This past week, in our own high school gym, I witnessed some truly astonishing play.
Even better, I walked out incredibly proud of the sportsmanship I also saw.
Of all the sports out there, there is one game I truly enjoy watching, and that's the game of basketball.
Perhaps it is the undeniable influence of growing up in the Midwest, where basketball reigns king. Or, maybe it was the larger-than-life presence of the Bulls. The beauty of the play of Michael Jordan and the inspired coaching of Phil Jackson were a combination worthy of countless dinner time chatter and endless post-game analysis. The same principles were eagerly applied to the hometown games, and my two basketball-playing sisters heard constant commentaries about their teams and their coaches.
For the record, I was considered too short for the game. Honestly, I was also too afraid of the ball hitting me in the face. That trait tends to make you a rather meek player, and so I was one of only two kids cut during the sixth grade tryouts.
As my kids came home with the information about rec department basketball leagues forming, I eagerly talked to them about signing up. After all, they had the tall genes from their father, and they could be good players.
Alas, they quickly — and soundly— shut me down. "Not interested, Mom," said one. "You got to be kidding," said another. The third still thinks about it, but that's about as far as it goes. Still, last year, I forced the middle child onto the eighth grade team — where he had a great time, playing with many friends. But, since the team is only five on the court at a time, only the very best were going to continue at the high school level.
Luckily for me, some of the "very best" are good friends with our sons, and so I now have a built-in excuse to go to basketball games. I'm cheering on the "extended family", so to speak.
Thursday night of this week, the varsity team played hard against Rutland, a game that kept pace back and forth from one of the court to the other. Brattleboro's rebounding skills kept the ball at our end of the court often. For most of the night, the three-point shots kept falling in nearly magically for one of our players. One of Rutland's players also possessed the hot hand of the night, and we all groaned whenever the ball was passed to him.
One thing caught my attention even more then the great play, though. It was the calm and quiet actions of one of the players in particular. He never drew attention to it, it just seemed to be his natural way.
At one point, he was called upon to foul, in order to stop the clock. He did his part–and so did the ref, calling the foul. But the ref insisted it was a foul on a possible shot, sending the Rutland player to the line for free throws in a tight game where every point counts. (Indeed, Brattleboro lost this particular game by only two points, and I'm pretty sure that both baskets went in.) Our Brattleboro boy politely questioned the ref's call–while the entire crowd boo'd in the background. Then he lined up for the free throw, and just went back to playing the game.
Next, this same Brattleboro player was involved in a bit of a collision, knocking several of them to the floor. As all the boys were getting to their feet, one Rutland player remained. Our Brattleboro player didn't hesitate, even though the ball was about to be thrown into play again: he reached his hand down and helped the Rutland player up.
I started paying attention to the other players, and for the most part, they all played pretty much this same way. There was no one throwing fits, no technicals being called on players (or coaches).
In the last second, our three-point attempt didn't quite make it in, and we didn't win the game. It didn't matter to me: I had been won over by this one specific player's attitude in any case. He certainly has figured out the entire spirit of the game, and the entire team seems to agree with him.