Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A lesson in high school sports . . .

It was a high school basketball game, one of hundreds played in our region during any one season.
This was going to be a rather inconsequential game, too, it being for fifth and sixth place in a league comprised of teams from six small schools.
It turned out to be anything but meaningless. Those who were there will talk for a long, long time about what they witnessed.
There were 15 players involved, all of them in Grades 8 to 12, with the two teams, neither of which had yet won a game. At halftime the winner had, for all intents and purposes, been decided, with Team A holding a 13-point lead.
The coach of Team B, who was gracious enough to share his story with me, was faced with a decision. Should he keep playing his starters in an attempt to get back into it, or empty his bench and let his reserves, some of whom were playing organized basketball for the first time, get some floor time?
He chose the latter and that, really, is where the story begins.
There were five minutes left in the fourth quarter when the coach of Team B subbed in three players who were new to high school basketball. One is in Grade 8, another in Grade 10, the other in Grade 12 and soon to graduate.
The Grade 12 player had limited athletic experience in high school but is, I am told, a remarkable singer in a district choir and a proud participant in his community’s ambassador program. The Grade 10 player is one of those students whose effort and dedication cannot be questioned. He gets involved. He does a lot of volunteer work, and that includes shovelling snow for the elderly.
As Team B made the substitutions, the coach of Team A called time, causing some observers to wonder what he was doing. After all, his side had the game well in hand. Still, he could be seen giving instructions to his players.
At the same time, the coach of Team B was telling the two starters who remained on the floor, both of them graduating Grade 12s playing their final game, that the objective was to get scoring chances for the singer and the volunteer.
It turns out that the coach of Team A had recognized what was happening and had instructed his players to allow those scoring opportunities, but to try and do it in a respectful manner.
For three and a half minutes, opportunities were presented and shots were taken, but nothing fell.
By now, the stands were full of followers of the two teams, along with players and parents from teams who were to play in the following game. Everyone realized what was happening. Hopeful anticipation hung in the air like snowflakes on a soft winter’s day.
And now there were 90 seconds left on the clock.
Team A’s coach called his final timeout. He instructed his point guard to somehow turn over the ball, even if it took an “accidental” fumble out of bounds.
Team B’s coach was telling the singer and the volunteer to continue to work hard, especially under the boards, and to keep shooting.
As the clock wound down, both boys had multiple shots but it was like the basketball gods had clamped a lid on the basket.
And then, just when it seemed all might be lost, the singer pulled down an offensive rebound, went hard to the basket and got the ball to drop.
The gymnasium exploded. Team A’s coach let loose with a fist pump; Team B’s coach leapt off the bench.
The singer had scored what would be the only basket of his high school career.
And now it was the volunteer’s turn. The coach of Team B used a timeout to offer instructions to his players. Then he and the other coach huddled and decided that propriety no longer was the order of the day. All that mattered was for the volunteer to get a basket before time expired.
But, sheesh, it just wasn’t that simple. When play resumed, the volunteer missed a lay-up, Team A fumbled the ball out of bounds. Another lay-up. Another forced turnover. Another missed lay-up . . . all with precious seconds ticking off the clock.
Ten . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . the stands are silent . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . the only sounds are the bouncing of the ball and squeaking of shoes on floor . . .
Another shot misses and now Team A’s point guard has the ball.
“Try again,“ he says as he throws it back to the volunteer.
Another miss.
The point guard corrals the rebound. “I know you can do it,” he says as he zips the ball back to the volunteer.
The clock reads 0.4 when the ball leaves the volunteer’s hands. There is a collective gasp from the crowd.
This time, the ball tickles the mesh on its way through the hoop and the joint goes crazy.
The volunteer, a kid with personality, a young man whose father had died the previous year, whose mother, brother and sister are in the stands, poses for the crowd before he is swarmed by players from both teams. There are high fives and back slaps. There is noise, lots of noise.
Both coaches are teary-eyed as they cheer and then share a handshake, co-conspirators in a game they won’t forget. They had done more in one game to teach students about sportsmanship, respect, love and friendship than some coaches do in a lifetime.
But wait . . .
Team B’s bus is pulling away from the gymnasium when the coach of Team A is seen running towards it. It seems that Team B’s coach forgot to pick up his copy of the score sheet.
Team A’s coach clambers aboard the bus and presents it to . . . no, not the coach. Rather, it goes to the volunteer, who clutches it and grins.
And for at least one night all is well with the world.

(Gregg Drinnan is the sports editor of The Daily News. He is at gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca.)

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