Courtside musings

By Dan Dunkle | Nov 26, 2010

Not being a sports person, I was not sure at my son's basketball game when to holler or what to holler.

I'm just aware that people are expected to do some shouting.

A lady just down the bleachers from me was shouting to what was presumably her child, “Stay open! Stay open! Good try! Defense! Defense!”

I would take my cue from her. It's apparently good to repeat yourself.

My son, Wesley, signed up for peewee basketball this year and I recently found myself at his first game at the Rockland Rec Center. The bleachers were filled with parents and older or younger siblings.

Down on the floor far below were our little gladiators.

At home, Wesley seems huge because I always have in the back of my mind that little 4-pound premature peanut we brought home from the hospital nine years ago. Now he's solid and strong and when we wrestle around, I'm the one that ends up getting hurt and fussy.

Down on the basketball court, though, he's playing with fifth- and sixth-graders that are bigger than he is. We arrived to his first game a little later than I had hoped and they were already out of the smaller T-shirts (or do they automatically become jerseys when you're on the team?).

So poor Wesley got this massive T-shirt that he had to tuck into his shorts. The visual effect was to make his arms appear shorter than they are because the T-shirt sleeves are too long and floppy on him. He looked like a small T-Rex running around out there.

I realized as I sat in the stands that comparing his appearance to a T-Rex was probably exactly the kind of nerdy thinking that always got me last-picked in gym class.

However, I was not entirely unprepared for this event. To prime myself for the big basketball game, I had read several pages of the official rules for playing basketball. I had found a section on the sport in a tome called “The Bathroom Book” which I found in my bathroom.

Most of it seemed pretty familiar. I could picture the concept of a zone defense, having tagged along with the sports guys going up to Bangor for regional tournaments. I didn't know that they used to ban it in the majors, but I don't think that will really come up too much during a peewee game.

I at least had some idea what traveling and double-dribble were. Over the past week I have been addressing intelligent questions to members of the newspaper's sports department that prompted Sports Editor Ken Waltz to suggest “Basketball for Dummies.”

For Wesley's part, he seems to be pretty happy with his decision to play. When I ask him how practice went, he always says, “Awesome!”

He doesn't really elaborate on why, but I figure all that running around probably leaves him with a pretty good endorphin surge.

For my part, I like seeing him play because it's good exercise, it's good to be active and I believe sports teach kids about teamwork and a healthy sense of competition. Competition is something I understand in my own life from spending 12 years trying to get the news to my readers before any other reporter can sniff it out.

When he's grown and out of my house, the world will force Wesley to compete, so we have found a safe environment for him to test his wings.

His mother, who actually played some basketball herself as a child, has more practical advice for him. She gives him pointers on the drive home.

She's also the more observant parent, showing me the pictures of my friends and co-workers on the wall at the rec center taken when they were playing or coaching innumerable years ago when they were young and skinny, smiling and hopeful in their 80s mustaches and big glasses.

Twenty-five years later, the success of a peewee basketball team is still celebrated on a wall in a public building.

However, I still had that problem of what to yell and when.

The city recreation director had come out before the game and given a well-rehearsed speech about how we were all here to encourage the kids. He noted that everyone from the coaches to the refs were volunteers.

The implication was that I probably shouldn't stand up and scream, “You call that a foul you son of a so-and-so! I'm gonna rip your head off! Bad call, ref! Boo!”

Which was good to know.

My experiments with public displays of noise have been disastrous in the past. Most notable was when I hollered, “It's about time!” at the graduation of my close friend, who took more than five years to get through college.

I tend to be an extrovert and that gets me into trouble. My wife likes to tell people, “I'm not with him.”

So when Wes made a basket, I shouted, “All right, Wesley!”

Of course it was during the half-time practice warmup, but still, it was a basket.

“What are you doing?” Christine asked me.

“I have no idea,” I said.

The game turned out to be a squeaker with his team winning by just one point.

After the game, I asked Wesley if he'd heard me.

“Dad,” he said. “Everyone heard you.”

But he was smiling, and I was happy to take that as a win.

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