Tuesday, November 02, 2004

And So It Begins...

Welcome to the new home of my personal Basketball Diaries, or as they'll be collectively known this year, "A Season in a Blink." That title accurately reflects the insane shortness of our season. Here's a quick overview:

October 29th: 7th Grade tryouts
November 4th: 6th Grade tryouts
November 8th: 8th Grade tryouts
November 9th: Call backs, all grades
November 10th: Call backs, Day 2
November 11th: Final Team Posted
November 17th: First Game
December 8th: Final Regular Season Game
December 13-15: Playoffs, Rounds 1 & 2
Dec. 24 - Jan 2: Christmas Break
January 5th: Semi-Finals
January 8th: City Championship

I understand the reasons for this ridiculously compressed schedule (limited gym time, transportation issues, scheduling demands of multiple sports, etc.), but understanding does not ease the frustration. There are other coaches in the city that have no doubt already chosen their squads and been practicing for at least a week or two. I haven't been able to do this for two reasons:

• First, our girls volleyball team is still using the gym. Our volleyball girls are always excellent -- they actually won the city championship last year. That's nice for them, but it doesn't do me any favors. Their extended season steals away an extra two or three weeks of gym time.

• Second, our football team is also still alive in the playoffs. I'm sure that most of the boys on the football team will tryout for the basketball team, and I already know that at least four of them will make my team. Because of this, it just wouln't make sense to hold tryouts before they're done.

I was, however, able to get around this just a bit by scheduling 7th grade tryouts last Friday afternoon, taking advantage of a break in the volleyball team's practice schedule. I wasn't able to attend the tryout myself, but my two assistant coaches, Reta Sula and Terrell Turner, handled it for me.

A quick word about Coach Sula. When I started teaching thirteen years ago, Reta was a student in my seventh grade English class. Loud and gregarious at times, her behavior left a bit to be desired, but she was motivated academically and always worked hard. I soon learned that Reta was the star of our girls basketball team, and easily the best player in the city. (She was certainly talented enough to have started for the boys team that year.) There's an enormous range of talent in girls middle school basketball, but even against vastly overmatched competition, Reta's talent was obvious. She would lead our school to consecutive city championships before moving on to be a four-year varsity starter in high school, leading her team to a league championship in her senior year. Her exploits in high school earned her a full scholarship to Long Beach State, where she had a successful four-year career. I've kept in touch with her through her high school and college years, and it's a pleasure to work with her now as a colleague. I'm sure that I'll learn a lot from her this season.

But back to the basketball. Coaches Sula and Turner handled the seventh grade tryouts last Friday, and they tell me that things went fairly well. They selected fifteen boys to return next week for the second round of tryouts, but there was a bit of controversy. The mother of one of the boys who did not make the list was upset that her son did not make the cut. He was talented but lazy, and refused to play defense during the scrimmage sessions. According to the mother, he's been playing basketball since he was four, which, in her mind I guess, means that he should be on the team.

I run into this every year. The boys usually understand that trying out for a school team is different from signing up to play park and rec ball, but parents don't always get it. As a parent, I can kind of relate. It's hard for a parent to look at his or her own child objectively, even when there's a gym full of boys ready for comparison. My guess is that by the time these boys get to high school the parents have backed off a bit, but at this point, the mothers are still extremely protective and the fathers that are around are enjoying their first shot at vicarious stardom. It's a learning experience for everyone, and I'm happy to teach the lesson.

I was told that Angry Mom was going to call me today, but the call never came. No surprize there. In the heat of the moment, as the child is being wronged, the wrath is strong. Overnight it eases to a dull throbbing, like a hangover. Give it a weekend, and it's a distant memory. The boy will probably come and talk to me at some point during the next phases of tryouts, but I'll just explain to him that the decision has been made. I'll advise him to keep working hard and come back again in the eighth grade, which will only piss him off.

That's about it for now. Come back tomorrow and I'll introduce you to the returning members of our team.