My son stood at the foul line, waiting for the teams to line up around him. The score was tied, it was down to the last quarter and the winning team was going to move on to the championship game. An entire season of basketball, blood, sweat and a few tears had all added up to this moment, this game.
The crowd, filled with tired parents who had to drive through a blizzard that day just to be there, fell silent, half of them wishing my son well, half of them hoping he failed.
It was the battle of one small farming community against another and more than a few of the parents inside that gymnasium were reliving their own sport memories as my son took a few deep breaths to calm himself and then raised the ball to shoot towards victory.
And right before he was about to release the ball, the words “Mommy will still love you even if you miss!!” rang out like a bell and bounced off the gym walls.
The crowd was stunned and turned to see who would humiliate her kid in such a fashion at such a crucial time in the game.
I smiled and waved and my son just grinned and yelled back that if he missed his shot now I had to walk home. The tension was broken and everyone laughed.
And my son went on to sink both baskets.
It didn’t help. They ended up losing their game and their chance to play in the championship game. But it didn’t matter.
They were having fun.
All season long, at every game, I watched a group of 12 boys try their hardest to do their best. They stumbled and fell and made mistakes but they always got up, brushed themselves off (both literally and metaphorically) and tried again. And as they did, I was there cheering them on, reminding them to be better, be faster, be smarter. But for this last tournament, these last few games to determine a regional champion, the only thing I wanted to remind these boys to do was to have fun.
I’m not sure how many of those boys will go on to play basketball next year. And I’m really not certain if any of them will ever get to attend a championship tournament again. But years of experience and a few championship games under my own belt and I know one thing. They won’t remember the mistakes they made playing in a junior high basketball game. Their memories of life at this age will grow fuzzy with time as new memories are made and start to crowd these ones.
They won’t remember the details of the game and some of them may not even remember if they won or lost that day. But hopefully each of them will remember how much fun they had as they charged up and down that court one snowy afternoon trying to put a ball inside a hoop and how their parents filled the stands and cheered them on. They will look back on that day and remember the innocence of their lives, a blank slate not yet marred by the choices and mistakes they are all bound to make.
As that game went on, points were scored, foul shots made and missed and eventually a winner was determined. But through it all I saw something in those boys I had never seen before. I saw the boy who couldn’t hold on to the ball at the beginning of the season out dribble his opponents. That kid with butter fingers who couldn’t catch a pass no matter what? He did.
Another boy made almost every rebound he went for after discovering that he really could jump. I saw the kid who was the team’s ball hog finally share the ball. And I watched more than one boy demonstrate leadership and exemplary sportsmanly conduct.
Most of all, I saw them smile huge sweaty boy smiles as they had fun.
After it ended the game officials found me in the hallways as I waited for my son to stop high fiving all his teammates and change out of his uniform.
“In all my years as a ref, I’ve never seen a parent like you out there before,” one said as he shook my hand.
I raised my eyebrows and laughed, “It’s my toque right? I know it’s ugly but it’s the team’s lucky hat. What can you do?”
They laughed with me and shook their heads. “We’ve seen parents yell at their kids for missing a basket or for getting a foul or for running too slow. But we have never ever seen a parent stand up and yell at their kids to remember that this is just a game and to have fun.”
I suppose it’s all about perspective. My kid had fun but he still has to go home and watch his little brother struggle to live another day. He still has to live with the fact his other little brother didn’t. In the grand scheme of life, no matter how well my son played basketball this was still only a junior high sports game.
We talked a few more minutes and I thanked them for all the hard work they put in to the season and then walked away. A few of the other team’s parents were looking at me like I was insane.
But as I walked past the winning team’s designated room, I overheard one of the kids talking about me.
“Did you hear that one mom out there, the one in the toque? #25′s mom? Man, she was awesome. I wish my mom did that.”
Ya, a championship title would have been the icing to what was already a perfectly played season. But it didn’t really matter. My son will always remember his mom out there sitting in those bleachers wearing her dorky hat as she cheered him on and made him smile. I hope that memory is worth more than any junior high championships ever could.
Read more from Tanis at her personal blog Attack of the Redneck Mommy.