Friday, November 14, 2014

Hoops: There It Is

"He-who-is-now-taller-than-I" is playing hoops for a local, homeschool-friendly private school--and is coached by my favorite Philosopher.  Both are in their second year--as player and coach (for this program), respectively.  Simply put, the first season was a "character-building" year.  This season is looking a bit different than the last--the Knights have already beat teams who bested them by at least 20 points last year.  And, they have done this in "enemy territory", so to speak.  Middle-grades basketball in the rhinestone on the buckle of the Bible Belt is an experience.

First of all, I am learning more about West Tennessee geography.  Small towns like Hornsby, Toone, and Sharon are now fixed points on MapQuest.  In some cases, these out-of-the-way locales don't even merit a bold dot on a traditional map.  But, they love their basketball.  Boy howdy, do they ever!

The school is found in the midst of a quiet neighborhood, right around the corner from a family-owned grocery store or a Sonic.  Or, it might be in the middle of Nowhere.   Yes, there is a middle of Nowhere--and I have been there.  The marquee advertises tonight's game--and many come out just to take a shot at the half-time activities.  More on that later.

You can tell where the gym is by the number of vehicles parked in front of a nondescript, cinder block building.   And when you exit your car, you smell the popcorn.  And the hot dogs. The gym's interior glows, providing a night-light, to help you find your way.  There is an admission fee which supports the Booster Club.  Yes, elementary schools have booster clubs.  And, those manning the table are welcoming--but not too much so.  We are the opponents, after all.  They seem happy to take our money.  It's worth the four dollars.  Coaches and players are free.

There are cheerleaders--in cute little uniforms, complete with pom-poms and white sneakers.  And, spirit hands, of course.  The home team players enter the court to music--and the cheers of their fans.  Van Halen's "Jump" is this team's anthem.  The boys warm-up, the buzzer sounds, and our roster is cordially announced.  The home team roster is another story.  I feel like I'm listening to Ray Clay introducing the Chicago Bulls 1997 Dream Team! Lest I forget--there is the removal of hats, the placing of hands on the hearts, and the singing of the National Anthem.  Whether live or recorded, home-town patriots honor their flag and their country.  And, then, the tip-off.

The enthusiasm when a three-pointer is drained or a gorgeous steal that results in a textbook lay-up is unrivaled in these gyms.  (And, yes, I am now wearing my basketball mom hat which means I speak Hoop-ish.  It sounds cool, doesn't it? Like I really know what I'm talking about).   Home-grown fans are decked out in school colors, mascot-wear, and the like. And, the whole town is there.  The whole town. They chant, they shout, they take issue with the refs--unless, of course, the refs are home-town gentlemen.  Ahem.

And, then comes half-time.  The cheer squad performs for their Home audience--usually with their backs to those of us seated in the Visitor section.  Some are more "rhythmically-inclined" than others, more athletic, or simply more confident.  But, they all have spirit hands.  I adore spirit hands.  As a retired cheerleader, (my own high-school cheering career was cut heartbreakingly short by a knee injury, warming up before a JV game.  I still remember the cheer...), I feel I have earned the right to tease about such hands.  

And, then comes this school's half-time tradition:  one may attempt to make a free throw shot, from the half-court line, for $1 per toss.  If you make the shot, you win half the pot.  The rest goes to the Booster Club.  I have yet to see anyone make it--but there have been some mighty close calls.  

Say what you will about swanky athletic complexes, booster-funded workout facilities, and Whole Foods concession stands.   They attract athletes, coaches, and more moolah.  I like the feel of these middle of Nowhere gymnasiums that come alive when Johnny hits a free throw--or Katie makes her first basket of the season.  It's a small-town Tuesday night.

...That our flag was still there.  Photo Credit:  EP

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