Women and Girls First

She's amazing, but in this post she's the "other Simone".

She’s amazing, but in this post she’s the “other Simone”.

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It had been All About the Women up ‘til Sunday night.

And that’s mostly fine by me, lover of women that I am and aspire to be.

What about the guys?

Yessir, I think about that all the time, and not just when it comes to the Olympics and Canada’s medal count. For only one of hundreds of examples: Boys Adrift is a good book, and its subtitle (“The Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men” is part of it), though long, crystallized my worry and confirmed my observations. There are others like it, and plenty of other worry-warts besides me. However, this space has been crowded with masculine worries and wonderings and Superhero Action Calls to Young Men, fragile shouts that are no doubt still echoing down the cold, dark emptiness of deep space.

I hope Mr. Phelps can leave swimming and spotlights this time, but I will worry about his transition. This post is not about him, either.

I hope Mr. Phelps can leave swimming and spotlights this time, but I will worry about his transition. This post is not about him, either.

Yes, the Rio Olympics. That’s where we’re headed.

I am no longer as avid about matters Olympian as I had been for most of my life, but I still pay attention. I still get jolts of home-boy joy when a Canadian is two one hundredths of a second faster than a guy from another country and therefore wins the title of World’s Third-Fastest Human. (Yay, Andre!) There’s an even purer, less patriotic delight in watching Usain Bolt surge into that long-limbed, powerfully fluid overdrive for SprintGoldSeven, or that incredibly smooth stride of the South African Wayde van Niekerk as he ran away from TWO Olympic 400-metre champions. That was astounding, and world records usually are. (And since van Niekerk is slender, and maybe since he’s coached by a white-haired, Afrikaans-speaking white granny, there’s not even a whisper of a suggestion of a muted accusation of him being a drug cheat. Hoping his cleanliness is as real as his jaw-dropping talent and training.)

But I’m a Canuck. The other moment of televisual awe, for me, came in the second half of the women’s 100-metre freestyle swim.

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Coaching, Hoops, and Young Men: A Tale of Two Teams

If you’re going to be the best, you have to play the best.

Yeah, coaches like to say that. Yup, I’ve used it myself, trying to convince basketball players in several Ontario high schools that getting hammered builds character, that a 40-point loss is an exercise in improvement. (And, on the other side of the scoring table, that 40-point wins mean nothing, most of the time.) “With fire we test the gold…”¹ is a thing I believe, but after last night’s drubbing, I have to wonder if there’s enough gold in them thar hills. I’m a heckuva good digger, but I don’t always stick my spade in the most promising ground. It’s deja vu all over again. (Thanks, Yogi.)

¹ From The Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah. (And how ’bout them references? A Persian Prophet in one line, a great ballplayer and language-mangler in the next!)

Linus doesn't play for Lisgar, but I might have to give him a long look...

Linus couldn’t make my OYBA team, but he’d get a long look at Lisgar…

It’s a tale of two teams, both of them mine. My young friend and assistant coach Seb and I picked a group of ninth-graders from 10 high schools across my Canadian city in August, the Under-15 squad representing the Ottawa Youth Basketball Academy (OYBA). Its teams are known as (and strive to be) the Ottawa Elite. It’s a name I don’t love, with all its potential suggestions of class privilege and superiority, but I repeatedly tell those lads that “elite” is more of a high-expectation mindset than a description of what we are. The young men are learning to work hard, and though I clearly chose several players based as much on potential as on present skill — “up-side” being the jock label of the moment — they’re also pretty good.

They will have to be: these boys will be playing the best. Our main competitions will take place in Toronto, where some of the world’s finest youth basketball development is taking place. (You may have heard of Andrew Wiggins. Tristan Thompson. Cory Joseph. The list of NBA players from the GTA gets longer.) Once high school season is over in February, my attention will turn more completely to these ambitious young dudes; in the fall, we trained twice or three times per week and got a few exhibitions played, but with many of them playing demanding school schedules, now we work out once a week. I push them hard, and many of them are looking for nothing other than that. That makes coaching fun.

My other team is a junior varsity squad at one of Ottawa’s outstanding academic schools. (Spoiler alert: it’s a whole different ballgame…)

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Reason to Remember: A Short Story

Memory was a funny thing. David Jenkins could still name the starters on UCLA’s 1973 championship basketball team, and he could recite Marcy’s girlhood phone number, twenty-five years, four Bruins coaches, and two wedding days later. Yet it seemed to him that his days were dedicated to forgetfulness. So many gaps. There were entire years of his schooling with only the barest souvenir shreds attached to them. The childhoods of his own three kids had become one big soup, with only the occasional bit of meaty remembrance.

“Well, I do remember that Johnny loved to dance. Every time I played ‘Blind’, he went crazy, just boogeying around in his diaper. You know, that was the last vinyl album I ever bought, I think. That was the Talking Heads, right? And projectile poop, I told you about that, didn’t I? That was definitely Jordan, straight off the change table, splat against the wall! Who was trying to change him? Mary, maybe? How’s that for ‘good morning, auntie’! No picture of that one. Hey. I used to have a great picture of Joey, what happened to that? He’s maybe 18 months, standing beside a stop sign. Or a fire hydrant. Anyway, believe it or not, Joey was chubby when he was a little sprout! I think he was the one that fell off the back stoop, or was that…?” It was always Marcy Gingrich, though, at the center of his memories, the one who could always redraw the lines that had faded. He had met her when he was fourteen, and most things before that were hazy in his mind.

Elwood Henry had found a way – one of the usual ones – to deal with a name that can get a boy a bloody nose at recess. He had become the fun boy, the goofball, the lucky charmer, “crazy Henry”. On David’s high school football team, Elwood was a treasured cutup and the object of many gags, practical or just bloody foolish. The Blues were a pitiable team, with a history of doing more damage to each other than to any opponent. One practice, while the team’s only coach was still grabbing an after-school coffee, the captains tried to get things started. So did Potter, who really was crazy when he put on a helmet. He grabbed Elwood around the thigh pads from behind, turned him upside-down, and used him to demonstrate King Kong Bundy’s pro wrestling pile-driver move. A few guys cheered. This was better than stretching! No one was too surprised when Elwood started staggering around the calisthenics lines, eyes wide, arms pointing vaguely. This was Crazy Henry.

“What am I doing?  Where am I?” As a sophomore, David had nothing to say, but the veteran players were enjoying the show.

“Hey, not bad, Henry!”

“Better go down to guidance. Rabbit’ll tell you what to do!”

“Listen, how many times did Elwood watch Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, anyhow?”

“Nah, he’s just in a daze. He slept all the way through The Perv’s class.”

“Alright, shut-up, you guys. You wanna get stretching, dickhead? Coach is still pissed about your fumble Friday – hey, dipstick, you listening? Hey! Woody?”

David only knew Elwood from the team, and the occasional hallway elbow, but he knew something about this was weird. He was carrying the joke too far. He had even taken off his helmet, and he looked scared. Jason was stunned to see that Crazy Henry was crying.

“I don’t know who I am!” he wailed.

Nobody knew much about concussions back then, but the Blues were learning. The halls were still buzzing with wide-eyed details – I’m not shittin’ you, he didn’t even know his own name! – when David Jenkins added to the fogbound memories of that vague and losing season.

The Blues practiced Monday through Thursday, though on Fridays it often looked like they’d been press-ganged out of class just that afternoon. A few days after what was by then called The Henry Shuffle, David lined up at his usual slotback position. He knew his assignment on Power Pitch 37, and everyone else’s, too. He imagined himself bursting from his stance, getting a good angle on the outside linebacker, and sealing him to the inside as the running back went wide. Ecker wasn’t quick, but he outweighed David by at least 75 pounds. He knew there was no choice but to cut-block him, since he’d get buried if he tried to hit Ecker up high. On the snap, David sprinted to get wide of the pursuing linebacker, who was quicker than he looked. He threw his body across his path, and the last image he saw before blankness was Ecker’s left knee.

David remembered nothing else until he noticed that he was sitting in Doctor Linden’s office across town, and he never did recall how he’d gotten there. Marcy filled in most of the blanks later. She had stayed after school that day for cheerleading practice, and Guck, the football manager and “go-fer” extraordinaire, knew where to find her.

“Marcy, you gotta come ‘cause Dave got conked out and he can’t find his locker and he doesn’t know which clothes are his, come on!”

Despite the oddity and the overpowering odor of entering the jam-packed jumble of the boys’ tiny change room, Marcy had no trouble in picking out David’s usual jeans, green hockey sweater, and his white Chuck Taylor All-Stars with the wide blue laces. She then took him to his locker, and held up the lock, its dial marked from 0-60.

“Can you remember your combination, sweetie?”

“Yeah!  129, 63, 108.” (Hearing the tale recounted months later, for the fiftieth time, David suddenly laughed, realizing he must have given the combination for his father’s office safe.) With repeated reminders of what he needed to do, and with three red-faced entries into the boys’ washroom near the science labs, Marcy did manage to get David clothed and then driven to the doctor’s. She phoned the Jenkins’s to explain what had happened.

“Oh, my.  It’s an ill wind. We just found out that Wayne’s father has died. Heart attack,” David’s mother said. Wayne had married David’s oldest sister, Mary, five years before, and David idolized him – his stunning speed as a country fastball pitcher, the facts he spewed on the most arcane and undebatable subjects, and one unique bit of living room gymnastics. He would make an inverted arch by linking his fingers below his waist, then hop over his joined hands, frontwards and back.

“Oh, Dave,” Marcy said when she came back to the waiting room. “I’ve just talked to your mom. Wayne’s father died today!”  She held David’s hand, and watched him. His reaction was muted and very slow, but he seemed to understand. He looked at the carpet, shaking his head slowly. His voice was hollow and strained.

“Oh, no. That’s terrible.” He sat, unmoving, for several minutes. Marcy let him grieve quietly, a little surprised that David wanted no more details and had nothing else to say.

“Your mom says the funeral’s Friday.”

“What funeral? Who died?”

“Mr. Richardson! Wayne’s dad!”

“He died?  Oh, no. That’s terrible.” He looked down, and shook his head slowly.

In the hospital that night, Marcy made a little laughter grow through the solemnity, telling David’s visitors how she had broken the news repeatedly, getting a fresh flood of slow-moving grief each time. He could remember the last time she had told him, sitting in those hard chairs in a white room, waiting for the family doctor. It was the first memory that had stuck in his head since his closeup view of the grass-stained knees of Ecker’s football pants.


Years passed. By the end of high school, the Blues had better helmets and some wins, and Marcy and David had already envisioned their riverside wedding. Though they enrolled in different universities, there was no doubt they’d soon be together again. “Darcy and Mave”, their friends sometimes called them. Delighted at their merging, they sometimes called themselves that. Their respective dormitory staffs marveled at the volume of their loving mail. They were married at 21 in Marcy’s back yard, and threw flowers in the water. They were the golden couple, almost always the first among their various associates and friends to have married.

By age 25, there was Joseph and new-born careers. By 27, there was Jordan, a first house, and weekend trips to see Daddy play in various outposts of fast-pitch softball. By 32, there was Jonathan staggering about the backyard Olympics of his two big brothers. And by 34, David and Marcy had loved each other for more than half their lives, but were somehow forgetting how to do it. Too many questions were asked, and too much darkness was falling. There was impotent hope, and pleas for the impossible, bruised walls and broken words. As he traced the plotlines in his mind, David could see the shadows of separation, but no matter how many times he reread the story, he was always surprised at the end, and after all the slowly marching pain, how abrupt it seemed. He kept looking for a rose-colored epilogue.

He was living by then next to Mary and Wayne, in the small apartment they’d built for the last years of his mother’s life after Wayne’s father had died. Having given up playing ball years before to keep summers more clear for Marcy and the lads – she’d never been much for sports – David didn’t hesitate to resume playing when the Port Hope club gave him a call. He brooded dully on the irony that, though he wanted to live and play with hope, there wasn’t any left for him and Marcy. The Sailors weren’t the young, athletic powerhouse they had been before, either, though David was more player than he’d been in his twenties. The manager, Jerry Edwards, remembered too well.

“You know, Dave, you wore mediums when you played before,” he said, handing Jason a pair of large uniform pants. Still, he was able to shed the rust from his throwing arm, his batting stroke was still there, and though he needed a lot more stretching in between innings, he was still pretty quick going from first to third. David, at 35, was glad to have teammates, as well as a ball and some lukewarm dreams to chase. Joey and Jordan, even little Johnny, enjoyed seeing Daddy play, and loved even more roaring about among the trees and picnic tables beyond the rightfield fence.

David remembered where the weakest kid always got placed in tyke baseball, so it was a pin to his pride to have to play right field. It did make it easy to daydream and watch the boys on his custody weekends, and he’d had worse stings. Besides, the kid who’d been the batboy during his first tour of ball-playing duty was the new shortstop, and David had to admit that Skinny was pretty good. Pony was a fast little fixture in centerfield, David’s other favorite position, but he didn’t take charge of the outfield the way David thought he should. He would have reason to remember that thought, not far into his first season back in the blue and gold.

It was a warm Friday in June, and a few bugs lazily circled the floodlights. David was having a good night, and was starting to feel like a ballplayer again, not just “Dad” to his younger teammates. In the fifth inning, he got a good jump on a short fly ball, right off the bat.  As he raced in from right, his eyes bounced from the falling ball to Eddie, the second baseman, who was running into the outfield. When he knew Eddie wouldn’t get there, David yelled, “I got it got it got it!” The last thing he remembered this time was that he was going to have to dive to make that catch.

They probably shouldn’t have moved him after a blow to the head like that. He was unconscious for a couple of minutes, and the blood bubbled and spurted from his nose and mouth. After he seemed to know roughly where he was and what was happening, his mates helped him to his feet and, arms draped across the broadest shoulders, David began a deeply drunken march to the dugout. The ambulance was already driving in to the park by the time he crossed the first baseline, and David wanted to know one thing.

“Somebody hurt? Whosa ambulance for?”

The guys had some laughs telling that story, and David filled in the gaps. It had likely been Pony’s left knee – another one, smaller than Ecker’s but moving much faster – as he galloped wordlessly in from centerfield and made the catch, that had broken David’s nose and scrambled his brain. His first dim awareness, the next memory that remained after I got it!, was at least half an hour after leaving the suburban ballpark. He realized, wonderingly, as the back doors opened at the entrance to the hospital emergency room, that he was in an ambulance.

He was wearing his ball uniform. There was lots of blood across the Sailors logo. Memory of where he had been, and how he might have been hurt came only slowly, and David never did recall anything after the doomed race for that short pop fly. The next thing he knew was that Mary was by his hospital bedside. It seemed odd, somehow, that his sister was there, but he was glad to see her. She gently explained what she knew of the accident, its results, and how she’d been notified. Something bothered David, though. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He was vaguely but increasingly anxious throughout their conversation, before a question bloomed in his mind like an instantaneous tumor.

“Where’s Marcy?”

He hadn’t even finished the third syllable before he groaned like a huge and badly wounded beast. He had flashed, in a thundering moment, from his disquiet to the cascading replay of the previous two years of marital drama and separation. Instantly. David hadn’t cried in front of his sister since he’d been five, but sobs shook him like a Doberman does a rag doll. Later, she told him that this blitzkrieg of sudden awareness had played itself out half a dozen times since she’d arrived at his bedside.

“I’m sorry, Mary,” he moaned as she hugged him. “I just remembered.”

Too Bad About Your Gift, Bro (Sis)

Better luck next life…

An acclaimed young architect, with signature projects having been built, with his mind blooming with visions of constructions yet to be, finds that he is less and less able to draw. After years of intense training and the honing of a unique skill, a brain surgeon notices, not long after her 30th birthday, that she’s sometimes a bit clumsy with her scalpel. An ethical young lion of business finds herself hesitant, unable to make up her mind, while the dynamic teacher faces his class and finds, in the second decade of his dream career, that he doesn’t really know what to say to the kids anymore.

These are local tragedies, but what’s up? How does this happen? There must have been an existential earthquake. Cancer, a brain aneurysm, Lou Gehrig’s disease, something dreadful has suddenly snatched away or disabled someone’s essential gift. What a pity! It’s unjust, dispiriting. It just shouldn’t happen like that. If we are wealthy, we fear losing our money and possessions. When we love, we worry about the loss of the beloved one. And if we have a great gift, and we know it, our greatest fear is having that gift abandon us. (Of course, there are those who neglect or abuse their gift: the sellout songwriter without a thing to say after a string of popular hits, the monster athlete who loves bars and strip joints and can’t find the gym. This is not about that.) The imaginary designer, the doctor, the tycoon and the educator above, through no fault of their own, have had their way to shine snuffed out far too soon. We all agree that this would be awful for them, to say nothing of the loss to society.

But then, why dwell on a hypothetical sudden loss for imaginary professionals? Such things happen, of course, and hey, it sucks, but it’s just one of those weird things, we would probably say, just a lonely little box of bad luck. Most of their peers, and most of ours, work for as long as they want, potentially well past standard retirement ages. But listen: imagine if this happened to everybody in a given profession. It’s not difficult, actually. It happens to every professional athlete.

Given the absurdly high salaries that the top jocks pull down, it’s not fashionable to spare much pity in their direction, but it’s hard for them, all the same. Money can’t buy happiness, and fame doesn’t take away the pain (“it just pays the bills”, as Fred Eaglesmith sings). I think about this a lot.

About Boston.

I woke to a small explosion this morning, a mother-son dispute about laptop use. We worry about how compelling is our young teen’s attachment to headphones, computers and his PDA. Our little sense of post-dawn peace was – well, I can’t say shattered, just can’t, because my own little electronic window just told me about Boston.

Victory and crisis, crisis and victory.

When you love sport as I do, there is something especially horrible when evil visits the home court of dreams and persistence and the desire to surpass oneself, one of the places we go to believe in human goodness and greatness. This year’s Boston Marathon, 26.2 miles of tradition, where Tom Longboat brought honour to his Grand River people and thousands have found deeply personal victory, was dedicated to the 26 who died at the Sandy Hook elementary school. Now there is disbelief and pain where there should be only exhaustion, exhilaration and the giving of one’s all.

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Why Do Men Love Sports So Much?

Bill Simmons is one of the best sportswriters I’ve read. His prose pops with ideas, digressions and extrapolations. He churns out words at a high volume (especially in his book on the NBA, but also in his columns for Grantland, which can run to 10,000 words), but still manages to be graceful.

I’m a relative newbie in reading The Sports Guy. I’ve enjoyed reading pieces, by Simmons and the Grantland website’s “usual gang of idiots” (that’s a MAD Magazine reference, for you young’uns), that treat sports as something worth thinking about. (And mocking. And questioning. And loving, all the same.) From the start of this online discussion of sport and pop culture, indeed for his whole career, Simmons has been willing – eager – to rip off the mask of “objectivity” that supposedly marks the true “sports journalist”, and write as an unabashed fan. It’s no shock when a Grantland writer drop a fairly high-cult literary reference into a piece on doomed basketball franchises or tragic-comic ballplayers, but Simmons’s niche is emotion, plumbing the beer-sodden basements of “the agony of defeat”, and the dizzy champagne heights of joy and optimism, when the Good Guys win and whichever Evil Empire threatens them has been justly humiliated.

Simmons thrives on an unapologetic rooting for the laundry of all things New England and an amusing hatred for everything New York teams do and stand for. (See also: Lakers, Los Angeles.)

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Sports Writing Worth Reading

Well, YES, he said immodestly, but I’m not talking about my own stuff here. Give me credit for some level of humility! (But it’s true,  there is a lot of good jock journalism in the box to your right.) I mean Dave Zirin, an American writer I read fairly regularly. He writes on the “Edge of Sports”, and insists on making the connection between athletics (especially the professional variety) and real life, unlikely as that may seem. He keeps hollering that social justice and the Great Big Sandbox are related to each other, that they MUST be.

Zirin is worth reading, even if you don’t normally open the sports section. For example, the article I got through subscribing to his service sent me an article that addresses the history of racial injustice in American sport, and suggests one small symbolic way to address it. (His web site is here. I’ll post an excerpt from the article in It’s All About Sports! right here.) If you are a sports fan, I defy you to answer the three trivia questions that he asks; I couldn’t. There were more barriers to be leaped over – still are – than the one with Jackie Robinson’s signature on it. I commend this to your interest, as Dave Zirin would say, in struggle and sport.

J-MAC and the Miracle: Everything Sport Should Be

The story of Jason McElwain is going to be a legendary one in American sport. (Legends don’t take as long to build as they used to, nor do they have the same staying power as they once did. So call it a fast-food legend if you must, but don’t miss the story.) The video of the CBS News piece is making the Internet rounds, cheek by jowl with a million profoundly unworthy things. But the “Miracle at Greece Athena High” (miracles may not be what they used to be, either) will receive and deserve a gazillion downloads, because so much of the best of sport is there. So much of the best in life is there.

It happened in February. An upstate New York high school was playing its final home basketball game of the season, a traditional night to honour the graduating players. This is school sport taken seriously and done well. As someone who coached high school hoops for nearly 20 years, the signs are clear in the video, which incorporates large chunks of locally shot game film. It’s a gorgeous gymnasium, full of many hundreds of enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans. Shots of practice make it clear that this is a well-organized, sweat-soaked, excellence-in-education approach to sport. And in the middle of that practice is a slender blonde boy, the team’s manager but obviously much more. His name is Jason.

If you don’t yet know Jason’s story, and especially if you do, here is the condensed version. Autistic boy loves basketball. Coach makes him varsity manager – water, rebounding for practice drills – but doesn’t count on fierce enthusiasm and dedication. Gives Jason a uniform for final home game, hopes to get him in for a minute or two. Gets him nearly four minutes, his team being comfortably ahead. Teammates pass to Jason. He misses badly. And again. And then he hits one, a long three-point heave, and the home team and its fans are wild with excitement. Jason scored! And then he hits FIVE MORE THREES, finishing with 20 points and a perch on the shoulders of a surging hometown crowd that has rushed the floor. Within days, it is a national event, a hopeful, deeply human story and an American dream come true.

And, like every media-celebrated good thing, there are some worrisome elements. Jason McElwain not only had his shining moment on the hometown stage after working in the wings, but now he’s a national, even an international flavour of the week. Apparently a movie deal is in the works. (Shudder.) Beyond the genuine joy that so many feel in his startling accomplishment, there is a real smell of kitsch and opportunism, not only in the media’s ravenous (and brief) glare but also in the indirect aren’t we altogether wonderful? glow of public self-congratulation. There were, no doubt, students among the cheering throng who had previously shunned or harassed this odd boy in school hallways. Too, there is a tendency to dredge up the old “anything is possible in America” mantra and ignore how difficult it is for special-needs kids and their families. It’s worth remembering that this nearly incredible incident does not change how difficult it is for the mentally ill, for the excluded of all kinds, for the poor in a country where it is notoriously painful for those who “don’t make the team” in one respect or another.

That’s enough of the dark side. (But don’t forget it’s there.) I didn’t think about any of those things when I first saw the video, or the fourth time. I got tight in the throat. I watered my cheeks. Understand: I am a True Believer in the beauty and beneficence of sport, and I don’t expect to ever mature enough that I would fail to be moved by athletics at its purest and best. What’s more, I’ve spent thousands of hours on high school courts (almost) like that one. I live there still. So when I saw Jason lighting up his home gym, I enjoyed the Underdog Makes Good theme, like most other people, but there was much more.

That evening encapsulated everything I always wanted high school basketball to be. There was the coach, Jim Johnson, obviously a skilled and dedicated one but also somebody who saw in his sport an unusual chance to do some good for the kind of boy that would never make one of his teams. I don’t know how long Jason has been Johnson’s manager, but his ability to deliver the pre-practice pep talk suggests that he’s been observing Coach Johnson carefully. For an autistic kid to have a coach’s trust and the players’ ears speaks to a long relationship. However many times Jason had been picked on in school, my guess is that this had come to an end once he was adopted by Johnson and the school’s alpha-male athletes. And let’s not forget what else the “miracle”, as told in four minutes, underplays: the old jock adage that “the harder I work, the luckier I get!” Jason had to have used his time in the gym to shoot thousands of shots, whenever his duties allowed him the chance.

There was also a school community that was well aware of Jason’s contributions, and loved him for them before he ever hit the floor that night. In the video, when Coach Johnson signals for his erstwhile manager to enter the game, the crowd is already roaring and his teammates are clapping as he heads for the scorer’s table. The starting players, on the bench by now, rise as one for Jason’s first (missed) shot, and they leap for genuine joy when he hits that first one. Each successive bomb finds these talented young men jumping and cheering deliriously for their “little buddy”, their good-luck charm, their teammate. The Trojan fans’ united ecstasy over “J-MAC” and his miracle run had been preceded by his having earned their respect and admiration; some had come to the game with Jason’s face on a mini-poster, sort of a personalized table tennis paddle. Finally, few have remarked on the opponent on that magic night. I was sure on first seeing the video, and had it confirmed in a later interview given by Mr. Johnson, that he had spoken to the other coach about the possibility of Jason playing. Jason’s big night could not have happened the way it did without the respectful stance of the opponents – not that they “let” him score (6 for 7 from three-point land is hard for a good player shooting in an empty gym), but that they honoured his opportunity to play. That’s great coaching on both sides of the centre stripe.

Who knows what awaited Greece-Athena High School in its playoff run? You’d have to be living there to care much. But for me, the pinnacle of sport had already been reached in the joyful friendship, the respectful regard, and the widespread spirit of hopefulness and wonder that are still rippling outward from one local high school.