Basketball

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Photo by Steven K. Smith © 2017

In 1972 I went to school at Lakewood High, near Hebron, Ohio. I was in the tenth grade. It was a mostly rural, tight-knit community, and our family had moved there only a few years previously. I was still an “outsider.” This was not helped by the fact that I was overweight, didn’t particularly like sports, either playing them or watching them, and tended to read a lot of science fiction. Even worse, I played chess at lunch periods and home-room with a couple of the other semi-pariahs.

Gym class was the bane of my existence at that time. If I could manufacture an excuse to get out of it, I did. I hated Phys. Ed. to the extent that the previous year, when I’d broken a bone in my foot in an accident playing basketball, I was sorry to get the cast off because that meant I’d have to attend gym class again.

Phys. Ed. was usually some semi-organized sport of some kind: football in the fall, basketball or volley ball in the winter and spring, for example. I did try to participate, I just wasn’t that good at it, and wasn’t terribly motivated to improve.

It’s something of a contradiction, then, that one of my most pleasurable memories of that year at Lakewood High involved a brief, offhand exchange that occurred in gym class during a basketball game.

My assignment for the game was to guard another player on the opposing team, and try to keep him from getting the ball, or scoring with it if he did. This was called, “sticking your man.” Which, I suppose, was a shortening of the phrase, “sticking to (or with) your man.” If I got the ball I was supposed to pass it as soon as possible to one of the more capable players.

The one who was the designated “captain” of our team would call time outs to discuss game strategy every once in a while. I don’t remember his name, but I don’t recall that he was one of the boys on the school’s basketball team. A lower-echelon player, if so. I usually wasn’t addressed in these discussions. One time, however, right at the end of one of these conferences, the captain turned to me and said, “You’re doing a good job of sticking your man.”

I said, “Thanks.”

It’s certainly not my only memory of Lakewood High, but it is one of the clearest, after about forty-five years.

The following summer we moved and I went to Newark (Ohio) High for the remainder of my high school career. I had fulfilled my requirement for P.E. by then, much to my relief, and Newark High had an actual chess team that played tournaments with other schools.

Perhaps ironically, at that point I got interested in exercise in a big way, in the form of bicycling. I never became a bicycle racer, but I did do many club rides and a number of long bicycle tours, and joined the League of American Wheelmen. (Now the League of American Bicyclists.) I lost the excess weight and generally spent more time outside in physical activity. What high school Phys. Ed. couldn’t accomplish, I did myself, in my own way. While I never did gain much interest in basketball, that forgotten P.E. class basketball team captain did show me that it’s possible to feel good about doing something purely physical.

Thank you.

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