but when you think about it, it really helps a lot,” junior and varsity player CC Creidenberg said.
Slapper gets the chance to have a glimpse at what being involved in a school sport feels like. He chooses to focus only on how lucky he is to be involved in the sport he loves.
“At first I was kind of disappointed because I wanted to follow in my sister’s footsteps,” Slapper said. “I really enjoy being team manager and appreciate the opportunity.”
Even though it does get tough to watch athletes play his favorite sport everyday, he keeps a cool attitude about it.
“Scotty’s found a way to stay involved in what he loves to do,” Kelly said. “He’s doing a great job and hopefully he wants to do it for about three more years.”
Slapper’s doctor said that there is a possibility he could outgrow this heart condition in time. He remains optimistic and already knows exactly what he will do if he outgrows the heart irregularity around the age of 25.
“I’m challenging my sister to a run,” Slapper said. “And I’m guessing she will be about 31 by that time so I think I can beat her.”
Slapper does not let his heart problem control the way he lives his life. No one would ever see any difference between Slapper and his friends unless they put a hand to his heart and felt that one extra beat. It doesn’t mean anything to them, but it makes all the difference in the world to Slapper.
As Slapper stays back with the coaches after the game while the players walk to the other side of the field, he feels content staying where he is. He knows that even as team manager, he will always be one beat ahead of the game.