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Joe's Extra

March madness

3/22/2021

“Weeg,” my eighth-grade basketball coach yelled, “go in for Brown.”

Sure. Behind by 30 points, the coach thinks it’s safe for me to enter the game.

But is it really?

First, doesn’t the coach know that I don’t want to touch the basketball? Duh. Once you touch the ball, there are expectations. People expect you to do something. I can’t dribble. I can’t pass. I can’t shoot. My options are limited. I could always just throw the ball away, but then I usually get yelled at — even by my teammates. Perhaps the bench is where I belong?

Second, I don’t know how to check into the game. I saw what happened to the kid before me who just ran right onto the floor. Yup, yelled at by the ref, the scorekeeper, and the coach for failing to “check in.” No, I’d rather not. Shouldn’t I stay seated on the bench until things get sorted out with this whole check-in fiasco?

Prep Iowa

Third, a jock strap with a plastic cup? Really? Who thought of this. Come on, I’m being taught by nuns who only expose part of their faces. My sisters and mom still cover their hair before going into church. My family comes from civilized religious people who acknowledge no bodily functions. Nothing. Ever. All eight children in my family? Yup, immaculately conceived.

Can’t I play a sport with normal underwear?

And so it went 50 years ago. I was a basketball disaster. The ball hit me in the head more often than I caught it in my hands. My dribble never exceeded one bounce against my foot. And group showers? Sorry.

Unfortunately, my wife comes from a basketball family. Her father, shown below in 1940, was a high school star, a college star, an Air Force star, and then played semi-professional ball. And his children were all gifted athletes. Everyone was beautiful and strong, and the family belonged to a country club.

Whereas, I cleaned bathrooms in office buildings, I had bad acne, and I was more comfortable with a toilet brush than a tennis racket.

I might have had a small inferiority complex.

So at my FIRST family dinner where my wife was introducing me for the FIRST time to her family and also informing them for the FIRST time that we were getting married — I was a tad nervous.

It was high school basketball season, so I cleverly prepared basketball questions.

“Eileen,” I asked the middle daughter, who was a high school senior and a great basketball player, “how is your basketball season going?” 

See? Wasn’t that a good, neutral question?

Eileen quietly stared at me, then burst into racking, sobbing, death-defying tears.

Oh my goodness!!!

In my family of origin, we did not cry. You fell down and skinned your knee? No tears. You broke your two front teeth? No tears. Your father died? No tears. Really. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true.

And now this young woman sitting next to me at the table was crying. Hysterically. It must be the end of the world. She must be dying. I was stunned. Call emergency.

And the family response to this tragedy?

My future wife asked her mom to pass the beefed-up biscuit casserole. My father-in-law turned to his youngest and asked her about school. My wonderful mother-in-law wondered if I would like another serving.

Ahhhhhhhhh… was it too late to call for a time out and run to the side lines?

Eventually Eileen’s tears subsided with sharp, jerking intakes of breath and small sniffles, and, without pause, she continued eating.

I come to find out later that Eileen had been unfairly benched by a new coach who preferred to play the juniors. Oh my.

That was then.

I’ve learned my lesson. Now I keep my mouth shut. Not a word from me about basketball, or any sport for that matter. I see the hoop in my neighborhood park and watch the young men and women play with grace and skill as I walk the dog. But I don’t engage.

Except today.

Three young men, John and Paul and Colton, were having a hard and fast game when the ball flew over to the walking path. Not wanting to be a total loser, I picked it up and threw it back.

I knew in my heart I was throwing it right into John’s hands.

Maybe I threw the ball intentionally high so that John could tip it right into the basket without a dribble.

Perhaps I was even trying for my own three-pointer.  

Sadly, none of this occurred. The ball veered off my hand, flew high into the air past the basketball court, and hit a picnic table — nowhere near any player in Polk County.

Really.

No one laughed out loud.

Except for me. But that might be because my family doesn’t cry. ♦

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