My small, insignificant, private Christian school did not have enough students for a basketball team, much less a girls basketball team, until i was in the 8th grade. In fact, we had no sports programs whatsoever until the basketball program took shape that year. We were all excited. Finally, something to showcase our skills (or lack thereof), something to do in the long, boring, winter afternoons, something to get us out of class early, something that suddenly brought with it an undying sense of school pride, something that meant one day we might have a cheerleading team, and...something that brought with it the possibility of meeting some cute guys! Oh yeah! I mean, it was slim pickins at my school, and that's putting it nicely.
So, we took a school-wide vote on a team name and colors. We were the Cavaliers, and much to my chagrin, our colors were the same as those of my least favorite college basketball team...the UNC Tarheels. Whatever. That was just something i had to get over. The most exciting part of being on the basketball team, at least for me, was the prospect of new shoes. I mean, a girl couldn't be expected to run up and down that court in anything less than some totally cool basketball shoes, right? Right. So i told my parents, and my dad packed me in the car and drove me to the mall in search of the perfect basketball shoes.
Brace yourselves for this one.
I did not come home with Nike's, or Adidas, or New Balance, or Converse, or anything else even remotely cool. Instead, i proudly laced up my, and i can't believe i actually picked them, my new FILA's. FILA??? What was i thinking??? Nobody wears FILA; especially not skinny, little, freckle-faced, albino girls like me. I know i totally looked like a fish out of water in those ginormous high-tops. They swallowed my ankles whole and then some. AND, the dark, navy FELT (felt???) rim around the top only accentuated my bright, white legs. But, ignorance is bliss, and i knew i would play better just because those shoes were on my feet. hah. haha. HAHA.
The team was formed, i made the cut (they needed players), we all got uniforms, and the first day of practice arrived. Oh boy.
We were at the Granite Falls recreation center. I'll never forget it. NONE of us knew what we were doing. Except for my best friend. She had been playing basketball since she could walk. She was amazing. Thank goodness we had her. Our poor coach, her father, probably would have quit right then and there if it hadn't been for her. I don't think i could really even dribble the ball. I remember running suicides and thinking i was going to die. Every time someone threw the ball to me, i shied away and ended up chasing it halfway across the gym. My coach told me to go home and try to rip the lids off of soup cans. He made me do fingertip push ups...well, he told me to, and i tried. I couldn't even do a normal push up, much less a fingertip push up.
As the season went on and practice continued, i began to wonder if i was really cut out for this whole basketball thing. A lot of the girls started shaping up and getting much better, and i just kept dropping the ball, missing shots, forgetting to plant my feet, missing free throws, and doing everything else i wasn't supposed to do. I couldn't bring myself to quit though. All my friends were on the team, and if nothing else, practice was always good for a laugh; usually inspired by me and my lack of talent. I had no clue what the plays were, me setting a pick was a joke, and my defense was even less believable. But i tried. I tried really hard. I did. I wanted to be a good basketball player. My coach even told me i had the prettiest shot on the team...it was just that i usually didn't make that shot.
Finally, the first game rolled around. We were psyched. I forgot all about my isufficiencies, and got caught up in the hype with everyone else. We were matched up against Harris Chapel Christian Academy. At that time, they were pretty good. I remember the ride to the game. The girls team rode together in the back of a white work van. We cut up and giggled the whole way there, imagining what it would be like to come back with our first win.
I still remember how it felt to sit in that small classroom before the game for our first pep talk ever. Our coach was proud of us. He told us he was, and that he was sure we would do well. Looking back, he probably should have reminded us to shoot the ball in the right basket.
My excitement instantly hit an all-time high when we entered the gym to warm up. Everyone was cheering and yelling for us! Kids came up to give us high fives. Parents hugged us and wished us luck. Sweet! I loved being on stage, and in many ways the basketball court was like a stage. The pre-game clock ran out and we all headed to our bench (folding chairs). I have no idea why, but my coach started me. I could not wait to hear my name called. When it was finally my turn, i ran out to the very center of the court, bowed, and waved enthusiastically to my parents. I should have been taken out then...before the game even started. We take our places (i had to be reminded where mine was), the whistle blows, and the game begins. Five million thoughts flood through my mind: Is someone going to pass me the ball? Will i catch it? Which basket is ours again? Who's on my team? Do i have a wedgie? Can i get it out without anyone seeing? Are my socks even? How do my shoes look? I wonder where that girl on the other team got her shoes? Will i meet any cute guys tonight? Am i running the right direction? What play did our guard call? Please DON'T pass me the ball!
The most vivid part of the game for me, besides when one of my teammates shot the ball in the wrong goal (still thanking God it wasn't me), happened while i was guarding the best player for the other team (how in the world i got matched up with her is still a mystery to me). She was kind of scary. She looked a little manly, and she had on these really long, striped socks. She kind of reminded me of Pippy Longstockings. She never smiled (and i always smiled...even on defense), and she sort of had a mustache (probably because her hair was so dark...who knows? maybe she was taking steroids in high school?). Anyway, i was doing my best to guard her. I ran myself weary making sure she didn't get the ball. I must have been doing a good job because she then did something i'll never forget. We were under her basket. She was trying to get open, but i was on her like white on rice. All the sudden, she reached out and poked me HARD in the chest. It totally caught me off guard. I couldn't believe it. You're allowed to do that??? I'm sure it showed on my face. I was stunned. I looked at the ref and back at her and back at the ref. I watched everyone run to the other end of the court, realized my coach was yelling at me, and ran to catch up with them.
We lost that game. By a LOT. Our guys played after us, and they lost too. By a LOT. It was safe to say there would be many losses in our future before the wins came along. But it was still fun. And despite the fact that scary, manly girl had invaded my personal space, all in all it was a good night.
I got somewhat better as the year went on. I remember making my first shot and celebrating until my coach yelled at me to act like i'd made a lay-up before. Oops.
We finally got in a groove as a team. I didn't start. I came in the game when we needed two points. That's what i was good for. The coach would put me in, and i would run down the court, plant my feet, and stop right inside the 3 point line. Then my best friend, the star of our team and point guard, would pass me the ball. It would barely rest in my hands as i turned to direct it towards the basket. Swoosh. It was almost a given for that shot to go in. The whistle would blow. I was back out of the game. The game would end, and the most important decision of the night would be where to eat dinner.
Basketball was fun, but at the end of that year, i decided it just wasn't for me. More than one person told me i looked more like a ballerina than a basketball player on the court. I opted to not try out for the team the following year, and instead followed my true calling: Cheerleading.
I still got to go to all the games, and i got to wear a shorter skirt than the dresscode manual allowed. Plus, i had a good excuse to be in front of the crowd putting on a show....and i didn't have to worry about looking sweaty in front of all those new boys i was hoping to meet.