Last night was the home opener for Middle School Basketball Season.
We played one of our cross town rivals. The school with the 8th grader who's 6'5" tall, an AB student, and an overall nice kid. He's supposedly better at baseball. Hard to believe. Of course, all he had to do all night was stand there and tip balls into the net, but still. He's the total package. Nice kid, good student, good athlete. He probably helps little old ladies with their groceries.
Coach Math, the new math teacher on The Team, is our new boys basketball coach this year. This is an added bonus. We were tickled to death to get a really good, highly thought of math teacher, but the fact that he coaches, well, that was just icing on the cake. Finding a good coach, one who can motivate the kids (and stand dealing with them for a lot more hours than most of us do), is not easy to do. The pay isn't all that great, and it makes for some really long days.
The rest of us on the team decided to make sure we all attended the game so we could support Coach Math. We also got him a card, wishing him luck with the season. He's had a bit of an adjustment coming to The School. He used to teach across town, at a school where most kids had both parents, both parents had jobs, and kids did their homework and excelled. He's used to a school where an F on a progress report means a parent phone call or email. Now he's with us, and he's figuring out that the parents of our students are, for the most part, missing in action. We sent home progress reports last week and not one of us on the team got so much as a phone call or an email. Nothing. It's a big adjustment when you're used to a lot more parental support and some higher achievers.
But if anyone can make it work, it's Coach Math.
We asked him this week at lunch what he thought of his team. "Well," he said, "they really need work on fundamentals. They play too much street ball. We may win some, we may lose some, but they'll know the real game when we're done."
It was a different team than we've ever seen play before. We're used to the kids playing street ball, with a collection of hotshots and a couple of kids who make the hotshots look even better. The hotshot kids always bothered me. For the most part they tended to be punks who only did well academically during the season, and let their true colors shine once the season was over when they did stupid stuff to get suspended and who knows what else. They had what I call the "PacMan Jones Disease" - people made excuses for their bad behavior because they were good athletes and the kids believed the were God's gift to basketball.
Coach Math put a stop to that. A kid couldn't even try out for the team if the first nine week report card wasn't satisfactory. That eliminated a bunch of the kids who thought they were superstars but weren't cutting it academically. It also eliminated a bunch of the troublemakers who caused problems for coaches in the past. Coach Math wasn't putting up with thuggish behavior. Two days after the team was announced, one of his players got a write up and was sent to ISS. Coach kicked him off the team. That really sent a message.
So what he ended up with was a team with no hot shot superstars, but some nice kids and some decent kids when it came to the grades. Nothing to write home about, but the raw talent was there.
The raw talent produced. They played team ball. They passed, they dribbled, they took their time, they listened to directions from the coach, they worked as a team. And, even with the Six Foot Wunderkid on the opposing team, they hung in there and the game was a close one all the way until the final buzzer.
When it was tied and went into overtime.
And for the first time in my six years at The School, the students who were there attending the game (who usually spend the games gossiping, socializing, and ingesting copious quantities of junk food and soda) were on their feet cheering and screaming and going crazy. All of the teachers in attendance looked at each other in awe. "Do you see that?" we all asked. "They've never done that before!" It was a sight to see.
And the overtime seemed to stretch forever with one team scoring and then the other, and back down the court, and another basket, and then we got fouled, and the toss was nothing but net and we, amazingly, astoundingly, won the game!
We cheered. We screamed. The boys looked stunned. Then they all jumped on each other and screamed and yelled and Coach was giving them high-fives and it was like Christmas and the Fourth of July all rolled into one.
Coach Math made those kids believe in themselves and worked some magic.
And it was just the first game.