It must be the socks because in Nate Laita’s case, it certainly isn’t the shoes.
Laita is a standout football and basketball player for Foxcroft Academy. He helped lead his football Ponies to a second straight Eastern Maine Class C championship and is a starter on Foxcroft’s 9-5 basketball team, which is making an Eastern Maine tournament run.
But as impressive as his efforts have been on the field and the court, most people notice him for another reason. He’s the kid wearing the knee-length maroon-and-white, horizontally-striped socks.
It’s sort of a Cat in the Hat-meets-rugby kind of fashion statement.
“I’ve always liked knee-high socks, and I figured I’d try be original,” said Laita. “I hadn’t seen anybody with socks like that… I like to be seen.”
Laita has worn knee-high socks for sports events almost as far back as he can remember, since sixth grade. He has worn his current red-and-white attention getters since the start of the 1997 football season.
Laita’s fashion craze caught on. Star tailback Ben Preston and another player also wore them.
“I figured if they wanted to wear them, they were maroon and white, and it didn’t bother me,” said football and boys basketball coach Paul Withee. “I kind of thought they looked goofy, but they wanted to wear them and I didn’t have a problem with them.”
Laita’s sock system involves just two pairs of socks.
“I have a backup pair, basically and the pair I’m wearing now,” he explained. “The primary pair has a few holes in them. That’s how I can tell them apart.”
Laugh at them if you want, but Laita learned the hard way how important they are three weeks ago in a game against Mount Desert Island.
“That was the first time I decided to go out in regular socks,” said Laita. “I guess I just wanted to try something new. It didn’t work very well though.”
Laita had what he called a “crappy” first half. At halftime, he chucked the ankle-length socks in vogue among most players today and went back to his old standbys. Things improved greatly in the second half as Laita scored eight of his 10 points, but the Ponies still lost by eight.
Laita’s socks are only a small part of his superstitous preparation for games.
Many people regard baseball players as the most superstitious athletes in the sports world. They obviously haven’t met Laita.
“I always have to take a nap before every game. I always eat before every game,” he said, laughing. “I have to be the fourth one in line when the team takes the court [for warmups]. I was talking to coach one of our games and I forgot to go out. I went out last instead and I didn’t start off playing well.”
Overall, Laita says he doesn’t consider himself a superstitious guy.
“I’m not real superstitious, but I am when it comes to sports. If I do something good, then I’m going to try to keep with it however I can,” he explained.
“I’m taking a class now – sport and exercise psychology – dealing with that kind of thing,” Withee said. “A kid has it set in his mind that he can correlate what he eats or wears with his performance, and sometimes that’s half the battle.”
Coaches aren’t immune either.
“I think even as coaches, we develop those superstitions. You think, geez we had a good game,” said Withee. “What’d I do today? What did I eat? I’ll get the same thing next time because I had an awesome game.
“My assistant [football] coach, Kenny Grant, buys a Snickers bar, a Dr. Pepper, and, I think two lottery tickets before each game.”
Despite rumors to the contrary, the Maine Principals’ Association’s BCD basketball committee decided not to take any drastic scheduling action regarding the rest of the 1997-98 basketball season due to the recent ice storms.
“The committee expects everybody will get their schedule in prior to Feb. 7 and teams need permission from the chairs to schedule more than two games in the last week of the season,” said MPA executive director Dick Tyler.
No changes to the tournament schedule have been made. Most teams have already played the minimum number of games (12) needed to qualify for the tournament. The committee chairs are Brett Moores and Pat Conant.