My Team's Turnaround

May 30, 2011
By Anonymous

Saint Anthony’s gym; It was a place where my basketball team would spend Monday and Wednesday nights for the next three months. It was a place where plaster occasionally rained from the ceiling. Despite its run-down nature, we were all appreciative of the fact that we had somewhere to practice. See, my school was always one of the poorer Catholic schools in the area; we couldn’t even afford a gym. And so, our neighborhood partner in Catholic education, Saint Anthony, was gracious enough to allow us to practice there. Saint Anthony’s gym was an ironic place to practice because its unkempt appearance matched my teammates’ athletic abilities at that point. This would be the place where we prepared for our last season together.

My class never possessed much skill on the basketball court. Year after year, we would conclude each of our seasons with only one or two wins under our belts. I was the last of three children, and I had to sit through my brother and sister’s games when they were on winning teams. This made having a losing team especially hard. We began this last season with high spirits. My dad, our coach, had gotten us placed in a lower league, and we had ten players, a big difference from our usual five or six. One could easily say that ours was probably the most comical team in the league. There was Joe, a very athletic soccer player, who had never played basketball in his life. Rodger was a big guy who couldn’t stay on his feet to save his life, and Sam, the football player, towered over the rest of us, but his clumsy footwork never did much to help us. We had Tim, the one with the biggest desire to win, and Mike, our best player, whose father refused to attend our games because he didn’t think Mike was good enough. I was considered the brain of the team. That was our main squad, but we also had a few seventh graders that were used mostly as backups. I suppose one could say that I had a special status on the team being the coach’s son, but having your father as a coach was difficult. He would chastise me even when an error wasn’t my fault. My father was stern, but he was a true basketball coach. He was the manager for the University of Dayton basketball team for four years. He brutally treated those who made mistakes, but those who excelled were highly praised. We were a bunch of misfits.

Any hopes we had of having a perfect season were quickly squelched as we developed a 0-4 losing streak. Even though we were disappointed about losing, we felt pumped up in a way because we had kept up with the opposing teams. Nearly every game in the previous seasons ended with us being blown out by our skilled opponents. We were entered in a holiday tournament for Thanksgiving. Each team we played was better than us, but we managed to control them. My team was sure that after containing teams like that, a win wasn’t far off. Our next opponent was Incarnation. We seemed to be in much better condition than they were, and our team possessed a higher desire to win. Disaster struck for the other team. They were making mental mistakes, and many players were arguing amongst themselves. We represented Immaculate Conception basketball at its fullest.

Something happened to us during that game. The team started working better together, and we realized that for most of us, this might be the last year playing any kind of organized basketball. We won for the first time literally in years, and it felt good. Everyone was ecstatic-those on the bench rushed onto the court to congratulate each other at the game’s conclusion. I know now that we were losing because we didn’t know what it was like to win. Nobody really tried, but when we knew it was possible to win, everyone stepped it up a notch. We set our differences aside and became a team. As we became more confident in ourselves and each other, we fell into sync. It was as if we knew where each teammate would be and when they would be there. Each player had come a long way from where he had been at the beginning of the season. Joe quickly established himself as one of our best players because he was a fast learner. Rodger still fell down quite frequently, but he became a dynamic rebounder. Sam picked up the pace, but he was still not very good on his feet. I could feel myself changing too. I was making less mental mistakes, and I was making a bigger contribution to the team. If Tim was giving 110 percent before the turnaround, he was putting 300 percent into our games now. Mike’s father still didn’t come to our games, but he learned to cope with it. Even my father changed. He learned from our mistakes and those of our opponents, then applied that during practice.

Unfortunately, the season was already half over. Our schedule had us playing each team in our division twice. It was time to unleash our vengeance on those who had humiliated us during this first part of the season. Our next game, against Holy Family, was a bust. Mike, our top scorer didn’t show up until the fourth quarter. The newer, less experienced players felt like we were slipping back into our old ways, but the veterans knew better. We felt a new intensity that hadn’t been there before. The rest of our season, we dominated our games with huge comebacks. Our opponents came into the games expecting us to be an easy win. We showed them the error of their ways. My coach gave us the nickname the Cardiac Kids because of the scare we’d give him before our comebacks.

After the regular season came the tournament. We discovered that the first team we would play was Holy Family, the only team from our division whom we hadn’t defeated. We were so pumped up, nothing could stop the Cardiac Kids. We came into the game ready to play. The hard work we put into the game rewarded us with a win. Our next opponent was Saint Charles, a team two divisions higher than us with twice as many players. It was the ultimate underdog story. This was an important game to us because we lost to Saint Charles one year prior during the tournament, and it was the game during which I had broken my arm. They had more size and speed, but we made up for it with heart and toughness. We played our best and held our own against them, but our opponents stole ahead. We quickly set into action one of our well-known comebacks. This was the point in our season when all the suicides we ran in the gym came into account. This was when my father’s rambling and yelling struck its note in our hearts and minds. Due to pitiful officiating, I was forced to watch the final minute of the game from the bench. I was forced to watch Mike’s last second shot roll around the rim and fall off the side. The Cardiac Kids fell short. By one point.

So with that heart-wrenching defeat, the season and our grade school basketball careers were over. I know that many of us questioned how we could have changed the outcome of that game, but I could not have been prouder about transformation we underwent during the season. I was also proud of how we played each game with remarkable sportsmanship.

My team’s final record ended up being 6-6. Even though it was not the best record a team could have, it was the best season any team from Immaculate Conception had had in a long time. The team underwent a change during that season. We didn’t just change physically, but mentally and emotionally too. I could see a change in the way my fellow teammates behaved at school and elsewhere. We began treating each other with respect and looked at things with a more positive attitude. I look back to that year, and miss playing with my teammates. We had such a competitive tenacity to the way we played, that losing was not a possibility. We were so confident and comfortable with the way we played, mistakes were never made. I will always remember that year as the year my team connected and started working together.

The author's comments:
This is the story of how my teammates and I confronted the final basketball season that most of us would be spending together.

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