I maintain that had I gone to school up in just about any other part of the world, I would have been considered a normal kid.  Average.  Incredibly average.  As it was, I attended Catherine Academy, a tiny school next to the train tracks in Wilcox County, Alabama.  I?ve yet to meet another Salutatorian that didn?t graduate in the top 10% of his class.

There were many reasons why I didn?t identify with those around me.  My dad was a native Alabamian but my mom was from Idaho (they met during Chemistry class at Ricks College).  Instead of picking up my dad?s southern drawl, I spoke with my mom?s more Midland accent.  Except for the occasional “pie” (paai) or “nine” (naaan), most of what I said was fairly accent free.  This, coupled with my taste for overly complex grammar and unnecessarily long words, served to draw blank looks almost every time I opened my mouth.

My unfortunate obsession with khaki pants didn?t help matters either.

But what really sealed the deal for most people was the fact that I wasn?t on the football team.  With the exception of only a handful, all the boys at Catherine Academy from the seventh to the twelfth grade put on a football uniform at 1:00pm every school day from August until November.  I had never enjoyed football.  The only time I had really given it a shot was an exhibition pee-wee game when I was in the fifth grade.  A couple of juniors were put in charge of dividing us into teams and attempting to teach us plays.  Our pee-wee game was played during the half-time of one of the high-school?s games.  After five minutes of me standing on the field completely unsure of who to block, who to tackle, or even who was on my team I was informed that we had lost.  And then I cried.

I was a sensitive child.

Considering I had committed the unpardonable sin of not playing high school football, I sought to lessen my condemnation by playing basketball (the only other option being baseball ? which I saw as only slightly less deadly than football).  So, in the seventh grade, I put on high-top tennis shoes, a t-shirt, and shorts and walked onto the court for my first basketball practice.

I was terrible.

Not just terrible, I was a disaster.  But, then again, I was only in the seventh grade.  Then again, I was only in the eight grade.  9th? 10th?.  By the time I was a junior, I had accepted the fact that I was never going to be good – or even decent – at basketball.  But I continued to play anyway.  I enjoyed practice and prided myself on not holding back during scrimmages.  My cousin and I would compare our legs after games to see who had the most abrasions and bruises after fighting with the other team for possession of the ball.  Not that I played much in games, I was usually the person that was sent in during the third period to give one of our temperamental forwards time off because of foul trouble.  I was fine with it.  Even though I wasn?t very good, the other players (most of whom were football players that weren?t really into hunting and didn?t care about missing deer season) seemed to respect me for at least being there and the effort I gave.

My junior year the school hired a new basketball coach who I was pretty sure was Hitler raised from the dead.  After only a week of practice, most of the team wanted to quit?several did.  He was insulting, foul-mouthed, and was yell at us for any infraction ? real or perceived.  I began to wonder if it wasn?t time for me to quit basketball as well and I hated him for making me consider it.

But then we started winning games.

You see, I was terrible (just awful) but most of our team wasn?t very good either.  And for us, winning became like a drug.  We would spend most of the week in mental and physical withdrawals admitting we were powerless over basketball and only a higher power could restore us to sanity (some of us were on the verge of making a list of wrongs done to friends and family), but come Thursday night all of that would be forgotten as we looked at the scoreboard and realized we were ahead when the buzzer went off.  We weren?t used to it.  Hate him or hate him, our coach was making us win (it also helped that that year we had a 6-foot-7 350-pound center named Buford who would camp out under the goal and just nudge the ball in after we?d lob one pass after another to him).

Even so.  We were winning.

I didn?t get much attention from the fuehrer for which I was grateful.  The one aspect of my nonexistent game that he did berate me for was my free throw shots.  Like every other aspect of basketball, I wasn?t very good at free throws, but he pointed this out in such a passive aggressive?really not passive…mostly aggressive, way.  I started staying after practice and shooting one free throw after another.  For weeks I would do this and over time, I actually got?a little worse.  Not much, but yes, a little worse.

We eventually made it to the first round of the state championship.  We had managed to win all of the regional games necessary to take us there.  Things were going fine until our forward?s tempers got them fouled out in the third period.  After some quick shuffling of positions, I was put in at guard.  Those two fouled-out forwards were the only two on the team that had any real talent whatsoever.  Even after I went into the game, we weren?t winning, but we weren?t losing either.  We always managed to stay within a few points of the other team.  It was amazing. (The fact that Buford was still camped out under the goal didn?t hurt.)

The problem really started when the crowd started counting down from ten…nine…eight…seven…we were down by two…six…five…four…and I had the ball!…three…two…ONE!

I was behind the three-point line when I shot.  I didn?t even have time to think…which was too bad because I didn?t even hit the backboard.  Luckily, an overzealous guard on the opposing team fouled me, causing me to fall on my butt.  (I wasn?t going to show my cousin that bruise.)

Since we had ten fouls in our favor, I was placed on the free throw line with three shots.  Me.  The kid who was publicly mocked by his Nazi coach for having the worst free throw shot on the team?a team that included seventh graders.  The ridiculousness of the situation put me in a semi-delirious state.  I laughed maniacally as I looked up in the stands where my mom had her hand over her mouth in shock.  My sister-in-law had her hands over her eyes. The game hinged on my free throw shots and I was laughing like the Mad Hatter in nylon shorts.

I turned and saw the look of panic and confusion on Adolf?s face.  I could see his thoughts: Why him?  The referee nervously gave me the ball.  I snapped it back above my head and quickly released it.  It flew through the hoop so cleanly that the net barely moved.  The players on the bench were beside themselves.  They leapt and cheered.  My crazy laughter continued.  This is insane, I thought.  I cocked my arm back and let the ball fly again.  A perfect bank shot.  The crowd roared.  We were tied.  And I had one shot left.  I could win the game!  Like the others before, this shot was done quickly and without thinking.


We were in overtime.  I was exhausted by this point and just wanted the game to be over.  I didn?t even like playing in basketball games anyway.  I enjoyed practices but games were just the stress-filled nights that got in the way of me trying to pick up the WB on my sister?s 15? black and white TV.  Once again we weren?t winning, but we weren?t losing either.  And again, the crowd started to count down.  10?9?8?7…we were down by one…6?5?4?oh, come on!…3?2?1?shoot!  Brick.  Butt.  On the line.

We were down by one and I had two shots.

What if I was in a time warp or something?  Some sort of high-school “Groundhog Day” where I was condemned forever to take buzzer shots in a never ending cycle of overtimes and fouls?  I fired off the first shot.  Brick.  I shot again.  Swish.  Second overtime.  Of course it was.

This overtime was different.  Instead of staying a couple points behind we actually maintained a small lead.  We were even ahead by a few points when the crowd started to count down again.  10?9?8?7…just in case, I?m going to pass?6…5?4?3?2?1.

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  1. Elizabeth

    Wow. Seriously, book. I was pretty much riveted. What a great story!

    Posted September 2, 2008 at 11:27 pm | Permalink
  2. Beth

    When I read this it gave me chills thinking about that game. I remembered it being exciting and nerve racking but its funny how you forget the little details. I remember you shooting free throws but I didn’t remember that it was in the last few seconds each time. But if I were you I would have remembered that. Oh! and I will have to agree he was Hitler. I’m just glad he coached the boys and not the girls. Even though ya’ll were winning with him as a coach I don’t think it would have mattered what coach we had we would have still lost :)
    Love you Clint

    Posted September 19, 2008 at 8:40 am | Permalink