Kids, Hoops and Infectious Fever
My past year has been a whirlwind of sorts. And all for the good. I got married last April and live with my wonderful wife Melissa and 11-year old stepdaughter Madison (Maddie). In October, the Fever won the WNBA championship and nearly as important, I also won my fantasy baseball championship for the first time in five seasons. I know that’s what Fever fans want to hear about … the PR guy’s fantasy baseball team, right?
OK, I’ll stick to hoops. And that is why I’m writing today … about Madison; her fifth-grade teams since last fall; the principles of hard work and TEAM; and character building and healthy relationships through hoops.
You see, quite by accident, I became a “coach” this year. I prefer to use that term rather loosely, with respect those real coaches out there — I would hate to insult the profession. Madison tried out for a fall travel team in Brownsburg. With a small number of participants and choosing not to cut anyone, management elected to have an A and a B team. Maddie, with limited play herself, was one of seven on the B team which played in Central Indiana’s IGHL (a partner of the Fever). It was September. I was in the heat of the Fever playoff run, but I attended her tryout and offered my name to “volunteer” … I expected to operate the scoreboard during games or something like that. Instead, I wound up as the coach. The only coach. Thankfully, I recruited two other dads to assist.
That is where things began … let’s fast-forward. Our band of fifth-grade warriors took its lumps and they even played half the season without me while I was traveling during the WNBA Playoffs. We were 1-5 when the IGHL playoffs began. We were slotted in the copper bracket in a field-of-32 playoff system which meant that we were among the eight lowest teams … but we were playing against similarly-skilled opponents. BAM! We won an overtime game in our first game. The kids were thrilled and then we won a semifinal game and before we knew it, our kids were playing for a “championship!” We lost. There were tears. But the kids fought hard and showed great improvement and were proud of our advancement.
And during our own little playoff run, my fifth-graders were following the Fever with every game! I had one parent who’d never seen a game comment that it was “just” women’s basketball. And then I got her tickets. And WOW, did she become a fan after sitting three rows behind the Connecticut bench and watching Shavonte Zellous hit the last-second game-winner in Game 2 of the conference semis (she and other families from our team are visible with outstretched arms in the photo above). With the excitement of both our teams, our Brownsburg kids and families were energized. Heck, I was receiving texts from parents after our Game 3 win at Connecticut … in the airport during our travel day to Minnesota, I had two parents texting and asking if Katie Douglas was going to make it back. They were watching and cheering both on TV and at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
As soon as one season ended though, another started. This time, I inherited a 5th-grade rec team with mostly late registrants in the program. Three of seven kids had never played before. Three came with me from the travel team after getting cut for a similar team in the winter league. We were neither skilled, nor especially talented. And unlike in the fall, we never won a game. (The funny part is, the best team in the league is called the Fever.)
Three of our kids participated in Tamika Catchings’ basketball camp over the Christmas holiday. They spent three days of playing hard and learning; and three days of being in awe of Tamika. The basketball bug was taking hold of them and they were having fun goofing around with each other.
Finally, moving ahead to February, just last night, we lost our final game by a final score of 4-2. We lost our last three games by scores of 12-11, 8-6 and 4-2. We obviously weren’t very good at offense (perhaps it was poor coaching?). In all, we lost five games by one basket, including one in overtime. Last night again, there were tears. Lots of them. I could only console the kids and thank them for playing with their hearts … and tell them that the tears were ok because it meant that they cared.
Let me tell you, I’m not a shy guy. I may be a PR guy and not a true coach, but so far as 5th-graders are concerned, I am a very active teacher and “encourager.” Every single time up and down the floor, I try to motivate the kids … remind them who to cover; how to cover; move their feet, get your body in front of your opponent; tell them they did a really great job on the last trip down the floor … I’m also not quiet. To paint an accurate picture, I’ve got a big mouth and my voice carries — but it’s 100% ALL encouragement and teaching.
Again, I’m not trying to act like a coach. MY SOLE GOAL has been to give these kids a sense of accomplishment; a sense of success; a feeling of pride. Over the past 24 hours, I’ve asked myself if perhaps I failed? Yes, we failed to win a single game. They never received that moment of success. We were always the smaller team; we don’t have any true ballhandlers; every possession is a challenge just to get the ball near the basket; and we still foul too much on defense. But doggone-it — those kids worked hard last night. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and they left it all on the floor. What more could I ask?
This blog is a tribute to seven young kids who were winners last night, but they don’t realize it. And to all the parents or coaches or families or anyone else who might read this blog, my message is to give kids a chance in whatever activity they may participate and encourage them along the way. With that as my intention and with some able assistance from Tamika’s camp and some excitement by the Fever, we did succeed in shaping some young lives over the past six months.
To my stepdaughter Maddie and her teammates Madison, Makayla, Erin, Kaitlyn, Abby and Alyssa … your coach doesn’t say this stuff just to make you feel good. You played hard. You played with your hearts and above all else, you learned and truly improved. You learned not just about basketball — how to set screens; how to defend against an opponent’s screen; how to run an inbounds play — but about life. You learned how to compete. You learned how to fight hard and try your best. You learned that we still love you, even when the other team may score more points. You learned that you can do more than you thought you could – like when Erin, a first-year player scored the first two baskets of her life all in the same game (and skipped back down the entire length of the floor after the first). You learned how to fall down and get back up. You even learned how to trust your teammates and hopefully learned to trust your teacher.
Did I fail? No. The point is that kids are precious. The world is ever-changing around them and they are constantly absorbing input from everything they contact. Basketball or any other sport can be such a positive influence in kids’ lives. And even the lives of their families. I am a big believer that challenges in sport help teach about challenges in life. Yes, sports are character-building and they can be tremendous in helping a young child’s self-esteem.
I am sad that our kids didn’t win a game this winter. I was even dejected last night. But I could never get over the fact that I was genuinely proud of them. I tweeted a tribute to their efforts. They got this 47-year old PR guy a little bit emotional. I wanted it for them. What the kids in these past two seasons don’t realize is that they touched my heart. And I know that when the 2013 Fever season commences, the infectious basketball bug will have some young, new Fever fans who got introduced to a new game.
Kids are priceless. Cherish them. Play with them, but treat them with respect, they may be smarter than you think! Encourage them. Be patient with them. Teach them. Find ways for them to succeed. Love them and guide them. Show them new ways and new activities.
I know this blog strayed a bit from the Fever and the WNBA. But they are intertwined with this story. The Fever influence was enormous with these youngsters last fall. My Brownsburg fifth-graders in both seasons deserve my praise and, not to get too sappy or philosophical, I think we all can make the world a better place by finding ways to encourage the children in our lives.