The Advantages of Being Completely Terrible

16 02 2010

Today whilst writing my column for the newspaper about my relative lack of enthusiasm/knowledge for the kind of passing sports fandom that allows one to connect on the subject with total strangers, I recalled memories of my own storied junior high basketball career.

First, I am sure most people recall their junior high athletic endeavors as being primarily awkward things, filled with lots of enthusiasm but short on skills. Perhaps your team was bad, or maybe you yourself weren’t very good, but let me say that the St. Patrick Eagles boys basketball passed beyond that into a realm of true terribleness. As far as being bad goes, we were the best.

We lost every single game my seventh and eight grade year combined. Actually, let me clarify, we didn’t lose, we were routinely destroyed by 20-point margins. These were not hard-fought contestants where we just got unlucky or faced uneven matches against schools with much bigger student populations. We just sucked, long and hard.

In retrospect, I think the full-court press was our problem. We would be trailing by a few baskets and then the opposing coach would throw the pressure on us just to see. An almost casual gesture, he would quickly realize that we were completely incapable of solving the problem it presented. We crumbled, the turnovers ensued and the 20-point-plus losses piled up.

I recall my mother often saying that we just lacked someone who could consistently score, which is indeed a problem in a game were victory is achieved by the act of scoring. To use another popular junior high sports locution, there was always a lid on the basket. Of course, this only become a problem when we the ball reached our side of the court, something that, due to the problems with the press mentioned above, happened seldom enough.

We were so bad, in fact, that I actually spent a decent amount of time on the court each game. Helped along by the eight-man size of the squad, I never started but received decent rotation off the bench. This, despite my lack of any real knowledge about what to do with a basketball once it fell into my hands.

Soccer, you see, was my sport. Soccer was easy. When the ball came to you, you just gave it a punt in the general direction of the opposing team’s goal and you could generally be perceived as helping advance the cause of your team. In basketball, I would kind of run around in a useless fashion, fearing and hoping to get hold of the ball in equal measure.

Once I had the ball my hands, I knew that on a technical level, I had three options. I could shot the ball (give my low field goal percentage, a path seldom taken), I could dribble it somewhere (but where?) or pass it off to another teammate (probably the safest course). Ultimately, it was a choice I rarely had to make as an opposing team member usually stole the ball out of my hands while I pondered my choices.

Despite all this, I didn’t hate the sport, didn’t hate the games. We were all so terrible that it wasn’t likely my lack of coordination made me an outsider. My classmates and I suffered jointly, playing mostly out of a fear of what the girls would think if we didn’t.

And in fact, for a number of years, a basketball game in my eighth grade year held the rank of “Best Day of My Life.” This is because, technically, I lied earlier when I said we never won a single game. The very last game of my junior high career, we faced a squad composed of members two years our juniors in a kind of exhibition match. The gap in age gave us the edge we needed to secure something hitherto unknown, a victory.

After two years of crushing defeat, the feeling of elation after winning that game is still pretty much unmatched at this point in my life. My contribution of four points helped fuel this euphoria, particularly because it doubled my previous high score. One of the baskets came from what can only be described as a “move.” Going up for an offensive rebound, I caught the ball and then threw it back toward the basket all in the same jump. Huzzah!

Even better, the girls squad had just finished a game of their own (also achieving a rare victory) and had arrived in time just to see my maneuver. As the kind of guy who developed frequent and hopeless crushes during my seventh and eight grade years, this really elevated the moment for me.

That night after the game, happiness filled the air like some kind of drug. Our class stood united by the mutual victories, and we left the kind of growing divisions rent by everyone growing up behind. No one seemed too cool or too awkward, too smart or too stupid, we were all just there, one of those rare moments when you feel connected to everyone and everything, like anything is possible.

Some of the members of my junior high class, taken on the night described in the above post.




3 responses

5 03 2010

Your season sounds just like our 8th grade season. We only won a few games this year. But anyway great article.

5 03 2010

This is just like our 8th grade year we only won 3 games but o well. Good job.

7 03 2010

I ran into your mom at church this morning and she told me to check out your blog. I really got a kick out of reading this posting. What is kind of ironic is I ended up becoming a high school teacher and coach (my basketball skill improved vastly in high school). Anyways my current JV team is a step below our 8th grade St. Pats team. We have number problems, we CANNOT score, and basically, we just aren’t good.

BTW- Very cool on backpacking through Asia! Sounds awesome.

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