A cold rain seemed to mark every Saturday this winter but I spent them all in my happy place: screechy loud gymnasiums, coaching the kids’ basketball teams. A common knock on people like me is that we relive old glories vicariously through our children’s athletic endeavors but I take exception to that. This isn’t old glory, it’s new glory and honestly my hoop credentials have never been more impressive.
Elliott’s team, Boyz II Men, won the Decatur Recreation Championship by taking down the previously undefeated Bandits. We were awarded a gigantic trophy that looked like it had been in the high school athletic department’s storage closet since 1978, so obviously I’m not alone in recognizing this as a special feat. Margo’s team, The Pixies, made it to the championship game before bowing to the Billygoats, who may or may not have recruited teenagers. Petitions may be filed.
The former Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin once wrote a devotional tome entitled “I Believe in Basketball” and my brother Bill had it pinned above his desk. Sure, Bill believes in other things, too, but he and I share something of spiritual connection to the game. When we were kids, the Westchester County Catholic school league was pretty much our reason for being. This level of commitment often entailed trudging through New York snow with galoshes yanked over our sneakers to get to Saturday morning practices. Then we’d seek any other indoor court we could worm our way into or default to the hoop in our uneven, ice covered driveway.
Now our children are poised to follow in our footsteps. Well, sort of. Margo juggles basketball with her Robotics team duties and her Hip-Hop dance classes. Her cousin Fiona also does Robotics and sings with her church choir. And come to think of it, Margo skipped a game for a birthday party so the focus on basketball isn’t quite as singular as Bill and I might draw it up. But there is still time to impress upon them the sheer beauty in the space that can be created by a deft pass, a well-placed screen or a perfect box out.
Bill and I coached together last year but Margo had another season with the 9-10’s and Fiona was to move up a level. We each volunteered to helm our own squads but when the leagues combined due to a lower enrollment, it was on like Donkey Kong. The girls were tickled with the idea of playing against each other and seeing Bill and I on opposing benches. (Note: Donkey Kong was a video game we may have enjoyed in the 1980’s were we not playing basketball all hours of the day.)
We compared league notes frequently. Bill’s tips helped me coach my girls to a huge victory over the first-place team. I almost felt bad for all the sandbagging and misdirection I employed the week of our head to head game. My lineup was going to be missing Charlotte, so I made sure to let Bill know that without Charlotte we basically had no chance. Better to keep him overconfident and underprepared. When he asked about Annabelle (who scored roughly 94 percent of our team points over the course of the season) I assured him we had developed a very balanced scoring attack. I couldn’t have him keying on my franchise player!
What ensued was probably the most exciting 6-4 game of basketball ever. Probably. I imagine the crowd on hand was taken with the elevated level of play. Clearly, these coaches are steeped in basketball knowledge and aren’t we all fortunate that they choose to share it with our children? That’s probably what they were thinking. It’s rewarding when your passion and expertise is appreciated – new glory! I won’t say who won because ultimately the outcome isn’t the most important thing. But the game, well, the game meant everything.
Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.