We Interrupt This Trip to Haiti for a Rant
Last week, my 8th grade daughter, Isabella, played a basketball game at St. Mary’s Middle School, my alma mater. While Isabella is not the most talented or aggressive player, she likes being part of the team and practices just as hard as everyone else. During this particular game, the coach chose to play her only twice, for around 5 seconds each time, while everyone else was rotated in. Needless to say, it was very disappointing for her, as well as for the 8 family members who had turned out to watch her play the last regular-season game.
Granted, St. Mary’s was a tough team and I can understand why the coach would not want to sacrifice too many minutes to Isabella’s special tendencies (getting rid of the ball like a hot potato as soon as it’s passed to her; repeatedly stepping on the line when throwing the ball in-bound; observing rebounds rather than actually jumping to get them), but she does helpful things too. And at this level, the game should still be about having fun, not winning. There’s plenty of time for winning and worst-players-never-play in high school, college, and beyond. I spoke to the coach about this once before, early in the season when he did the same thing to Isabella in two other games. We apparently have a fundamental difference of opinion about the nature of middle school sport.
Isabella felt so humiliated at the end of the game that she was crying, which the team misinterpreted as tears of joy (they won by 5 points). The coach tried in vain to explain his choices, which made as little sense to her as they did me, “You did great for those 11 seconds [then why’d you take her out?],” “sometimes being on a team means you’re the cheerleader [huh?]”, “you have to understand what being on a team means [yes, to us it means that you don’t sit one player on the bench for the entire game, even when you’re ahead by 12 points]”. Like I said, fundamental difference of opinion.
To cheer Isabella up after the game, I took her on a tour of my personal Middle School Hall of Horrors & Humiliations, arranged in progressively ghastly order:
Rm 101 Caught by Sister Annette copying someone else’s homework. Both of us reported to the teacher whose class the homework was for, friend hated me.
Rm. 108 Two best friends and I were wandering around after school one day and found Room 108 still open, inside of which, much to our delight, the lock on Greg Williams’ locker was also still open. Decided to rifle through Greg’s belongings and read everything we could get our hands on, as middle school girls with crushes will do. I, and only I, was caught red-handed by Mr. Ortiz (we thought he was gone for the day), who later told Greg about the incident. (Was that really necessary?) Pretty much killed any hope I had of being Greg’s girlfriend. Ever.
Rm. 210 Sister Mary Dorothy intercepted a survey passed around by Doreen in *religion* class about her former best friend, Charlotte: Who Thinks Charlotte Sanchez Is A Whore? Doreen was a force to be reckoned with: sturdy, heavily made-up, *well-developed*, not afraid of a fight. Not wanting to invoke the wrath of Doreen, everyone signed the petition (including me, I’m ashamed to say), except for my best friend Cynthia. She was the only one who had the courage to stand up to the peer pressure. Sister Mary Dorothy read the names out loud and confronted every single one of us, individually, about our choices.
Downstairs Hallway Scene of the Furry Golden Chicken Halloween Fiasco. This deserves a post unto itself.
We ended the tour back in the now-empty Gym, place of unfulfilling Valentine’s Day Dances, my failed 6th grade cheerleader try-outs, my own brief and mediocre basketball career.
I took this picture of Sad Legs in front of the very same mat that had interrupted many-a forward trajectory as I flew across the gym in sporting enthusiasm.
While I liked basketball much more than Isabella does, I fear we share the same athletic prowess and I never made it past the middle school level. In fact, my career was tragically cut short when I was the single person cut from high school tryouts via a list posted on the gym door.
It was rather emotional for me to be back at St. Mary’s after all these years, because, I suppose, it was a place of so much adolescent life–that time of extreme vulnerability when stepping out of childhood and into adulthood. Plus, I was sad for Isabella. I’m sure there were lots of good things that happened during my middle school years too, but those aren’t the most powerful memories. No, it tends to be the embarrassments, humiliations, failures and rejections that shine the brightest. Maybe it’s because those were the hardest lessons, deepest scars, broadest wells of regret and growth?
In any case, there are so many hurtful things happening in the early teen years that are out of adults’ control, but this situation wasn’t one of them. It was a choice. We left the gym in the freezing weather, went home to a black-out, and eventually sat around by candlelight laughing about my Where’s Isa-BELLA?! call during a silent moment of the game. A call that caused the coach, in Isabella’s words, to “look around with pupil-shrinking fear, and then he saw it was you...” and the assistant coach to wonder aloud, “Do we know her?“ Yes, I’ve turned into that parent, that person, one of a long, proud ancestry who have always stood up for what they saw as unfair or wrong, even when it would be easier to just let it go (thanks, mom).