Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hoops Chapter Two

We are now three games into our intramural basketball season and us old guys are standing near the top of the heap. Last week we played two games in three days. Thank God we have had eight days to recover before tonight’s game.

Last week, we played the team that is favored to win the whole thing … and they might because there is a good chance most of us aren’t going to be able to perform at the top of our ability once the “playoffs” roll around. As for this night, however, we were victorious.

The game didn’t start until 10 p.m., well past the bedtime for most of us older fellows, and our young opponents had a definite game plan: They were going to run us and be physical. We, of course, were macho enough to try to keep up with them, regardless of our own personal wellbeing. Fortunately, we have two former collegiate All-Americans on our team.

Finally, in the second half as the teams were trading buckets, I yelled from my position on the sidelines that we should slow it down and put our big fella in the paint. We put the other All-American on the wing and let them play a two-man game. It worked. The rest of us played defense and rebounded while these two carried the offensive load.

But when it was all said and done, the other team failed to recognize our secret weapon: the theatre technical director. Trailing by a point with 11 seconds left, we brought the ball up the floor. Somehow the ball got loose and the technical director scooped it up and dropped in what we like to call a jump hook (although I’m using the term loosely) for the win. It was a huge victory for the ‘old guys.’

With the game over, we stood around looking at each other and comparing wounds: bruised knee, swollen knee, hyper-extended knee, bruised and bloodied ankle, and a complete inability to comfortably walk up the flight stairs in order to get out of the building. But other than that we were all good. The technical director was happy. His wife was at the game and he said he would probably get lucky after hitting the winning shot. Needless to say, he was the first one out of the gym. I just hope his knees aren’t too weak to play tonight.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hoops Chapter One

There we were, seven valiant warriors. The task laid out before us was daunting, but we faced it like men. Grown men. Unfortunately, that was the problem … we were grown men and standing in our way were kids. There must have been 20 of them …and they must have all been 6-foot-5, 230 pounds … big Germans … yeah, that’s it … the superior race, Arians … and they were snarling.

As we stood across the way, sizing up our opponents, realization came crashing down. This was it. It was time. Time for, intramural basketball.

Time is a funny thing. It is the ultimate life lesson in give-and-take. While time gives you experience, wisdom and hopefully a bigger bank account than you had when you were young, it takes from you your … well … youth. Gone are the days of competitive basketball when the coach would yell at the team to get the ball inside and you knew that meant it was coming to you. Gone are the days when you would annoy, hound and harass your opponent into making mistakes and capitalizing with easy scores. Gone are the days when shear energy and quickness could propel you past any opponent no matter their size or ability. Gone are the days when you could run circles around the other team and never get tired.

… Completely gone!

Yet, together, our small band forged on. We were shorthanded as four of our team members had other obligations. Yet we met our challenge. We proudly wore our badges as “The Over the Hill Gang.” Fortunately three of our teammates were still in their mid to late 20s and able to carry the load as far as superior conditioning is concerned. One member is right at 30 years old, a barrier that the rest of us had eclipsed by several years.

It was brutal. It was bloody. Three minutes in, some of us were screaming for oxygen. But we kept going. After all, what else could we do? We had signed up for this inhumane torture of our own free will. There was no turning back now.

It’s funny how I didn’t remember basketball being a physical game. I remembered the easy baskets. The 20-point, 10-rebound nights. I remembered lay-ups, jump shots, tipped balls and quick, decisive rebounds. I remembered picking and rolling and seeing nothing in your way when you were lucky enough to get the ball. I remembered posting up and going around bigger players or shooting over smaller ones.

But when those assets that once made you a fearsome competitor are gone, reality quickly settles in. It all came screaming back after taking that first solid shoulder in the paint … the bruises, the sore muscles, being shoved, hit and even picked up and slung around by a bigger player because it was the only chance he had at stopping you. I remember the three pair of sports goggled shattered and broken throughout the seasons and the blood streaming down your cheeks and soaking a jersey during a playoff game.

Yet as time ran out, we were still standing. I sat against the cold gymnasium wall resting an ice bag on my upper lip. The bleeding had finally stopped. As we took off our jersey smocks and changed our shoes, I looked at our small group. No, we did not win the game, losing by a narrow, 3-point margin, but what we won was of greater value. We proved that we could do it. We were still standing. We may be breathing hard, but we were still breathing.

Unlike our competitors, we will go home and take some pain medicine. We will flex our joints so they don’t get too stiff. We will try to get comfortable enough to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before getting up and going to work the next day. Our younger competitors don’t understand that just yet, but they will one day. And we, as grown men, will take our place in society. We will continue to work and uphold our responsibilities to our employers and our families. We will be cordial and professional to all those who walk through our office doors. We will hide our wounds and rest our sore muscles … and we’ll be back!

Oh yes! We'll be back!