Wednesday, May 16, 2012

FRESHMAN BASKETBALL CUT SHORT

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.

When 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.

 During 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 cut.

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.

It 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 classmate posted.

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.

I 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 athletics.

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.

If 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.

That 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 basketball practice.

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.

It wasn't 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.

It 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.

When 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.

The worst 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.

What 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.

I 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.

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