Last week I observed two coaches of a grade-school basketball game. Little girls and boys were sliding between and under two 10-foot rims, dribbling, kicking and tossing the ball about and hoping it would magically find its way through the hoop…either hoop. The A and B teams (made up of the more promising players) had already completed their games, posting scores of 14 to 8 and 11 to 8. And the over-invested parents of those earlier games were already heading home, perhaps offering to their tiny offspring intricate tips on how to garner more accolades next Wednesday afternoon. “Dribble less! Pass less! Shoot more!”
So now it was the time for the leftover kids, devoid of skill or ego in the game, who just wanted to play and dream. The Yellow Team’s coach, Phillip Stone Hunter, had been neglected for the coaching position of both the A and B teams, despite being a father of one of the best players. He was tall and nervous, with dangling long arms attached to tiny hands. He displayed an alarming need to have his team win and his bellowing groans echoed off the gym walls.
The Blue Team’s coach, Miss Fischer, was from the school down the street, and a music teacher by profession. She had volunteered to take on the duties of coach so the stragglers had an opportunity to participate. Miss Fischer loved each child on the team, several of whom played a musical instrument in the elementary school band. This game had been reduced to four-minute quarters, and only 40 seconds of the final minute remained, with the score tied at zero to zero. So far, the ball had not touched either rim.
Phillip Stone Hunter called one last timeout. He was frustrated and embarrassed by the score, and it showed. Meanwhile, Miss Fisher’s team rallied around her. She smiled at each one of them. They smiled back. After all, it was a tie game. Miss Fischer suggested they pass the ball to Julie Jo, their tallest player, and let her chuck one up from right under the bucket.
It was a great call. Little Billy Marek, a novice trumpeter, hook-passed the ball above the yellow-jersey opponents into Julie Jo’s waiting hands. She turned—with only a little shuffling of the feet—and launched the ball through the basket. The right basket.
The game was over. Phillip Stone Hunter stood alone. I went over and shook his damp, tiny hand and thanked him for his participation. He said it was hard to get kids this young to listen and most of their parents weren’t much into basketball. He wanted me to know all the talented kids had played earlier on the A and B squads. I nodded, but chose not to speak. It wasn’t a coaching moment.
In the background, I could see Miss Fischer high-fiving each of her players, as well as a number of the kids on Phillip Stone Hunter’s team. They were laughing and singing some silly song. I couldn’t make out the words, but the tune was joyously familiar.