Post-Pandemic Middle School Basketball Tryouts

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!

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