The greatest soccer game ever played went to sudden-death Wednesday.
The ball got stuck in a cedar tree, twice, delaying play. One girl stopped mid-stride, to brush her hair. A boy sat down in the middle of the field - during the game - and tied his shoes.
The referee/commissioner wore a mohawk haircut and a smile, and carried a clipboard as big as his torso - because the referee/commissioner is 8.
Two teams of five third-graders played during recess on dirt and stubbly grass outside The Children's School at Sylvia Circle, a Rock Hill Montessori elementary school.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Bolton versus Manchester United - named for teams in England, where soccer is king.
It was the first-ever Sylvia Cup. Almost every third-grader participated. Nobody was barred. Nobody was cut. Everybody played some of the time, during the short season of recess in the sunlit afternoons.
There were no school boards deciding what sports to have - or keep - for children. There were no coaches paid more than teachers. There were no coaches at all.
There was no yelling about budgets. There was no budget.
There were no parents anywhere, except the one lady who brought the tiny trophies for the players on both finalists.
There were no adults allowed, with the exception of Sylvia Circle's two exceptional third-grade teachers, LaTanya Culbreath and Sheleea Leonard - and their only job was to supervise from afar.
"This is their thing, Isaiah's thing," said Culbreath.
Isaiah is Isaiah Reid, the mohawk-haired soccer enthusiast who dreamed up this whole league. Reid, who plays competitive soccer for little kids, saw not everybody got to play together during recess. What he ended up with was a league of all colors, both genders - no exclusions.
"I just drew it all up so all my classmates would have a chance to have fun together," said Isaiah, who - at 8 - already is smarter than most people who have anything to do with school sports.
Isaiah, because of his soccer skills, removed himself from the league and became a referee for the games. The kids chose eight teams and played a tournament. Wednesday was the final.
Bolton was made up of the following star players: Blake Childs, 9, whose birthday was Wednesday; Desmond Mack; Victorry Brice; Abigail Morrison; and Rebecca Volovik. They looked like the rainbow.
Manchester United had greatness, too. Ethan Hopper, Sophie DiFrancesca. Lily Morningstar turned a general malaise - "I'm not sure I wanna play today" - into a great performance when the cameras came on. Gavin Bennett, Karina Petrovich. The United Nations of kids.
There were usually four on a side in this league, but Isaiah allowed five on Wednesday.
"You have more who want to play, you figure it out," said Isaiah, a politician in the making who knows the art of compromise.
The game started. The ball was kicked out of bounds a hundred times. Nobody got mad. Isaiah ran after the ball with his clipboard. The girls kicked. The boys kicked. Everybody ran around and got sweaty and laughed.
The ball went into that tree again and no yapping parent blamed the referee for their kid's low self-esteem, because there were no parents, no referees, no coaches and no school officials roaming the sidelines or the pressbox trying to be big shots.
There were no sidelines, no pressbox and no adults to ruin things, thus no low self-esteem for any kid.
When the ball went into the tree the second time, one of the boys, Blake Childs, bull-rushed into the tree, climbed and got the ball. The game went on.
Finally, after about 15 minutes, the score was tied at 2. The teachers stayed to the side, where they belonged. Isaiah said next goal wins.
The ball seemed to drop in slow motion in front of Victorry Brice, whose knees on his jeans were dirty from running and falling and laughing. Brice, looking like Pele, smashed a shot through the plastic cones that served as goals, and the first Sylvia Cup belonged to Bolton.
Isaiah gathered all the kids in the third grade for the trophy presentations. Cheers for every name Isaiah announced, from every kid, for playing and having the chance to play.
Culbreath, Isaiah's teacher, praised him for his organization, and Isaiah got a standing ovation. Then Culbreath said there wasn't a single complaint all season from anybody.
That got the biggest cheer.