My first year playing youth soccer, my team's name was Rainbow Lightning. The name was born from a heated debate between the girls, who wanted to be the Rainbows, and the boys, who wanted to be the Lightning.

I remember very little about those games, but photographs are proof that instead of attempting to make any contact with the ball, I lingered near the sidelines, twisting my curls around my fingers. I also wore my shorts much too high. Thankfully I outgrew this stage of hair twirling and high waistlines and learned to run toward the ball.

Fall is a nostalgic season for me now that I don't play sports competitively anymore.

There was a time when I spent every afternoon outside from August to November either on the soccer field or the tennis court.

Now the only exercise I do is walking across campus to the Collegian office, hoping to burn at least a few calories by striding up the hill by the post office.

My life has changed quite drastically since I stopped playing sports. For one, I can no longer maintain that glorious summer tan throughout fall that comes with being outside for two hours each day.

I've also noticed that my agility isn't quite what it used to be. A few days ago, while trying to jump onto my frustratingly high lofted bed, I missed my target by several feet and slammed my knee into my dresser, resulting in a stunning multicolored bruise on my leg.

But it's not the lack of racer-back and sock tan lines I miss. Nor do I dwell on my declining athletic ability.

I think back and remember songs chanted on yellow school buses and ringing the church bell in my high school's chapel after every victory. I remember the way the sky looked at 5:30 in the evenings when I walked home from practice. These are the things I miss.

The far more talented and attractive Collegian sports columnist has written his past two articles about the business side of sports. But I've been thinking a lot lately about the much more amateur side.

Yesterday I talked to my 9-year-old sister on the phone and she told me that she had won her soccer game.

"Our team is the Crazy Frogs and our colors are black and yellow," she said.

"Did you win?" I asked.

She paused. "Yeah."

"Did you play well?"

"Yeah," she said indifferently.

The Crazy Frogs don't have to worry about salaries or conference realignments. And I doubt they would have acted much differently had they lost the game.

I wonder if these grassroots years reveal the essence of sports more than any other level. There are no concerns and there is no pressure. A scandal isn't about to break out and no one is fretting about revenue and television contracts.

Simply put, kids love to play sports because they like being outside with their friends, kicking a ball or even running nonchalantly down a field. Amateur athletics are sports in their most basic and purest sense. Kids are out there because they love being out there.

I can only hope that my sister will continue to play, and love sports as much as I have. After all, my lifelong love affair began with Rainbow Lightning.