My Days of Basketball Glory

It might surprise some of you to know that I once dabbled in basketball. Stop shaking your heads in disbelief, it happened. I may not be your average basketball player, being about half the height of most basketball players, and to be honest I didn’t actually play the sport, but I was a “manager” for the girls’ basketball team at Amsterdam High School. Junior Varsity, of course. It was in ninth grade, and by “manager” it meant bookkeeper and scorekeeper, though in the end I turned out to be more of a cheerleader and entertainment-provider than anything else.

I still remember when Kate and Missy approached me in the hall and asked if it was something I would consider doing. I didn’t know if it was their idea of a joke, nor did I know the first thing about basketball, but I accepted because I wanted to add to my extra-curriculum activities to get into a good college. Yes, I was fun like that. Still am.

I suppose part of it was that I was starting to feel lonely, and the reaching out of a friend or two meant a lot.

On the radio, Billy Joel sang, ‘We Didn’t Start the FIre’ and it seemed the perfect catch-phrase for a fourteen-year-old at any point in time, when blame was all we had and the beginning of adolescent angst settled in.

Back to basketball. I got to attend the games at home and, more excitingly, away, when we’d board a bus and I’d be the only guy in a pool of girls and feel perfectly safe and happy. Even back then, I was one of the girls, and I relished the role and trust implicit in my accepted presence there. Missy was the other manager for the Junior Varsity team, and she had done it all before. Thank God, because I had no clue what was going on.

There were a few times when she couldn’t make it to the game, and I was on my own. I could keep track of the fouls that each player had, but not much else. At one of the home games, someone foolishly left me in charge of the big scoreboard, and let me tell you, people get so bent out of shape if one little point is given to the wrong team. They will let you know as soon as it happens. Like, from all the way across the gymnasium. It’s palpable. Every single time. I never understood that – there are so many points flying left and right, what’s the big damn deal?

And that thirty-second clock? What a nightmare. Who has the sense and wherewithal to reset that thing over and over again? But people will pay attention to that too. Eventually (well, in short order) they took me off the scoreboard part of things, and I went back to keeping track of fouls with a pencil and paper. I’m always better old-school.

It obviously wasn’t the basketball part of the experience that appealed to me, nor, in the end, was it the addition of another extra-curricular activity that thrilled me, but the simple relaxed friendships I made with girls. Far less treacherous than my tricky dealings with boys, my friendships with girls were easy and fun. Girls may be awful to each other, but as a boy I had some bit of protection from that drama. I was also too small and well-dressed to be much of a threat or object of desire. They could confide in me (and too often did, something that I didn’t always honor, to my eternal shame) and I could count on them to appreciate my sense of style and humor.

For a young gay guy, there was safety with girls, something that was always in question in a locker room of guys. Being part of the girls’ basketball team saved me in ways I wouldn’t realize until later, forming a bedrock of security that would be missing from some of my own family sometimes. It was an acceptance that was unhesitating and sure, and when you’re fourteen and unsure about everything, that was of paramount importance. Those of us who have trouble as adults are usually missing that foundation. I was lucky to find it when I did – on the girls’ basketball team.

(Just don’t ask me to keep score.)

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