Thomas McKenzie
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The Basketball Diary, part four: Two Wrongs and One Right


Make sure to check out parts one, two, and three before reading this post.

In response to requests, I have ditched my old school use of first initials. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty.

The team gathered in the Lipscomb elementary school gym at a quarter til one. Nine of our ten girls were present, suited up, and ready to rumble. I briefly met the other coach. I'll him call "Vinnie." Why Vinnie? Two reasons. First, and less important, is that he kind of looked Italian. Second, he was the capo of his own third-grade hit squad. (Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to be the capo of a third-grade hit squad.)

In the two games and one scrimmage I have seen, I have noticed a few things. I have noticed that the parents are pretty into it. I have noticed that the kids are taught to take the ball, to block shots, and to guard close. I have also noticed that no one really runs any "plays." Also, we assign coverage in the most obvious and specific way you can imagine. We line the girls up across from each other and say "OK, that is your girl.” No one switches the coverage around. There is also a rule against double-teaming.

Vinnie does not come from this school of thought. These pedestrian rules about “no double teaming” were completely ignored. Further, Vinnie kept switching up the coverage, insuring that our girls never knew who was covering them. This allowed for some pretty conspicuous mismatches. At one point my own precious Ella got completely drilled by some girl who had just come off the bench, hands right to Ella‘s cute face. Add to this the fact that his girls were all pretty big. A couple of them were giants compared to our girls. Nordic Mountain Giants. I think the ancients called them "Titans."

As I've mentioned, I have never played basketball. So, when people do fancy stuff, I'm pretty impressed. I take notice. And this team was Fan-cy! I learned all sorts of new terms, terms like "screen" and "picks." I also found out what a "running pick" is.

A "running pick," for those of you who don't know, is when you screen out a defender by grabbing hold of her. Practically every time their point guard brought the ball to mid court, one of their Mountain Children would run into our defender and hold on tight, clearing a path for the point guard to go around. Given the size difference alone, it was sadistic. And the refs never called it. Not once.

Early in the game, my assistant coach Georgia said (did not yell, but said), "are those refs going to call that?" Sitting next to her was the league representative. He turns to her and growls at her "hey, leave them alone, just back off and leave the refs alone. That's not the way we behave." Georgia and I looked at each other with a collective, and silent, "what?"

Later in the game, the game clock stopped moving. Just stopped. The league rep went up to work on it, and I asked "how's it going?" Literally--smile on my face, nice tone of voice--"how's it going." His response "keep your mind on your coaching; we'll take care of this." I was not aware that my mind was off my coaching. But, he's the expert.

The refs were not impressive. We had two: Old Ref and Young Ref. Old Ref was, well, old. Young Ref looked like Vinnie’s brother. Neither seemed to think anything was wrong. Fouls of all sorts were left uncalled. In fact, I don't believe there were more than two fouls called during the entire game. Can you imagine a practically clean basketball game played by anyone? How about one coached by my incompetent, crazy self? Yeah, I can't imagine it either.

A couple of minutes before the first half came to its end, the Mafia stole the ball from one of my girls and started their break towards our goal. During the ruckus, Georgia's daughter Iris took an elbow in the nose. As she came over to the sideline, she was holding her nose and crying. She walked directly in front of Old Ref.

Earlier in the game, one of the girls from the other team had fallen down. Young Ref immediately blew his whistle and called time-out. In this case, Old Ref obviously missed the crying little girl three feet in front of him. So, I start yelling at him “ref, we've got an injury.” Nothing. “REF, INJURY!” Nothing. This goes on for a while. The other team is about to score again, and they have us 5 on 4. I turn to Red (our tallest girl) and say “Red, I need you to get out and play right now." She runs out.

I keep yelling, waving my hands at Old Ref. Suddenly, Young Ref is looking at me. I remember my transgression last week. Not wanting to repeat it, I call “time out.” He shakes his head “no.” I am incredulous. I start doing the hand-over-hand universal symbol for “time out.” He shakes his head. I'm yelling "INJURED KID!" Old Ref, who is barely ten feet from me, is still not looking.

So, I do what I do best. I run out onto the court. I am yelling “stop the game, I have an injured player.” About this time, the other team sinks a basket. The refs draw up to me.

Young Ref: “Get back in the box.”
Me: “I have an injury.”
Old Ref: “Then you should have got my attention.”
Me: “I tried to get your attention. I was screaming my head off at you.”
Old Ref: (pointing to the stands) “Everyone here is screaming.”
Me: “That’s why I tried to call a time out.”
Young Ref: “You can’t call a time out when the other team has the ball.”
Me: “I was trying to stop the game because I have an injured player.”
Old Ref: “But you subbed in.”
Me: “What?”
Old Ref: (smirking) “You subbed in. How many players you got out there? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You subbed in.”
Me: “What . . .”
Old Ref: “I thought you were just subbing in. You can't sub in and say you have an injury.”
Me: “Look, I had an injured player. I couldn't’t get your attention. Neither one of you was paying attention to me. So, I thought the least I could do was put someone in there to help out while I got your attention.”
Old Ref: “So you subbed in and called a time out when you weren't supposed to.”
Me: “I was trying to stop the game . . .”
Old Ref: (as patronizing as you can imagine) “Well, two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Me: (after taking a breath): “Look, I’m sorry, I did not intend to violate the rules. But I have a little girl crying, holding her face, and I need to stop the game for a moment to see if she is OK. That’s all that matters.”

Old Ref blows his whistle and says “time-out, blue!” What a tender old gentleman. He gave me the time out, and didn’t even call a foul on me. Of course, we got the time-out because we had just gotten the ball back anyway. If the ref had paid attention to me in the first place, the point they scored would not have counted. But, he’s the ref. And I had committed two Wrongs.

The first half ended with a score of 14 to 3. Visions of the first week thrashing danced in my head. I gathered my team. I encouraged the heck out of them. I gave them pointers. I told them to drink lots of water.

I am grateful to say that we won the second half. But we lost the game, 24 to 15.

As we were gathering our things to leave, the other team was beaming. Given the number of dirty moves I saw during those 45 minutes, I could barely bring myself to shake Vinnie’s hand. He had a big, rough hand. “Good game” I muttered. I didn’t mean it.

I made eye-contact with one of my girls’ dads. Last week, after our win, he was very chatty. This week, not so much. In fact, I think that was a “dirty look” he gave me. Its hard to tell in the South, though. I prefer the North where dirty looks often come with raised middle fingers. At least you know what someone is trying to say.

I drove Ella home. I asked her if she had fun. Fun was my stated goal, after all. She said “oh, yes Daddy. I had lots of fun, except when that girl shoved me in the face. And when they wouldn’t stop the game when Iris was crying. But I had fun. You are a good coach. I love you, daddy.”

My little girl had fun, and she thinks I’m a good coach. My team didn’t win, but at least I did. And that is one Right.



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