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Love and basketball

February 14, 2021

In honor of Valentine’s Day, a different kind of love story…

We are in the midst of my elder son’s end-of-season 8th grade basketball tournament. My son played his first game last week. They were up against another team we’d heard about, but hadn’t yet played.

This other team was the underdog. My son’s team was overall taller and more experienced. But what they lacked in size and finesse, their opponents made up for in heart and teamwork.

It became clear early into the game that my son’s team was probably going to win. But the other team never gave up, and their energy was contagious. They were just having a great time out there, playing the game.

There was one player in particular on the opposing team who stood out. He was quite literally half the size of most of his opponents. This didn’t stop him from getting in there, going for the ball, and taking shots. By halftime, the entire gym – the crowd, the players, the coaches, and the referees – were all rooting for him.

I’m not sure whose idea it was…

If it was the coach’s or the kids on my son’s team – but as the second half began, it was clear that everyone on the court was focused on a singular goal… making sure the little guy landed a shot in the tournament game.

It was going to be the losing team’s last game of the season, and this little player’s chances of making the high school team next year are slim to none. This was the end of his school basketball career.

Everyone in the gym wanted to see him have his moment.

Suddenly, my son’s team was missing passes, and the other team made sure the ball always made it into the hands of their smallest player. Substitutions were made, but the little guy was never taken out.

He put up shot after shot, to no avail. By the beginning of the 4th quarter, it was starting to look like maybe it wasn’t going to happen. Every time he shot, the crowd held it’s breath. Every time it bounced out of the basket, there was a collective sigh of disappointment.

Every kid out on the floor, on both teams, did an absolutely amazing job maintaining just enough intensity to keep the game moving. A few more baskets were scored on both sides, but it was clear – they were all in this together.

When there was around three minutes left in the final half, the little guy got the ball, turned towards the basket, planted his feet, and once again, everyone in the gym held their breath.

This time, he hit his mark.

The entire gym roared to life. The kids on the bench on both sides of the court leaped to their feet with joy.

For just a few moments, everyone in the crowd forgot we were wearing masks. We forgot that the crowd was limited to half its normal size. We forgot that the season had started over a month later than scheduled. We forgot we were six feet apart. We forgot that several games were cancelled over the course of the season due to teams quarantining.

But maybe the kids didn’t forget.

Maybe the kids on both teams realized they were lucky to be playing at all.

Maybe the madness of the past year has made them a little more compassionate, a little less worried about short-term glory, a little more aware of the little things that really matter.

Little things, like one kid who’d been the underdog getting to have his moment to shine.

I can recall few times in my son’s life that I’ve been more proud of him and his peers.

Kids get a lot of flak…

For being self-centered. For being addicted to technology. For being entitled, spoiled, and disengaged.

That’s always bothered me, even before last week’s game. But now, after watching those kids on both teams be so selfless – when one team could have taken the opportunity to showboat, and the other team could have benched the little guy – I don’t ever again want to hear how my son’s generation doesn’t care.

Maybe, it’s the grown-ups who could learn a little something about compassion, character, winning with grace, and losing with dignity. Because these kids… they’ve got something special.

Copyright © 2021 Sara Beth Wald

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