Wally's World: A good man gets just reward

East Lyme's Paul Christensen, now in his 25th season as head boys' soccer coach at his alma mater, got to experience something different during last Friday's ECC finals - preparing his own team while rooting for his daughter Alison.

East Lyme

And after 25 years, there was no joy in Montville. Just a man suffering from what you'd call nerves. This was Friday night. To think of all the years Wally Christensen has spent on soccer fields coaching his kids. All the wins, all the high fives and bus rides. All the rivalries. Disagreements with officials. All the joy, satisfaction and exasperation.

All with a palpable sense of order, the kind coaches can't live without.

And then there he was Friday night.


"Watch and pray," he was saying Sunday, two nights removed from the Christensen family's unwitting appearance on only the best episode of "This is Your Life" ever.

Paul "Wally" Christensen is the head coach of the boys' soccer program at East Lyme High School. And last Friday's ECC championship doubleheader was an all-East Lyme production, capped by the boys' victory, the 11th time Christensen has hoisted the league's hardware, either regular season or tournament, in 25 seasons.

Normally, this would be sufficient fodder for celebration in the Christensen household, which is right there with the Swansons and Delaneys and a few others as the region's first families of futbol. But it turned out to be mere dessert for the entrée nobody saw coming.

It was in the girls' championship game earlier in the night on the turf of Montville High that another Christensen snatched joy from family angst. Wally and Lori Christensen's younger daughter, Alison, the kid who hadn't played in goal for two years, was thrust into the position when starting goalkeeper Gabby Fiengo sustained an injury.

Holy Heartburn, Batman.

The kid is the goalie in the championship game now.

Tie game, too.

"I had a mini heart attack," Alison told Vickie Fulkerson of The Day after the game.

It was nothing compared to the Fred G. Sanford, "Elizabeth!" her parents were feeling.

The scene:

"When it's your own kids," Lori was saying, "you don't know what to do."

This from someone who always knows what to do. Lori is the family's quarterback, somehow managing to negotiate meals on the run, schlepping three daughters here and there, doing all the million little mom/wife things that are really more important than a lung.

"I was up, I was down," she said. "I couldn't sit with my friends. I couldn't be alone."

Wally: "I was at the far end of the field warming up (his players for the boys' game). All I could do was watch and pray."

It got better. Or worse. The game went to penalty kicks.

There's Alison Grace. Alone, alone, so all alone in goal.

"Wally actually let me hold his hand for a minute," Lori said. "The rule is I can't be with him when he's with his boys."

All this and a Hallmark Moment, too.

Alison, who plays with sister Katie on the varsity, stopped one of Woodstock's penalty kicks that eventually allowed Meredith Moore to win the championship for the Vikings.

Wally wiped away tears.

"I was a parent and a coach all at the same time," he said. "When it's your own kids and you live it, it's different."

Lori: "I was up at 4 a.m. Saturday thinking, 'you know, it's all been worth it.'"

Full disclosure: This was supposed to be a salute to Wally Christensen's 25 years at his alma mater. His 11 ECC Championships, 23 playoff appearances, berths in state championship games and the 2002 state title. This was supposed to be about the guy team parent Alison Woods, whose son, Griffin, is a captain, calls "a coach who has made a difference in the sport of soccer in East Lyme and in eastern Connecticut for 25 years."

But then, what could possibly tell his story better than a family's ride on a rainbow for one night? Sometimes, sports work out perfectly. The good man gets the just reward.

"This is his life," Lori said. "He's happiest when he's on the field with his boys."

Or maybe when he's on the field watching his girls.

The Vikings begin the Class L state tournament today at home against E.O. Smith. Wally Christensen will pace in front of his bench here in year 25. Exactly where he belongs.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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