Sometimes I just remember things. Often they are good things, sometimes they are bad things, sometimes they are funny things. No matter what kind of thing it is that I happen to remember, I generally remember it fondly, regardless of whether it seemed so at the time. Such seems to be the case with life. Every memory has played some role in making me who I am today, so I guess I should just embrace them. And share them with you.
The year was 1987. I was in the seventh grade. I was nerdy even by seventh grade standards. I had to do something to try to pull the focus away from my nerdiness, and sports was what I chose. I had played football throughout the sixth grade, and went on to play again in the seventh grade, but I had never wrestled or played basketball, both of which I gave a try in the seventh grade.
Wrestling is one sport that I really don’t think I was cut out for. While I was pretty good at faking the theatrical moves I had seen on Friday night wrestling, it turns out that I really sucked at actual wrestling. When I joined the team I was automatically the best in my weight class, since I was the only one in my weight class, that meant that I would have to represent the school in that weight class at every event ( I never actually made it to a single meet ). It was only a week or so into practice that I simply gave up on the sport. I had to spar with a guy that was in the weight class below me, since there was no one else in my class, and he pinned me in less than five seconds. He wasn’t even the best in his weight class either. Knowing that I would have to face the best guy in the weight class at every meet pretty much sealed it for me, I was not a wrestler. I quit the team, and I am not ashamed of it, relieved is more accurate.
I didn’t take to basketball very well either, but I didn’t give up. When I started playing the only thing I knew about the game was that you had to make the ball go through the hoop. I didn’t know the rules about traveling, key violations, I didn’t know anything, but I kept at it. I never got good at though.
Our coach had a really cruel thing that he did at the end of each practice; He would make us run lines (run to quarter court and touch the line, then run back to the baseline, then to half court, then to the baseline, then to three quarter court, then to baseline, then to opposite baseline and back to baseline) then call a player’s name. That player had to shoot a free throw. If he made the free throw we were done running lines, if he missed we did another set. I dreaded the times when he would call my name.
Some of the guys on the team were really good at shooting free throws; Paul Lakin, Chris Schofield, Brandon (can’t remember his last name), and a couple of guys whose faces I remember but their names are long forgotten. They could probably make it seventy percent of the time or better, which was really pretty good considering we were all only twelve or thirteen. When they would get the call it usually meant that we wouldn’t have to run many lines. When my name came up, not so much.
I was far and away the worst shot on the team, not just for free throws either, I just outright sucked at the game. I usually knew when it was going to be my name called, as the coach would call me only if we had twenty minutes or so of practice time left, since he knew I would probably never make it. Indeed, there were a couple of times where he had to call on someone else after we had run a dozen or so sets of lines since I had yet to make it and the parents were already showing up to pick up their kids. I was just that bad a shot.
In the entire season (which was capped by a first round tournament loss; A loss where the coach never substituted for the starting five guys, leaving the other six or eight of us on the bench the entire game. That is horrible coaching at a level when the game is more for fun than competition) I actually only made one basket. I was probably only in each game for two minutes or so anyway, even then it was just long enough to let another guy get a drink or something. When I was in one of the games I happened to be standing near the basket when a guy with the ball approached me. I stripped the ball from him and took off down the court. I was so concerned with not making an ass of myself that I was concentrating more on the floor and the ball than what was in front of me, I sure didn’t want to doink it out of bounds off of my own foot. I only looked up when my entire team, the crowd, the majority of the other team -hell the entire world, really- screamed “shoot it”. I looked up to see the backboard directly above and I was still moving forward, soon to be out of bounds. I threw that sucker up into the air with all the force my wimpy little arms could muster. Then I started heading for the bench.
It was almost surreal the cheer that I heard when the ball actually went in. I don’t know if there really was a cheer or if I imagined it, either way it doesn’t really matter. I had finally made a basket, my only one ever in competitive basketball. The coach motioned for me to go back on defense, something he had never really done, made a motion towards me that is. I fell back on defense right next to our cheerleading squad, where Angie Ross gave me a huge thumbs up (she was a girl who it seems had a bit of a crush on me at the time). With a head about the size Jupiter I took my position next to the key; where I was promptly burned by a guy about 1/3 my size in a moment that he probably remembers as fondly as I remember my only basket. Yes, I really sucked at basketball… Good times.
Our basketball team had some pretty ugly uniforms. It’s not that they didn’t match, more that they matched at some point but through years of neglect had managed to make it so they covered every conceivable hue of the color green. Our other jerseys were white with green lettering, but didn’t have the same numbers on them, since many had been lost over the years. The coach wanted us to have something that matched when we went onto the court, and had worked out a deal with a t-shirt shop called “The Put-on”, where we would each get a t-shirt with the team logo on the front and our first initial and last name on the back. The price for these beauties was $5.
Without going into a lot of detail here, I will just say that we didn’t have the $5 to spend on such things as basketball t-shirts when we were more concerned with making sure we had food and other such necessities. My mother assured me that she could come up with the money but I really didn’t want to burden her with that, especially since she had to buy me a special pair of shoes to play with (we played on the High School court, had to have non-marking soles and couldn’t be street shoes). I really wanted to get that shirt myself.
By some coincidence there was a fundraiser going on at the school where you had to get people to give you money for some annoying little fuzzy balls (no, seriously. They all had little eye-balls, some were dressed up with hats or glasses and stuff. They were roughly the size of a quarter, only spherical). I got people to shell out money for the little fuzzy balls, but not nearly as much as the other kids (since their parents would always take a few to start them off). Thankfully I had all that I needed to be a part of the assembly contest regarding the little fuzzy fuckers.
(Honestly my memory of exactly how that worked is a bit fuzzy. It might have been that we got the little fuzzy balls for so much money in donations, as I remember a lot of kids were collecting them. I know that I never had any, or maybe I did have some but had to trade them in to participate in the contest. I don’t know, it really is fuzzy. I know that it involved donations and fuzzy balls, and it all ended with the contest during the assembly).
The contest, of course, was all about basketball. The way the contest worked was that for each x number of dollars you raised you got one shot. Shoot a lay-in and you win $1 in cold, hard cash. Free throw for $5, top of the key was 10, three-point line was 15, that circle just outside of half court was 20 and half court was 50. I remember only two shots from the whole contest, one of them was because a guy actually hit the half court shot and the crowd went apeshit. The other one was my own.
I stood there at the free throw line, staring at the $5 bill laying on the ground in front of me (no shit, they actually had the money laying on the court and you got to pick it up if you made the shot). I had seen people bounce the ball a couple of times before taking the shot so that is what I did. I wasn’t really concentrating much on the shot, I was wondering if I would be able to grab the money and make it to the door without being caught. Better judgment eventually won out. I looked at the basket for a few seconds wondering why it was so hard to put the damn ball into it. Then, without an ounce of preparation, I hucked the ball at the basket (hucked isn’t really the word for it, but I can’t find a verb that accurately describes the motion that I used to propel the ball so ‘huck’ will have to do).
Much to my amazement, as well as the rest of the entire student body, the ball actually went in. I stood there dazed for a minute, probably literally, then grabbed the money and ran… Directly to the coach, who was sitting in the front row of the bleachers. I gave him that $5 with a sense of accomplishment that I don’t remember ever having felt before. I actually won something!
When the t-shirts arrived I was the happiest kid on earth, well, until I looked at the back and saw that they had mistakenly put “B. Burgess” on it. The coach covered the little bar to make it look like a ‘D’, but the damage was already done. Even though I got a replacement shirt within a week, everyone on the team called me Bonnie for the remainder of the season. But you know what? I really didn’t care. They all bought their shirts, I had to win mine.