Monday, December 30, 2013

For the Love of the Game

It seems fitting that the day before New Year's Eve would be spent in two different gyms, only minutes away.  Three games in a few hours.  Those two gyms, and what would transpire between two ball seasons, have defined 2013 for the Bates household.  And please... give me a chance before you stop reading.  This post is not going to go into decisions or reasons or any of that, because that's not important.  What was and is always important are the kids, and that's what this post is about. 

Not just kids in those two gyms, although those are the ones I love the most.  Kids all over this region.  Kids all  over this state.

If you know anything about me, you know I am a sports fanatic.  I was raised that way by a woman who could not love the game anymore.  She was raised that way by a Dad who took her to high school basketball games when there wasn't anything else to do in Breathitt County.  Didn't matter who was playing.  And let's face it... things really haven't changed that much.

So I lucked out when I married a coach.  I knew what I was getting into when I said "I do." This post isn't about  him, either, even though I am proud of him regardless of whether you love him or hate him.  As a coach's wife, I do a lot of scouting.  I know a lot of kids who wouldn't know me, and would probably get creeped out if I spoke to them.  While I may not know exact names, I do know which girls shoot better behind the three point line and which ones will drive into the middle.  I know which ones like to push back under the goal and which are a little afraid of contact.  See, while I may not know the difference between certain offenses and defenses, and while I may not be his first choice to talk game plan, I'm the one there when he can't sleep at two  in the morning and just needs to hash out why this isn't working... or what they're going to do to stop so-and-so.  Let's face it, there's just not many other people who would want to listen to that at that time of night... I just don't have much choice.

But I love it. I'll offer my insight.  I'll talk just like an expert.  And I find myself cheering in the gym, even if I don't know the kids.

Because high school basketball is where it is at.  Oh, I love UK... and I may stand to be shot if I type this... but there isn't much better than a good high school basketball game.

See, those kids leave it on the floor.  They aren't getting paid, and they aren't looking to be drafted.  They know the meaning of team is family and they stand up for one another. They play for the love of the game.  They hustle and scrap, and for the most part shake hands after it is all over.  Rivalries run strong.  Sometimes, heart means more than talent and hard work truly does win championships.  High school basketball makes me smile. 

As I left Jackson's gym tonight, I couldn't help but think of all of the kids over the years who  have made me smile as I watched them, and sometimes just made me shake my head in disbelief because their skilled performances would mean a loonng night at the Bates house.  Obviously, kids like Kendall and Brittany Moore, because I've known them all their life.  But also kids from other schools, like Savannah Noe, who will bust a three in your face and make  you wish you'd played a little bit closer defense.  Players like Jess Murrell from Owsley, who wasn't that tall but sure didn't care to bump underneath the basket. (OK, that whole basketball team from Owsley made me smile.  I sure do love those girls!) Players like Katie Moore from Leslie who makes it look effortless, and kids like Whitney Creech and those girls from Jenkins tonight who can shoot the lights out of the gym.

And my girls from Jackson.  Ain't nobody got hustle like Ashlee Combs.  Brittany Barnett and that three point shot.  Laura Johnson, who plays for the love of the game and cheers on her teammates, and then hustles when she gets in the game.  Heather Thompson, who has the heart of a lion. Kids like Ashlee Daughtery, who made me smile as I watched her hustle and who is still making me smile as we talked careers and where she is going next.

And my Breathitt girls.. who I'm slowly learning.  It makes me smile to watch Megan Stamper shoot her jumper, and rebound... when you don't even realize what she's doing. She's the quiet player who will kill you if you let her.  Kasey Cox, a force to be reckoned with from behind the line and driving in, where she doesn't care to take the foul and make it count.  Allison Herald and Carissa Hatton, who make it look easy to rebound and put the ball back up.  I smile when Ollie Bates drives into the middle, and when she smiles when she accidentally fouls someone and they end up on the floor. Kayla Gross and her defense... Kaylee Noble, who is coming right along and makes you wish you hadn't fouled  her.  Amy Brewer, whose spunky defense and drives to the basket against girls older than her makes me smile.  And those younger girls.. I can't list them all, but you freshmen, you make me smile because you loved Caleb before we were even down there.

You see, it doesn't really matter if I know them or not.  High school basketball players just make me smile.  I came to this realization on the way home tonight, as I thought about the Jackson/Breathitt boys game.  I sat in that gym tonight slightly sentimental. I watched as one of my favorites, Landry, hustled down the court, drove into the basket, and clapped for his teammates.  The kid has always made me smile, and he did so tonight.  Especially one time, when he came down the floor, slow dribbling, only to meet Wes Noble.  I couldn't help but picture them in my mind, little boys, impish grins on their sun-kissed faces, arms draped around each other's shoulders.  Or picture him with a baseball in his hand, cap slung low over his head, his three year old arms throwing the ball over and over and over to me.  I saw him as a little boy, mad because his brother and cousins wouldn't pass him the ball in the Thanksgiving day flag football game, and then remembered the trick play, where Billy hoisted him on his shoulders and carried him in for the touchdown.  Landry Dale plays with heart and is fiercely competitive, a dangerous combination in high school basketball.

So, if you're not a fan of high school basketball, reconsider.  You'll not get a bigger heart.  You'll not see any game more fun to watch.  And they need your support.  Regardless of whether your team colors are blue and white or purple and gold, we're all winners... because our kids are the best.  The saying "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game" generally doesn't sit well in this house... but tonight, I'm thinking it's spot on.  Thankful for high school basketball... and for the chance to live vicariously through you all.


  1. I spent 11 years watching high school basketball (for a small, private school I worked at) and volleyball :). My most exciting moments were when my daughter's team came in second in a big tournament against a school with 200 more students than our little school--and they played well, with heart and didn't get blown out of the water. That's what I loved about high school basketball--David taking on Goliath and doing it with class :).

  2. Lauren, I read the entire blog post but I confess, I am a non-spectator of sports - any kind. I enjoyed (and faithfully went) to every game my two sons played in but now? It's like pulling teeth!

  3. I'm not a fan of high school basketball (probably because I don't have a high school basketball player), but you just described how I feel about the kids in the high school marching band! (I do have a marching band member.)

  4. Athletes come in all types, don't they. You gotta love the those who participate out of pure heart, little talent and inspire us all.

  5. Not a fan, but if I played, you're the kind of mom/volunteer/spectator I would want in my corner!