Basketball was one of my favorite sports growing up. I’ve always enjoyed the sound of squeaking athletic shoes on the wood of a basketball court and the sound a basketball makes when bounced against hardwood. The intricate movements of basketball captivated me. The way five players worked together to succeed in scoring and defending.
The only hardwood floor I was around as a kid was in my parents’ kitchen. My brother and I weren’t allowed to bounce the basketball in the house, but there was something appealing about the sound it made on the floor, so the rule was broken regularly. My father soon installed a basketball hoop above the garage door and I spent hours playing in the driveway. I tried perfecting my shot and increasing my ball handling skills.
When basketball tryouts came around in the 7th grade, I was so excited. I had played with friends during recess in elementary school. As we arrived in junior high, games were played at lunchtime behind the cafeteria. Friends would play three on three and I tried to play. During those games after lunch I found myself overmatched. The guys I played with had gained athletic ability I had not since the prior year in elementary. I continued to practice in my driveway at home with encouragement from my family. The cerebral palsy was holding me back, but I thought it was my lack of practice. With a commitment to working harder I believed I could eventually play in the games during lunch and make the basketball team.
The first day of basketball tryouts involved multiple agility drills. We were measured on running, jumping, moving laterally, and dribbling the basketball quickly. I tried as hard as possible, but saw friends moving much more quickly. They were passing me during drills. It felt overwhelming after I had practiced so hard. Frustration eventually took hold and overwhelmed me, as I ran out of the gym in tears. A friend came out after me, he comforted me, explaining it was okay and I was doing well. He wanted me to come back in the gym and continue trying.
I did come back inside the gym and resumed my efforts to make the team. Practice ended and we all went home for the night. Day two of tryouts would be the following day; there were no cuts after day one.
When I reached the locker room to change for the second day of tryouts coach called me into his office. He explained he couldn’t keep me as a player, because it would be unfair to the other guys. Coach explained his desire to give me a spot on the team because he loved the effort and heart I showed, but other players were more skillful. My heart dropped upon hearing the news, but I knew my disability was getting in my way.
Coach asked me to hang up my sneakers and become the team manager. I wasn’t familiar with the position so I inquired as a seventh grader would. He explained I would be helping out with the team. I would come to practices and games, take statistics and help him out as the coach. He told me it would be great to have me around and I found managing to be fun. It made me feel part of the team and I developed good friendships with the guys. I continued to learn the intricacies of the game, which have always been fascinating.
Moving through junior high and high school I was the basketball team manager nearly every year. I took stats and paid attention during practice. If I didn’t have the ability to play, I enjoyed learning how to teach. Each coach I managed under had a different perspective on the game of basketball. They each motivated differently, had different expectations of the players, and me, each coach spoke differently in the heat of battle. Some yelled with anger and disapproval, while others taught with humility and understanding. Everything I learned along the way helped me when I was lucky enough to assist with coaching at the 9th grade level after high school. I found the lack of athletic ability doesn’t always result in the lack of ability to learn, teach, and understand a game.