One More Game by Sharon O’Donnell

My middle son played high school basketball and baseball throughout his entire four years. He could have played college baseball, but the anxiety that he struggled with in high school made him lose his drive and passion for baseball — not his skill — he still made all-tourney teams and played well.  In college, he no longer played a competitive sport, and all that practice time went into studying. He is now a senior and will graduate in December with a degree in accounting from North Carolina State University with a 3.5 GPA or higher.

But I’ve missed watching him play baseball and basketball. He had been a terrific player on the JV high school basketball team, sometimes scoring 20 plus points a game, and I loved to see the intensity with which he played the game. As a junior, he was basically a player who was inserted into the lineup when the team needed a three pointer, and he usually delivered – – but playing time was mostly for the seniors, which we understood. When he was a senior, he started out the first game (as pro player John Wall watched) with five of his teams first ten points — and then the coach took him out — and he didn’t get much playing time the rest of the game — despite the fact this coach had told my son that he would be one of the leaders of the team that season.  My son couldn’t figure out why, and he wondered about it all during the Thanksgiving holiday before his next practice or game. I could see he was beginning to doubt himself, and that the anxiety that had been held in check was beginning to rear its head again. Once back at practice, one of the coaches told him that they had needed to see how the other players played so that is why they took him out for most of the game.  What?  The year before it had all been about getting seniors a chance to play, and now that my son was a senior and had a start to a great game, they took him out?  It didn’t make sense, and it still bothered my son. Suffice it to say, that he lost confidence and when he was put in to play, he felt tremendous pressure to make every shot and make perfect passes, because if there was one tiny thing that he did wrong, the coach would take him out. And this coach had really liked my son the previous year and also my son’s  sophomore year when he sometimes played up on the Varsity as well as starred on the JV team (meaning he often went to TWO practices that year). This coach even had written him a letter of recommendation for his Eagle Scout rank.  This coach had known about my son’s anxiety, and yet when my son was losing confidence and struggling, it was like he didn’t care at all. He just piled it on — criticizing, etc.

Middle son making a lay-up in high school


One other senior — a good player — quit the team around Christmas of that year because he was not getting playing time either. My son almost did the same, but he decided to keep at it. He had several games where he would get 10 or 12 points — not bad but not great — and yet, he would still get pulled out of the game a lot when he was having a good game. It made no sense at all. The team was losing, and instead of letting my son drive to the basket, which he had been so successful at on his JV team, the coach had them pass the ball a lot around the perimeter — they were relying of just jump shots, and my son’s three point shot just wasn’t falling like it did in previous years. The coach would scowl at my son and ask why he wasn’t shooting the way he did before. Uhmm — did he not realize the detrimental affect his constant scowling and yelling at my son and taking him out of games even when he was playing well did to my son’s anxiety??? During one particular game with about three weeks left in the season, the team was down and there was not much offensive movement at all. My son decided to drive to the basket, to try to make something happen, and as he dribbled, he tripped on the foot of an opposing player. No foul was called, and the other team got the ball. The coach called a time-out and motioned for my son to come out of the game. As my son jogged off the court, the coach glared at him and pointed at the bench. He continued to point until my sat down on the bench. I had never seen him take anyone out of a game in that manner, never saw him steadily glare at a player and point at the bench while he watched scowling at my son as he came off the court. It was embarrassing. I thought back to the promise of my son’s sophomore year on the JV team with another coach and how he was looked at as more than just a three point shooter and how he was all over the court making plays.

My son looked in my up in the bleachers as he sat down, and he just shook his head. I knew that was it: that was the last basketball game of his high school games. I knew he was going to quit the team.  And he did. He had our full support because of the way he had been treated. It was like the coach had done a total 180 degree change from the previous year in the way he was treating our son.  After my son quit in a very dignified way where he approached the coach and told him calmly of his feelings, the coach never spoke to him again even though there were 4 more months of school in the same hallways. My son even went back to Senior Night three weeks later to support the four other senior players on the team. They introduced the senior players and their parents before the game, and the sons gave their moms a rose.  I had helped plan the event the previous year and had so looked forward to that moment with my son. But it didn’t happen. After all those years of playing and all those practices, he wouldn’t get to be out there with the other players. I didn’t want to go back for Senior Night because it would hurt to watch the festivities without my son taking part; but, my son was a bigger person than I was. He said he wanted to go back for his fellow senior players. I was incredibly proud of him  — but I hoped the anxiety wouldn’t be triggered there. While there, an assistant coach told my son that he should be out there on the court too. The head coach never said anything to him again.

My son played intramural basketball his four years of college and has really enjoyed playing for fun. Of course parents don’t really go to see those games. But last week, my son told me that his team was in the quarterfinals of the intramural league.  I asked if I could come watch. I wanted so badly to come and watch my boy play ball again. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t for the school itself; I wanted to see that intensity and passion that he’s always played with. He and my older son, though, both said that parents didn’t come to those games, and I didn’t want to embarrass him by doing so. Then after the game, he texted me that they had won – -and he added that I could come to the semifinals. “Why did you change your mind?” I asked. He told me that another mom had come to watch her son on his team, and it happened that this other player used to play on his travel baseball team when they were 13 or so and I had known his mom. She told David to make sure he asked me to come watch the next game. She, another mom, knew what it would mean to me.

So earlier this week, I sat with the other mom as watched our boys now grown into men, play basketball at least one more time.  We loved it. And they won. Finals are Monday night. Against the football team intramural basketball team. Big, rough guys. Sure I want our boys to win, but I don’t know if they will. But we get to see our boys play ball again.

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