There is no mistaking the abrupt, jarring sound of a basketball buzzer. Even as an adult, I find that the loud horn signaling the start of a game sets off an adrenaline rush in me identical to the excitement I felt before my first basketball game in sixth grade.
The first year I played was also the last year that girls had six players on the court: two guards, two forwards, and two lucky rovers who were permitted to run the full court the entire game. None of us wanted to be relegated to one side of the court, so being selected as a rover was always the goal. Our age group was delighted that the very next year, progress permitted five players to play the full court.
We wore Converse sneakers and knee-high socks that we stuffed with large pieces of Double Bubble gum, which we passionately chewed the entire game for good luck. Once our flat-soled sneakers hit the squeaky court, we talked to each other on the court without stopping (much to the annoyance of the other teams), but it kept us in sync, helping when we were below the talent pool of our opponents.
Our high school coach was a brilliant math teacher, and the playbook he gave out when practice started at the end of September was harder to learn than algebra or trigonometry. Consequently, when we played teams with better athletes, we sometimes won by confusing them with our complicated plays. What fun that was until we played a country team, complete with homegrown refs, who had no notion that our little team could win … and when we did, we needed a police escort to our school bus following the game.
By late high school, our coach decided to send the five starting players to basketball camp. Sports camps had not yet become a “thing,” but we readily accepted because who doesn’t like camp! I think we even packed bathing suits for swimming breaks. As I drove us to the hosting town, none of us considered it a red flag that we had never even heard of it; we chewed our Double Bubble while listening to the Eagles and Billy Joel as we bopped down the road.
After a few days, we no longer bopped anywhere with shin splints hindering our every movement. The tiny cinderblock rooms were nothing compared to being woken up at 4:30 a.m. for breakfast, with the first practice at 5:30 a.m. With barely a break for lunch and dinner, we finally left the courts around 10 p.m. each night. The refs never noticed when we were plowed down by the country girls during scrimmages, and we soon learned that our bubble gum brought us no luck, only bruises, and our fancy plays never stood a chance to even get started. Our little team was humbled for sure, and we learned a lot more than basketball over those six painful, sleep deprived days!
For those of you who played basketball or who have children who play basketball, you will thoroughly enjoy this issue’s article on Columbia’s own A’ja Wilson. I first met A’ja when she played at Heathwood on the same team as our youngest daughter, Helen. A’ja might be an Olympian gold medalist who makes all of us in South Carolina exceedingly proud, but she is also a lovely lady with a kind heart — a true role model for aspiring athletes.
Now that the weather is warmer, it might just be time to find an outdoor court and shoot some hoops!