Archive for October 2021

Getting The Older Brother Ready For The New Baby

October 16, 2021

Carol and I have been busy the past three days taking care of our two-year-old grandson. Our youngest daughter gave birth to a new baby brother for the two-year-old and we’re preparing him for when he’s not the center of attention in another day or so.

A doll baby with no hair has been frequenting the living room of their house. The doll baby has a nap bassinet and a rocker that he can lay in. The two-year-old has been dragging the pretend b baby from one to the other and feeding him with a baby bottle. Most of the time he tips the bottle and inserts it in the baby’s mouth, but sometimes he puts it in one of the eyes…or the ear. Kinda like watering all of Mommy’s flowers, not just one of them.

He also brings the doll baby over to me so I can hold him. I do the sound effects of a baby slurping on a bottle that seems to add to the two-year-old’s experience.

He doesn’t quite understand the proper way to carry a newborn. He dragged the pretend child by one of his ankles across the room like a hunter dragging his fresh kill. However, I haven’t seen a chokehold yet, so that’s a positive.

The two-year-old has a play basketball hoop that’s about two feet high. It rings when one of the play balls goes through it. i was sitting on the couch when the ring filled the air. I turned around to see that the doll baby had been slam-dunked headfirst into the hoop. I need to move that hoop outside for a while.

Let’s be honest! It’s got to be strange to be the only child for so long and suddenly some new kid comes into your residence to take away most of your attention. Sibling rivalry has its roots right there in the midst of it.

On the other hand, we all survived. I was the youngest of three, so I can’t really say how my older brother reacted to my sister being brought home to join him. I’m sure they had gotten over their levels of jealousy by the time I showed up and bailed each other for who got to hold me. I’m pretty sure I was never slam-dunked or had a bottle stuck in my eye.

The two-year-old will adjust and graduate from pre-school indignation to mentoring and guiding older brother. He will even show his younger brother how to slam-dunk a ball instead of a baby.

First Game Jitters

October 14, 2021

My seventh-grade boys’ basketball team had its first game yesterday. I don’t know if you can remember playing the first game, wrestling a first match, or running a first race in a sports season, but for a bunch of seventh-graders it’s resembling of the release of a balloon before a knot can be tied in it. There’s a lot of energy, excitement, and total ignorance to what has been worked on and practiced.

It’s what my co-coach, Ron McKinney, and I had expected. After all, these boys had never played a middle school basketball game. Most of them had never played a game where two people wearing black- and-white striped shirts were on the court with them.

Honestly, I did not expect much. My pessimism had taken root in the four days of practice we had before our first game. When we scored our first basket ten seconds into the game I thought “Well, we won’t get shut out.”

And then we scored again, and again, and again. The guilt about my lack of faith began to ooze out of me.

But first game jitters took a firm hold of our bench. When I told one of my guards sitting on the bench to go in for a certain player he was off the bench and six feet onto the court before I could blink. I yelled, “No!” and pointed for him to go to the scorer’s table. His excited look took on a moment of confusion, as if I had just spoken Russian to him. Others in the crowd were beckoning him to the scorer’s table and it sunk in.

A minute later another sub started to go from the bench to the court when I told him to replace someone. For this boy I was ready. I grabbed the back of his jersey and reeled him back to me. A minute later my third catch of the day was one of my bench players who was replacing one of my Bigs. Unfortunately, I could only get a hold of the elastic band around his shorts. Laughter emerged from the bleachers behind me as I halted his progress.

First game jitters cause players to react in different ways. I’m sure a few of my players didn’t know what a scorer’s table was.

And then there were my runaway locomotives who hustled like crazy, but don’t yet understand that the train slows down coming into the station. One boy made three or four steals and missed all of his layups. In fact, I’m not sure if any of his layups actually hit the rim. The good news is that none of them hit the wall behind the basket. Another boy looked like a deer standing in front of an approaching semi, his eyes as big as saucers and scared silly. A third boy’s knees were shaking so bad I thought he was going to fall out of his chair.

They were a dozen excited, nervous, forgetful twelve-year-olds, playing in front of a full gym of classmates, parents, grandparents, siblings, and make-believe girlfriends. It does things to a kid to see so many people watching him with smiles on their faces.

And it does something to a coach to have his team surprise him in a good way! Lord knows I’ve had plenty of games where the team I was coaching surprised me in disappointing ways!

And so today we practice all of those that they forgot to do yesterday. We’ll make sure we do layup drills and maybe, just maybe, practice getting off the bench and reporting in at the scorer’s table. It may take a few games for things to take root, but but for seventh-grade boys, they are as cute as can be, and life is good!

Middle School Basketball Uniforms

October 9, 2021

Yesterday, with the help of my team managers, I handed out basketball uniforms to the twelve seventh-graders who have been invited to be on the team. It’s an experience similar to seeing a kid in the toy section of a store. There are a lot of comments that begin with the words, “Can I have…?”

Going back in ancient history to when I was in tenth grade, I remember getting my uniform. In terms of my physical appearance, it was like I had bypassed the line where height gets handed out. As a sophomore, I was still only about 5’2″ and had not even come close to a weight that included three numbers in it. I was one of the last boys on the JV team, closer to the water fountain than I was to the coach, and the uniform I received looked like it had been in the rummage sale “free pile”. The JV team got the old varsity jerseys, but there weren’t enough of them, so two or three of us received uniforms that were tattered, unimpressive, and with different styled letters and numbers. We were, as my parents would say, “a sight for sore eyes!”

My seventh-grade players started requesting numbers. My friend and co-coach, Ron McKinney, who has the same sarcastic humor as me, asked if anyone wanted #8? One boy raised his hand, not realizing that in basketball (excluding the NBA) legal uniform numbers never have 6, 7, 8, or 9 in them. I explained to the boy that an official reporting a foul uses his fingers to communicate the number of the player and that there are only five fingers on each of our hands.

“Coach, could I have number 11?”

“Coach, could I get 32?”

“Is there a 23?”

“Hold it! Is there anyone here whose name is Isaiah Thomas?” Clueless faces that make me realize most of them don’t even know who Isaiah Thomas is. “How about Michael Jordan? Anyone whose name is Michael Jordan? Any Magic Johnson’s here?”

Twelve faces that convey the answer no look at me.

“So, boys, the uniform you are assigned is more about the size that fits you than it is the number on the front. We have five smalls, and a bunch of mediums. If you are smaller in size you need to understand that if the number you desire is a medium-size jersey, it’s going to fit you like a chicken wearing a bearskin. Coach McKinney and I don’t want anyone running down the court and leaving their shorts behind.”

Everyone gave me looks of understanding. Better to have a uniform that fits you like a glove than a jersey number that keeps falling down to your ankles. Our first game is this coming Wednesday. We may have difficulty making a left-handed layup, but at least we’ll look good.

Telling Kids No

October 8, 2021

Yesterday morning about 75 boys tip-toed into the middle school gym before the opening bell to see if their names were listed on the two sheets of paper posted in the gym office window. The lists contained the names of 7th and 8th graders who had been selected to be on the school interscholastic basketball teams. Seventy-five boys whittled down to twenty-five; and on the other side of the equation, fifty boys disappointed in not seeing their names were in the print.

For most of these boys it was the first time they had experienced, as we said in the old days, “being cut”. We try to tone down the harshness of those words, but kids know. You can hear them say it. They don’t say, “I did not receive an invitation”, but “I didn’t make the team” and “I got cut!”

Since our school, and most of the middle schools around us, didn’t have interscholastic sports last year they had never been subjected to the anxious moments of scanning a list for the heart-throbbing revelation. It will be the first of many occasions in their lives where the risk of a crushing defeat will be situated on one end of the see-saw opposite jubilation. College admission letters, job decisions, and medical school rejections will come in the next decade.

At intramural practice yesterday I had to soften the blow as much as I could. “Don’t give up!” “Keep working!” “If you really love the game of basketball, let us help you develop those skills you need to strengthen.” We said all the words that sought to inspire and motivate boys feeling rejection to not quit their pursuit.

We noticed the few boys who weren’t there. Perhaps they were sick and not in school that day, but there will be others who stop showing up for intramural because, in their minds, they weren’t one of the chosen.

And the thing about Timberview Middle School is that the intramural program gives everyone a chance to play. Interscholastic players are involved in intramurals like everybody else. Intramural runs from 2:50-4:15 and interscholastic practice goes from 4:20-5:45. Most schools do not have an intramural program that gives all kids a chance to play. They have yielded that opportunity to the YMCA or club basketball teams, both who charge substantially more than the slight registration fee that our school charges.

The thing is, a year lost has resulted in stunted athletic development in most of these seventy-five boys. As a long-time basketball coach (25 years), I can see the deficiencies, the fundamental skills that haven’t been practiced or even learned.

My evaluation of players, therefore, covered more than athleticism and skills. Other criteria included academics, coach ability, intensity and hustle, and sportsmanship. Character counted just as much, and probably more, as a kid’s ability to dribble the basketball.

And so yesterday morning there were moans and groans, smiles and high-fives, and everybody went to their first class. No one needed to go see the school nurse to help alleviate an Excedrin headache and, as far as I know, there were no “cut players” who acted out in school that day. The verdict was given and everyone went on with their school days.

Over the years, I’ve applied for five different positions as head varsity basketball coach and not been chosen all five times. Two of the five times I was a finalist, but felt the sting of not being the final pick. As I look back at it now, however, I see the value of having been turned down. Other opportunities I have encountered would not have come my way if I had been the pick in those earlier situations.

Fifty middle school boys probably aren’t ready to hear this, but rejection sometimes leads us to new opportunities.

Post-Pandemic Middle School Basketball Tryouts

October 5, 2021

Last year our middle school didn’t have sports. Oh, we had sports camps amongst our own students that were valiant efforts, but fell short of accomplishing what we hoped for. Quarantines were more common than practices, and since we were in a hybrid class system for a good part of the year, students could come to a practice only on the two days they were actually in-person at the school.

And yesterday we saw one of the effects of that loss! It was the first day of boys’ basketball tryouts. For a number of the boys, they had only been playing hoops on their game systems. The 360 degree slam-jammas, no look passes, and having a deadly three-point shot on their PlayStation did not translate into success when they put an actual leather basketball in their hands. There were shots that hit the wall behind the backboard. Above the backboard, by the way!

I tried not to yell and say sarcastic things like, “Use your left hand! No, your other left hand!” and “We’re going to check for cracks in the backboards after practice today!”, but it was difficult. The other coaches and I had to keep reminding ourselves that we had a gym full of rookies. The eighth graders had never played in middle school, and the seventh graders were also experiencing their first basketball practice.

I have to be a little crotchety. After three days of tryouts I have to post a 12 boy interscholastic roster. Four practices after that we have our first game!!! Forty-five seventh graders’s knees will be shaking as they come into the gym Thursday morning to see if their name is on the list. Yesterday I realized that almost half of them I don’t know by name. I need a pictorial directory to figure out who is who. Whether a kid can dribble with his left hand is one thing, but I can’t put “the boy with red hair and the I Love Basketball t-shirt” on the roster. I need to know little Jimmy’s name.

Some of the boys haven’t gained their coordination yet. Walking and chewing gum is still a challenge for them. Other boys haven’t grown. They are visible memories of my middle school days when I sat on the end of the front row in our South Zanesville 8th Grade basketball team picture. I looked about two feet shorter than the other guys. Actually, I was four feet ten inches, but you get the idea. Why I looked out of place even more by putting me on the end of the row I’ll never know. There are a few boys dribbling the basketball this week who are tugging on my heartstrings because I see myself in them. The last name of one of them begins with a “W” and he wears glasses, just like I did.

Yesterday, I told all of the prospects and the suspects that our objectives are to teach them the fundamentals of the game of basketball and to teach them the game of basketball. Part of the discovery for them will be to learn how we got to the game as it is today. How has the game evolved and why did it evolve? What was it like back at the beginning of its creation? Some of them may not believe me, but for them to understand the game of basketball will necessitate that they know its history.

Bottom line, I have the awesome privilege of teaching the great game of basketball to a bunch of boys who have been missing out. They don’t know what they’ve been missing, but they’re going to receive a new education…and discover their left hand in the process!

A New Appreciation for Old Teammates

October 4, 2021

I’m sitting in a St. Louis hotel room reflecting and chuckling about what once was and how it binds us in a sort of way. For most of the last two days I’ve sat in the living room of Jim and Lynn Fay, along with four other graying guys and their spouses, talking about our days as Judson College (now University) cross country teammates back in the mid-70’s.

I hadn’t seen most of the guys since college, or shortly after. Stan Brown was one of my groomsmen, but each other in a good three and a half decades. Jim Fay and I reconnected last March when he and Lynn were in Colorado for a few days of skiing. Our old coach, Don Kraus, is a Facebook friend but we hadn’t seen each other since 1976. Randy Moore was the grizzled veteran on our team, mostly because he was the only one married, worked maintenance and security for the college, and went to school full-time. he could kiss his wife without being written up for public display of affection. The rest of us could only dream about such a thing. Mike Neisler was the floppy-haired kid with the great laugh.

And so we came together and reminisced about team trips and retreats, our lack of funds that always had us camping out instead of staying in hotel rooms, the fun runs, and failed romances, the deaths of Marc Didier and Donna Shotwell that motivated us to look deep inside ourselves for more heart and effort as the way we could honor their memories.

We talked about, and had our own celebration of life service, for Dr. Stuart Ryder, who was our team training-in-training and also our coach. Most of all, though, we realized how much we appreciated one another and the impact of our team experiences had upon our lives. It wasn’t so much about running, but about relationships. We remembered the pains of our journey together, but even more, we treasured the personableness of being a part of a small college team.

As I sit here pondering I’m experiencing, if it’s possible, a strange mixture of joy and sadness. The joy sprays out of my soul in the realization of how blessed I am to have been a part of such a team, the camaraderie, the brotherhood. The sadness echoes within my spirit because of the reality of having to say farewell to one another. The richness of our experience this weekend made the last hugs on one another this afternoon even more difficult. Sometimes that’s how it is. The preciousness of our friendships has a way of causing the sorrow to be more intense.

But we wouldn’t change it for anything!