“Y’all ready for this?” asks the sound system on Friday night, the classic 90s warm-up playing just underneath the percussive arrhythmia of bouncing rubber balls and squealing rubber shoes, all three sounds telling us one thing: the Game is about to start. When the pre-game clock runs down to zero, most of the students in the building line up on either side of the gym doors, forming a tunnel of hands, arms and faces to usher their basketball team onto the court. The players run through, the grins of their classmates mirrored on their elated faces. It’s a great moment, a shining one.
It’s the first regular-season home basketball game at Black Forest Academy, and the excitement here is palpable. I see all day it in the pressed shirts, tied ties and unpredictable nerves of the players, and hear now it in the crowd, where staff and parents from all over the area greet one another with stories of busy weeks and long journeys. Basketball games at BFA are more than sporting events; like the musical in the fall, everyone goes to basketball games, filling our small gym to bursting with the tense attention of a relaxed community.
By the Boys’ Varsity tip-off, I’ve already been watching basketball for three hours. I’m sleepy, at the end of a full first week back at school, but there’s truly nowhere I’d rather be. Standing at the railing, I watch a crowd of kids in the corner of the gym floor, gathered together in an informal fan section and making up cheers on the spot. I love to see familiar school rituals re-imagined by our students, who take what they find meaningful and leave the rest. We have a school mascot, the Falcon, but the large, costumed bird seldom appears at events. “Too American,” the kids shrug. As far as I know, we’ve never had cheerleaders at BFA–perhaps they’re also too American–but cheering is mandatory for BFA students.
“Come on! Rebound!” I catch myself admonishing from the balcony a quarter into the game, watching the boys take multiple shots, one after the other. They’re good, these players, a strong and deep collection of athletes. I watch the passing, the changeovers, even the referee’s calls with a complete comprehension that surprises me.
I have a complicated relationship with basketball. Most sports I divide into the ones that I like to do–like rock climbing and volleyball–and the ones that I don’t like at all, either watching or doing, like football and Nascar. There are almost no sports that I enjoy watching for their own sake (though I relish the atmosphere of an occasional baseball and soccer game in Seattle).
But basketball is in its own category, saturated in memory, linked to love. I remember watching the games that my dad officiated for extra cash, my little-girl eyes following players up and down the court. From every corner of the house, we could always hear Dad’s heated shouting at the players and coaches, running the game unhearing on the other side of the screen. At the end of the Final Four, that endless month when we couldn’t watch anything else but basketball on TV, I would come up to watch the musical collage of the tournament, played to “One Shining Moment” every single year. Basketball is a fine but strong thread running through my whole childhood, something I never quite understood, but became familiar with, all the same.
As a teacher, my feelings toward this game have changed again. I watched plenty of basketball games at Ingraham, always marveling to see my students–many of them young men teetering on the edges of various disasters–come alive in their passion. Even then, I remember thinking this was something different, watching people I loved do something they loved, that perhaps the television professionals never caught my attention because, in the end, they are strangers. Their success doesn’t have a hold on me.
My basketball-loving father just recently preached on the relationship of sports and worship, the symbolic significance of people coming together in support of something greater than themselves. While I feel this unity only faintly in professional sports, here in the BFA gym I understand completely. We are joined by affection, committed to this community and this newest expression of it. No matter their level of basketball interest, the students watch and cheer, happy to stand in solidarity with victory or defeat. It’s beautiful to see, and I’m thankful for the childhood thread, the knowledge that connects this place I love, the community of my immediate future, to my excellent dad and memories of home.