Everyone’s buzzing about March Madness, filling in brackets, but I’m feeling blue.
I’d much rather sit in the stands and cheer on my daughter’s seventh-grade traveling basketball team. Our season came to an abrupt end at state after a close game and heartbreaking loss. March feels like the breaking up of a large, devoted family — eight players, three coaches and their entourage of parents, relatives and fans.
Years ago, as a mother of young kids, I scoffed at my basketball-obsessed colleague, Mary. Her three children played at the highest levels of competition, and her schedule was a blur of practices and weekend tournaments. I treasured our unscheduled weekends — our connection to sports was casual.
Once we sat near Mary at a high school game. She was surrounded by extended family and friends cheering on her oldest daughter, shouting encouragement and instructions, grumbling at bad calls, rising from their seats when things got heated. This was a foreign country to me. I had no clue what constituted a foul, no allegiance to the team, no sense of the rules and customs of the sport. And no idea why my friend and her children were willing to give so much of their lives over to basketball.
That is, until our fourth child, Ceci, emerged as a team-sport kind of kid. After watching her play for five years, I’m now a naturalized citizen in the nation of girls’ basketball. My husband, Tom, has been her coach every year, a role he loves. Over time the team parents became my friends — and my educators in the sport.
We gripped arms when things were tense, hugged at the big victories. And what happened on the court drew me in more and more.
On the basketball court, girls are encouraged to be aggressive, loud, fierce. Don’t let anyone push you around. Expect roughness and stand your ground. Protect the paint. Players who embody these qualities are a sight to behold. Everyone knows their power, and coaches build plays to handle them.
Girls on our team can give you their numbers: No. 55, No. 3. In the stands, we yell, “Watch out for No. 7! Stay on her!” And we are proud when our daughters are the ones being watched out for — when other teams know their numbers.
I’m still working on my basketball IQ. “Wait, why was she fouled?” is my eternal question. Draw a charge, box out, pick-and-roll: I love the sound of these words, but I’m still figuring out what they mean. When I hear “moving screen,” I imagine players carrying a window screen across the court.
I think I finally understand the press, though. Play whole-court defense, amp up the intensity to force a turnover. Pressing takes a lot of energy. Offense has to attack, keeping their composure as players get in their face.
Life presents our daughters with all kinds of pressure situations, from big tests to public speaking to standing up for what’s right. We are not there to witness most of these moments. But on the court, parents get to watch their daughters react under pressure, literally. You can see it in their eyes, in their bodies, in the synergy of the team.
Toward the end of the season, Ceci’s team peaked at the Rochester tournament. In his postgame e-mail to families, Coach Tom wrote, “The girls played unscripted, dynamic basketball. They were unselfishly giving up the ball for a teammate to score, helping each other on defense, and just making plays as a team.” He underscored one of the great joys of youth basketball: watching kids grow through the ups and downs of a season.
That Saturday night in Rochester, I ran into Mary, the friend I once scoffed at. Those three kids she carted around to endless practices? All three are exceptional young adults, and all play college basketball. Her oldest daughter played for the same team as Mary: the Minnesota Gophers.
I told her I get it now — it’s worth all the time. We raised a glass to the sport, then called it a night.
We had to get up early for the Sunday games.
Maggie Shea, of Minnetonka, is a teacher and writer.