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Freshman Failure

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Down by two points with around twelve seconds left, our freshman team found itself in a tight end-of-game situation against Lebanon Catholic. We had played terrible up to this point, but had managed to work our way back to make it close. Elliot had just fouled out to stop the clock and the other team had one free-throw left. I subbed in for Elliot as coach Groff called a time-out to try to regroup the team and draw up our last play. I wasn’t zoned out, or at least I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. I sat on the bench, listening to coach talk, while at the same time hoping that I would be the one to take the last shot and tie the game.
“Ok guys, there’s plenty of time left in this game, don’t panic, just grab the rebound, run through our offense, know the situation, and try to get a good shot off.” Coach talked for a while but all five, or four, of us knew what we had to do. We stood up, put our hands in the center, and concluded with a collective “1-2-3-TEAM!” The buzzer sounded, and we tried to contain our nerves as we walked back out onto the court.
For some reason I still can’t comprehend, I didn’t look up at the scoreboard to double check the situation. Both teams lined up around the free-throw line, and waited in anticipation for the shot. The referee tossed the ball to their player and he took the shot and missed. I grabbed the rebound, and as time began winding down, I made the outlet pass to Zach running up the court. He caught the ball on the left wing, drove towards the lane, and finished a lay-up with five seconds remaining. I clearly remember the fleeting thought, “What a stupid move to shoot a lay-up when we are down by three points.” In the background I heard all the loyal parents, and a few students, cheering like we had just tied the game or something.

All my teammates started running back on defense, and I once again thought of how stupid they were. I had to get the ball back and try to win the game. Lebanon Catholic in-bounded the ball, and I was on their player right away, wrapping my arm around him to ensure that the foul would be called. The ref must have been as shocked as everyone else because it took him a little while to actually blow the whistle. I turned around, still feeling pretty good about myself, to see a look on everybody’s face that I can’t even describe. It still took me a few more seconds to realize that something was slightly amiss. A feeling of dread started to creep up on me, and I finally glanced up at the scoreboard only to see two scores that looked exactly the same. Right then I wanted to dig a hole in the court and crawl into it.

Of course their player made both free throws, despite my desperate prayer for a miracle. There were still a few seconds left on the clock, meaning there was still a chance we could pull it off. Coach called our last time-out to try to get us to regroup. I felt so small in that huddle and was unable to make eye contact with anyone. My hopes of being rescued were quickly diminished as we in-bounded the ball and air-balled our last desperation shot from half-court.

In the locker room after the game coach declared, “It is not Jon’s fault that we lost this game tonight.” Everyone on the team listened to this blatant lie with a dumbfounded look that just cut me even more deeply. I sat on the bench for a while with my head buried in my hands, wallowing in my own self-pity and misery. There is a chance that I might have cried because I was so upset with myself. It was only a freshman game that meant nothing to anyone else other than the team, but that fact seemed to be lost on me. No one was too hard on me, and my parents and teammates were quick to forgive me. Looking back now it is easy to laugh about the whole situation. I’m pretty sure I didn’t carry my guilt and shame into junior year. But the memory is still as clear today as it was the day after it happened.





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