Thomas McKenzie
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The Basketball Diary Part Seven: Heartbreak


This is part seven. If you would like to read the other parts first, search my site for "basketball diary" or select "sports" under "archive by label." All names have been changed to protect the people who's names have been changed. And me, too.

Saturday rolled around again. According to the family calendar, E--'s game was to be held at 10 am at a local high school. She had never played at this school before, but her sister had. I was confident I knew where I was going.

Because of my wife's surgery just a few days before, she was not going to be able to come to either game today. This was a proverbial "bummer." It also meant that I would have S-- in tow. We left the house in plenty of time for me to be there ten minutes before the game started. E-- was in her uniform, and S-- was lugging her Minnie Mouse suitcase. Why the suitcase? Because a wonderful and saintly family was going to take my girls between E--'s game and S--'s game. E-- had hers at 10, S--'s was at 2. This family also has girls on their same teams. The suitcase was full of uniforms, clothes, and various entertainment options.

It was bitterly cold outside when we arrived at the high school. And, low and behold, the parking lot was completely filled. I had to drive to the outer ring of chaos to find a parking space. We were wearing our coats, but none of us were sufficiently layered for the ridiculously long walk. I carried Minnie Mouse, and the girls stumbled behind me, complaining about the cold.

When we got to the gym, we saw the cause of the parking lot fiasco: High School Wrestling Match. I saw this out of the corner of my eye as I was greeted by a security guard. "You lookin' for basketball?" he asked. I told him I was, and started heading up towards the courts. "Uhm, they got moved." I was dumbfounded, and a more than a little stupid. I should have checked the website.

Not knowing where I was going, and with a game starting in five minutes, I hurried the girls back to the car. Along the way, I called every basketball-parent number I have in my phone. No one answered. I called my wife, hoping she could look it up on the website. I found out later she was downstairs but her phone was upstairs.

Thankfully, I remembered that I had written one of the dad's phone number on my phone's "notepad." I called him, and he (thankfully) answered. "Do you know where and when our game is today?" I asked. "Yeah, we're here at Lipscomb, and we just tipped off." I hung up and drove.

When we got there the first quarter was half over. E-- and I went to the bench, and S-- took her suitcase and started playing with her friends.

The most recent couple of games had been pretty friendly, pretty low-key, and we had gotten pretty beaten up. This one was quite different. The competition was fierce all the way through.

The other team was filled with our kind of kids. There were a couple of girls who were pretty good, and the rest were average (a lot like us). Unfortunately, they had a Secret Weapon. They had a girl who was not very good on defense, not particularly quick, and not a good passer. But she had one thing going for her. She was tall.

Yes, I have pointed out tall girls in this series. But this kid made me want to ask for a look at her birth certificate. And perhaps a genetic test of some kind. Supposedly, this was a third grader, so a girl who is eight or nine years old. According to this website, the average nine year old white girl is 52 and a half inches tall (4' 4"). The absolute tallest nine year old girl is 57 and a half inches tall (4' 9"). At one point, this Secret Weapon was standing next to my assistant coach, Georgia. Georgia is probably 5' 6" or 5' 7". This girl was barely an inch shorter. That's what I said. She was 5' 5" or 5' 6", a foot taller than the average girl her age.

The affect of that should be obvious. She got all the rebounds. Why? Because she just had to put her hands up. No one could compete with that. And someone that tall shooting at a nine foot goal? Forget about it. I would venture to say that of the 17 points they scored, she scored 10 of them.

I don't blame them for having a Secret Weapon. Without her, and another girl who was pretty quick, they weren't that great of a team. And, I should know. I have become quite a connosier of third grade basketball players.

Back to our team. We had a problem making shots. Twice we were in situations where two of our girls were by themselves under our goals. (I can't even begin to explain how it happened, but it comes down to a breakdown in coaching on the other team. Once again, I should know.) We got three or four clean shots before any defender showed up. And, both times, we couldn't get the ball in the hoop.

The refs were not easy on us. Just like last week, we kept on walking, and they kept on calling it. One thing I still don't understand is this. Twice one of our girls fell on the ball. She got up, and before she even took a step the ref called walking and took the ball back. Don't ask me . . .

The refs were pretty harsh, but they didn't seem to be so harsh on the other team. For instance, I had been hammering my girls all week to stay out of the lane when they were on offense. I didn't want five seconds called on them. My little E-- pointed out (rightly) that the girl she was guarding practically lived in the lane and never got called. So, I'm not sure what was up with that.

Sometime toward the end of the first half, our parents were getting fed up with the refs. Over and over again, we were getting stiff calls while the other team was getting a lot of slack. Two guys behind me started yelling "come on ref, help them out," and "let the kids play." That sort of thing. Then it happened. A ref was walking by and one of the dads said "hey ref, you're doing a terrible job."

Ejection. That's right, he got ejected. He was escorted out of the gym by the league rep. I immediately apologized to the ref. Not because I disagreed with the idea that the ref was terrible, but because I didn't need any less love than I was getting.

The final two minutes rolled around. We were down by one point. The following scenario happened four times in a row.

Their team has the ball. They shoot, they miss. They rebound and shoot again. They miss. We rebound. We start to bring it down the court. Our girl bringing it down gets called for walking before she gets to half court. I grab my hair and kneel. I start praying. The other team gets the ball back. They go down the court. They shoot. They miss. We rebound. Repeat.

It was maddening. And, as the clock ticked down to fifteen seconds, it happened again. I am not saying we would have made one of those shots, but I would have loved for my kids to at least get the opportunity to try.

So, we lost by one point. One stinking point. It was, in a word, heartbreaking. On other occassions we had been crushed. We had lost by a dozen points or more a couple of times. For whatever reason, this loss was worse.

I have heard it said that the worst medal to get in the Olympics is the Silver. They say that winning Gold is, of course, great. If you get Bronze, you can say to yourself "wow, I got a medal, what a dream come true." But if you get Silver, you live the rest of your life wondering why you couldn't have done just a tiny bit better and taken home the Gold.

Driving home, I felt like that. Yes, we have won a game. But we could have won this one, really should have won it. I want the girls to get that elusive second win. I want it for them, and I guess I still want it for me.

As I write this, we only have one more game to play. Our games scheduled for Feb. 17th were cancelled due to snow. So with one more game to play, and actually only one more practice, my days of basketball coaching are quickly coming to an end. One more chance at a win. And one more chance to coach my beautiful E--.

P.S. The day after the game, we had our Sunday practice. One of the two dads who had been yelling chatted me up a bit while I was walking around lowering goals.

"What about those refs?" he said. "Yeah," I said, "they were rough. I wonder what was up with that?"

I did not expect an answer, but I got one. "Well, maybe they were tired of us white guys." I must have looked at him in a strange way, because he stammered out "they were black, you know."

"What the heck," I'm thinking to myself. Yes, the refs were black, and my team is 90% white. But the other team was even more white than we are. And what difference could that possibly make? I tried this point of logic.

"I doubt that was it. After all, both teams were pretty much the same. And why would they care?" I asked.

He started to walk away. "I'm just saying," he said. I don't think we have spoken since.

Weird. But, then again, I do live in the state where they shot MLK.


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