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March Madness

Not enough skill and too much jersey - Scott talks basketball from the viewpoint of a first grader

 

I started playing basketball at the ripe old age of six as recess in the wintertime meant time well spent in the gymnasium!

Basketball meant freedom. A reasonable excuse to run, yell, grunt, shout, growl, bark and make obscene faces all or partly at the same time, not to mention how to look nonchalant when the back of your head stopped a mid-court pass. Crazy! This was better ‘n sex! ‘Course, I was only six and didn’t really know what that was and considering the rumors I’d heard, basketball seemed a heck of a lot more fun (at the time).

And all of this meant you were not at your desk memorizing guzintas or the right way to spell things like elokwint!

I went from first grade through ninth in the same building. Not due to a mental condition like some suggest, just a nice, small town atmosphere with several hundred year-round participants who were frugal enough to keep it simple. And seeing as how we were all together, the faculty thought it’d be entertaining to put on a whole-school tournament, wherein the ninth graders were captains of teams they got to pick out of a line-up of all the younger boys in school.

This was our main source of mid-winter exercise aimed at burning off all the fat stored up during the holidays and to get us through the long mud season in which many of our moms would chain us up to avoid having to mop floors.

And it was fun!

The only down side I ever noticed, which I find ironic, was that the uniforms fit the junior high kids and any first or second grader would all but disappear in a mass of satin folds and wrinkles. This presented the golden opportunity to show the entire town how you looked with your trunks in a puddle at your feet.

They would go down if you went up. They went down if you ran. If you tried to look impressive and stick out your chest, they’d also fall down. And the jerseys were so big, the armpits exposed body parts only our moms were aware of.

The coaching staff made sure the older guys understood that the ‘pups’ all needed plenty of action for the benefit of the audience.

One of my very first plays came deep inside the fourth quarter of my team’s first game, where we were comfortably behind and sure to be humiliated anyways. So I actually got to come off the bench and get some action under my belt. Actually, a belt is what I really needed.

Our captain led us down court, with me following on his flank. As he set up a screen in front of the opposing guard, he handed me the ball and said, “Shoot.” I felt my trunks slip a little so I widened my stance and stuck out my belly to hold things up. “Shoot!” yelled a couple hundred eager onlookers. I recognized a lot of my own gene pool in that chorus too, converting a sizeable portion of my focus into fear of failure.

Now I wasn’t strong enough to get that big, heavy ball all the way up to the hoop with one arm, so I used both in an underhanded way, from between the knees. I hadn’t actually practiced this maneuver prior to creating it which showed up in the execution as the ball ricocheted off my captain’s nose, then mine, then paused weightless above while I studied the look on the startled face looking back at me before bouncing off my topknot and wandering out of bounds. It seemed to take a while; maybe it was just me.

The ref noticed two nosebleeds and promptly declared, “Double-dribble, ha, ha, ha!” I held my nose, picked up my trunks and went back to the bench where our coach put a clothes pin on my gushing nostrils, patted my little behind, and sent me back out on the floor.

My pride was a little bruised but I decided I’d better make some kind of showing for all the fans holding down the bleachers and pointing at my clothes pin. So the next time I got the ball, I tried driving the baseline like I’d seen others do, until my forehead ran right into a kneecap belonging to the biggest kid in school, who for a giant could move pretty damn fast! He and the ball were at the other end of the court making a lay-up before I could get my trunks resurrected (for the seventeenth time).

My nose was goin’ numb and I didn’t much care if I bled out or not after this much embarrassment, so I used the clothes pin to connect my trunks to my jersey and stood there pregnantly (look it up, it fits), while my team came back down the floor with the ball. The captain dribbled up to me and yelled, “Where’d you learn to play this game, anyway?”

“From you!” I offered and at the same time regretted. We were down by a few hundred points anyway so he let it go for the time being. Two months later, I was to catch one of his hardballs fresh off the end of a Louisville Slugger with my fresh little mouth while playing marbles, of all things. Now whenever I hear that old phrase “what goes around comes around,” I always see that ol’ hardball ‘freeze-framed’ right in front of my nose and I often duck as a result. I should mention here that I was so short in first grade that I had to stand on my imagination to get a drink out of the wall fountains.

One minute left on the clock and I was desperate to save face. In the previous few I’d managed to create the inspiration for enough snide remarks from my peers to get me through college (if I were to ever live that long) and as I slowly contemplated that thought the ball, again, rearranged the expression I was wearing. My focus was beginning to waver. The crowd brought me back around and I realized the ball was in my hands! Being well under three feet tall, I gave it the same look I usually reserved for inattentive elbows. Noticing this made me giggle and the sixth grader in front of me decided he’d had enough. But when he slapped the ball from my grip he flattened a portion of my left hand and the ref called him for it.

 So, there I was, at the foul line and I think on the verge of my first of many experiences with tunnel vision. The players were all lined up and leaning forward in anticipation. Half wore red on white, the others white on red. I had a little more red on my white than the others did but that was okay; it had a certain atmosphere about it. I pictured Washington crossing the Delaware with a bloodied nose and a ‘flat-top’ haircut, one of his boots up on the prow, arms crossed thoughtfully over a big, baggy jersey. I giggled again; couldn’t help it. “Some time today,” the ref instructed. “Yeahs” echoed around the key.

No pressure. I bounced the ball a couple of times and ran through what I already knew of physics. I remembered one phrase in particular: “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” This sure seemed true of older brothers and I reasoned the same must be true of basketball as well.

I folded my elbows, bringing the ball to my chest, and stared up that tunnel I mentioned at the hoop so far, far away. I gave it everything my paltry biceps could afford but being stalwartly right-handed, the ball went hard left straight into a red-jersied forehead, up to the backboard, rolled around the rim a few times and dropped in.

I looked over at the kid who’d given me the assist and his trunks were on the floor. So I guessed that to be the opposite reaction.

I have yet to find professional basketball to be nearly as entertaining or educational as those early years. Maybe if they used more kids and less money.

No, this photo illustrating this story is not a young Scott Clawson. It is, however, a young Dustin Gannon who was small for his age (this photo is from junior high) and understands well Scott’s problems with too-large jerseys. Oops. Just checked the date on that photo. Dustin was actually in the 9th grade - high school - when that picture was taken.

 

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Scott Clawson Scott Clawson No, he's not the electrician, he's the OTHER Scott Clawson, who's a quality builder when he's not busy busting a gut while writing his humor column for the first issue of each month, or drawing his Acres n' Pains cartoons.

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basketball, sports, March Madness, kids

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