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This is a short story about my experience with high school basketball. In it, I learn how to put my own emotions aside and play for the betterment of the team.


There we were, twenty-one of us, including Justin King, the late transfer from Greensburg Salem. He was about my height, slender and athletic. He moved to our school just before basketball season and was now standing right in front of me.
It was the day of the first practice. I was anxious, but not nervous. After all, Coach promised me a starting position this season, what did I have to fear?
The gloomy gym was silent as we all stared at each other. Secretly, each of us was inspired by the other’s faces of fear. Coach broke the ice as he blew his piercing whistle and let the first stern words of the season out of his mouth, “line up!”
We all knew what that meant: we were going to run. Running had always been a dislike of mine, as it is to most players. For some reason, however, with every painful stride I took, the only thought that was racing through my mind was, “This is my senior year and I can’t hold anything back.” I wanted to be the fastest and best that I could be. No one could stop me.
The pre-season buzz was that Coach talked Justin into transferring here. But I didn’t have time to pay attention to these tedious rumors, I was on a mission.
“I have to start this year” I whispered to myself as I tried to catch my breath. That was the only thing that I wanted, and the only thing that mattered to me.
For the first two weeks of practice, I showed no mercy. I won every sprint, finished every drill, and ran every lap that coach would make us run. Coach was sure to see I was the hardest-working player on the team.
“One more day,” I said impatiently to my dad at the breakfast table the Friday morning of our first scrimmage.
“The first game is tomorrow night,” I said.
“Yep,” he answered with an authoritative tone. “Remember what I told you, don’t take anything for granted. You have to find a way to keep yourself focused.”
“I will, I will,” I murmured as I rushed out the door and into the car. “See ya,” I yelled out the car window as I drove to school.
The bus ride to Elizabeth Forward High School seemed like eternity. I couldn’t help but imagine myself stealing a pass and making a three pointer to win the game.
Thoughts of hearing my name announced and running out to mid-court unaffected by the roaring fans consumed my mind.
The bus pulled into the small, country school and unloaded the restless players into the tiny locker room. My teammates were complaining about how small the room was, but I was too excited to notice it. As I changed into my uniform, I could feel my chest pumping with adrenaline. I shifted back and forth and anxiously awaited Coach to come and announce the starting five.
As he walked through the doorway, my heart seemed to jump out of my chest. “Calm down,” I said to myself, but it was no use. To hear him say that I was starting tonight would be the only thing that could stop this nervousness. As he walked towards me, I saw the stern and powerful look on his face. In his hand, on that piece of paper was everything in the world to me. I yearned for one of those five names to be mine. He was holding my destiny in his palm.
He stopped, looked around, and broke the silence as he raised the small, wrinkled paper to his face, pulled up his glasses, and recited the words that held my future.
He began. “Tonight we’re going start…”
As I watched his lips, he read off the first four names; none of which were mine. He paused for a second and I knew that my name would be next. I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t hold back my smile. As I stared into his face, I heard the words escape his lips.
“…and Justin King.”
My first instinct was that there was a mistake. That inclination was proven wrong when I suddenly saw the ornery grin on Justin’s face, much like a boy who has purposely put gum in a little girl’s hair.
Thoughts started racing through my mind. “Justin couldn’t start. He’s a new transfer. He doesn’t know the offense.” Time seemed to be moving so slowly, and then it hit me like a dagger plunging into my chest. I realized that, Coach broke his promise.
That scrimmage was terrible. I sat on the hard bench surrounded by my uninterested teammates and soaked with embarrassment. I was ashamed with only playing a few minutes in each half. I thought to myself, “Justin is a junior and I’m a senior. My friends are playing and I am sitting on the bench watching like I did last year and the year before.”
The game ended and we road the bus back home. I walked through my front gate and sat on the porch steps. Starting on the team was my world, my life, and my dignity. How could I face my teammates, my coach, or my dad again?
I thought to myself, “I must not be that good.” Doubts raced through my mind plummeting my self-esteem into the depths of sorrow.
All of a sudden, a familiar voice broke through my pitiful thoughts and snapped me out of my daze. I looked into the dark, cold night, and standing in front of me, like a solid rock, was my dad.
“How’d it go?” He asked sternly.
“I…I…didn’t start tonight,” I stuttered quietly.
“So? Did you play hard?” he immediately followed.
I thought to myself, “He must not have heard me. I told him I didn’t start, didn’t I?” I decided to remind him again, “I didn’t start, Dad. Justin King did.”
Again he repeated, “So what?”
I couldn’t comprehend what he was trying to get across. Is he saying that starting isn’t important? Is he saying that he knew I probably wouldn’t start all along?” I felt alone in a world in which everyone was against me.
Then he stepped into the porch light and spoke in a calm and loving tone.
“Andy, it doesn’t matter if you were one of the starting five. It doesn’t matter if Coach lied to you. It wouldn’t matter if everyone in the world lies to you and tells you that you’re a terrible basketball player,” he said.
His eyes pierced mine as his heart pierced my soul. Though I wanted to, I couldn’t pull away. Something in his words was quenching the fire of shameful hopelessness inside me. I was drawn to his mouth, longing to hear the next sound that would escape his lips.
“The only thing that matters is if you gave all you had to your coach. Whether he is right or wrong is not for you to decide. Did you play hard?”
What could I say to this? I knew that I had pouted. I knew that I had given up on myself during that scrimmage. I knew I did what every other person would have done in that situation. I wasn’t different. I wasn’t special. I fell into the same trap that every other complaining player fell into.
My dad walked away, and yet his presence still lingered. I vividly remember looking up at the stars in the crisp November sky, and making a promise to myself. From that day on, things became so clear.
“If I never get in the game, if my coach lies to me everyday, if my friends talk about me behind my back, I only have one thing to do; play hard.”
At that moment, that exact point in time, I chose to not let my emotions control my actions. I learned that life isn’t fair, but who cares? No one is going to give you anything. You’ve got to keep on going to practice everyday, knowing that your coach isn’t going to promote you, and still play as hard as you can anyway. From that rejection, I got something greater than starting could ever be; something that no one can take away from me. I learned to keep on going when you just don’t think that you can go anymore. I learned to persevere.

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This page contains a single entry by Andy published on February 21, 2006 11:05 AM.

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