A classmate of mine posted on Facebook last week a picture of the Smith-Hale freshman basketball team. I was on that team but you won't find a likeness of me in that photograph. I can look at that photo with fondness at my team mates looking so very proud. They had a right to look proud. They were good. My season was cut short however about a week and a half before that picture was taken. This is the first time I have ever told anyone the facts behind my sudden disappearance from that team.
I loved the game of basketball. I played in
elementary school both fifth and sixth grade years. If I say so myself,
I was a pretty good ball player. I had a decent shot but it was my
defense that I was most proud of. I played intramural basketball my
seventh grade year at Ervin Junior High. Our team wore orange shirts
and I think we did fairly well although I couldn't tell you for sure.
What that seventh grade experience gave me was the taste of playing
basketball seriously competitive for the first time. The freshmen ball
players coached each of our teams and there was a lot of pride between
those coaches to beat each other. It was fun and I found it exciting.
I entered the eighth grade at Smith-Hale I did not hesitate to try out
for the team. It was a large team with many players better than myself
on it. I think I made the team because during practice one day I drove
the lane hard and put up a shot. I don't know if I made the basket or
not but I do know I came out of it with a bloody nose. After a couple
of trips up and down the floor, coach Mitchell began to notice that
there was blood being spread around on the court so he stopped the
practice. When I was found to be the bloody culprit, he made me sit out
for a while over my protests. I believe that coach Mitchell saw in me
that day a basketball player that I could be and I truly think that he
never forgot that one drive.
We went through the eighth
grade season and played very well. We were a cohesive team loaded with
guards and a couple of tall centers and some strong forwards that
weren't afraid to mix it up on the inside. This was the kind of
basketball that coach Mitchell wanted to see and we responded very well.
the summer between eighth grade and my freshman year, I worked on
basketball everyday. I was trying to improve my shot and keep myself in
shape. The freshman team would be about half the size of the team we
had the previous year so I knew I would have to really work hard to make
The former freshman basketball coach, coach
Elston, had moved up to coach at the high school level and so coach
Mitchell moved up to coach the freshman team. I think it did a world of
good having that move made. We had the same coach for the second
straight year, an advantage that the other schools that we played did
not have. We knew what coach Mitchell wanted and what he expected and
in turn, he knew each of us and what we were capable of. Still it was
with great trepidation that I approached the bulletin board in the
locker room each day to see if my name was still on the list. Each time
I checked, I found my name until the final cut of tryouts. I was very
nervous that day. I felt like I was on the bubble to make the team.
When I got to the board and saw "CLARK" written up there with all those
other fine players, I let out a huge sigh of relief.
turned out that I was on the lower part of the "A" team and started
many "B" team games. I was put into and got to play in most of the "A"
team games. They were good. The freshman team the year before us went
to Center South for the Center South tournament and brought back a
beautiful trophy. We too were heading to Center South and were hoping
to match the feat of the team the year before. We came up just a little
bit shy losing to Center South in the championship game and brought
home a second place trophy. That trophy is in the photo that my
We were about halfway through the
season when one of my teachers approached me with some not so good
news. I did not like this teacher and I don't even remember his name. I
am not even going to bother to look up his name because I couldn't care
less what his name was and I don't want it on my blog. He was tall
with blonde hair, and he didn't like me. That is all I remember of
him. He told me that as we were coming close to the mid quarter grades.
I was flunking his class.
I was stunned. His class
was mostly a composition class and I always did my homework. He never
cared for my writing for some reason though. I remember he took points
off of one of my papers because he didn't think I had titled it right.
HE thought a better title would be ... whatever.... the point is he
didn't like me and I didn't like him, and now I found myself in the
middle of a very good basketball season with a flunking grade staring me
in the face.
I realized that there was no way this was
going to turn out good for me. There were too many paths for things to
go wrong. If I did receive a failing slip at mid quarter, then it was
possible that I would be taken off of the team by the school. If the
school didn't take me off of the team then my parents surely would.
Grades came before anything in our house, even basketball.
thought it over very deeply. I was convinced that if I had a different
teacher or if this guys eyes were not so blind towards me, I would at
least be getting a "C" in the class if not better. I thought about that
and realized that it was of no use to even think about it. What was
done was done. I would in all probability be given a failing notice the
next week. Either way, My time on the freshman team would come to an
end. It would be a cold and embarrassing end to my career in school
I did not want to have to face coach
Mitchell and have to stand there while he asked for my uniform back
because I was on probation the rest of the season. He probably would
let me still be part of the team, but there is no way I would be able to
practice or dress out for the games. I would just be there, in the way
and embarrassed because I couldn't pass a simple composition course.
I did take the chance with coach Mitchell and he decided that I could
continue to dress out and practice, maybe just not play in any games, I
still had my parents to deal with. They would insist that I drop
basketball and concentrate on my grades. I had seen it happen before
with my oldest sister. She had brought home an "F" in History one time
and had been grounded until her grade was pulled up, which took about a
month. No, if I waited on my parents then I would have to go face coach
Mitchell and tell him that about my grade anyway and then explain that
no matter what the rules were, I wouldn't be able to play anyway. It
was very plain to me that it was a lose/lose situation.
is when I made my decision. It was a decision to save my pride and not
have to face anyone with the facts. One of my friends, Kenny, was one
of the managers of the team. I decided the best way I could save face
was to just quit on my own. I asked Kenny to relay the
message to coach Mitchell that I had this problem with my grade and that
my parents were pulling me from the team. He agreed to do so and so
that afternoon I went straight home from school instead of going to
I don't think my parents even knew
I had quit the team. I don't recall them asking about it or anything.
I did work on my grades, and I guess the composition teacher must have
been pleased that he got me kicked off of the team because he raised my
grade in that class shortly after I had quit.
a pleasant feeling quitting the team. They went on without me without
skipping a beat and had an awesome season. I wasn't as important as I
thought I could have been. The events that had gone down though, soured
me on school athletics. It would be the last time I played for a
school of any kind.. I did go and watch my team mates play on into high
school though. They did very well. During the basketball part of gym
class every year I would get a chance to play with them once again. It
never was the same though as being a part of a team with a common goal.
was my pride that talked me into quitting basketball my freshman year.
I was okay with it until the year books came out. I was leafing
through the pages and came across the picture of that freshman team
minus myself. That's the way it goes I remember thinking.
I saw that Mark had posted that picture on Facebook, all of those
feelings came back. The turning of my stomach as I realized that I
wasn't there and it was my own fault. The fun I missed out on as they
headed down the home stretch of that season.
part was knowing that this was now history, forever preserved in the
history of Smith-Hale Junior High and that history would read that I was
not a member of that freshman team. That kind of hurts.
started out as something to save my pride from being hurt, now hurts my
pride more than it ever would have been hurt my freshman year, no
matter what the outcome of getting that failing slip might have caused.
owe a big apology to coach Mitchell for suddenly not showing up, and I
owe a big apology to my team mates at the time. I did it all wrong.
From beginning to end I messed it up. I messed it up a little for them,
but a lot for myself. That will never be one of my prouder moments.