In High School Basketball Friendship Wins, Cancer Loses

I spent the first half of my life fighting to be allowed on the court and the second half learning to graciously cheer for others when I could no longer play the game I loved.

ISG teamEven though I can’t drive the baseline anymore, I get a kick out of seeing the players I coach at the International School of Geneva make a perfect pass, hit a jumper, and run a fast break.

Teamwork is a beautiful thing. I love watching well-balanced WNBA teams like the Minnesota Lynx run the floor or the precise passing of the UWSP college women. None of that coast-to-coast garbage.

But high school basketball is best. Players put their heart and soul on the line every week in front of the family, friends and community that shaped them. They play, not for money, or prestige, but for the camaraderie and love of the game. Most of these young athletes won’t make the college roster; even fewer will sign a pro contract. But the lessons learned on the hardwood during their chaotic, fleeting adolescence last forever.

Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could still play basketball; not a minute passes where I don’t forget how lucky I am to be here wishing just that, because I could very well be 6 feet under. I am grateful to be in the game even if only from the sidelines. I love giving halftime talks, drawing up last second plays, and encouraging kids to gut it out in tough circumstances.

If I ever forget the gift of “overtime” on my own game clock, a twinge in my back, an ache in my shoulder, or a pain in my skull – repercussions from my accident – remind me of the other option. Life took on new meaning after I came so close to losing mine.

Fortunately, rarely is a young athlete confronted with his/her mortality.

Some win. Some lose. Some survive. Some die. Cancer, a formidable foe, strikes down opponents indiscriminately, but the loss is particularly painful when the disease steals the life of a child.

Hopefully most teenagers won’t be confronted with cancer, but they have all faced hard times which were made easier with the support of that special parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, teacher, coach or friend. When an innovative basketball coach at Bishop McGuinness High School in Greensboro suggested that his players dedicate the game to someone who had influenced their lives, he never expected his idea to go global.

One of his players, Spencer Wilson dedicated his game ball to an inspirational friend on the cancer ward, Josh Rominger.

On January 24th in that North Carolinian gym filled to capacity, a boy made a 50-foot last second shot to win the game in memory of a friend and found the courage to carry on.

Sooner or later, we will be faced with those defining moments when our best laid plans and deepest hopes are derailed by injury, illness, accidents and unforeseen disaster. Do we give up or go on?

We get one chance. To give it our best shot. To dedicate our game.

Bad stuff happens. So do miracles.

Friendship is eternal.

Keep fighting.

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Swiss Champions U21 – June 2008
Christoph Varidel,Paul Costello, Nicolas Lechault, Michael Shumbusho, Alex Gromadski

Together.

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Congratulations, Debbie! Your name was selected in a random drawing of commenters to receive a copy of my memoir, Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball.

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Posted in education, inspiration, relationships, social view, sport.

16 Comments

  1. Okay, now I can barely type through my tears. This is incredible. It reinforces the what the power of love and the belief in basketball angels can do. Thanks for your incredible stories. Keep ’em coming.

  2. Oh my gosh, Pat, what a beautiful testimony to friendship and miracles. That is one amazing story. And your words ALWAYS feel like one giant pep rally. I agree with Tina, keep ’em coming. You may not be physically driving the basketball down the court but you certainly are driving your message across and scoring with your words.:-)

    • Aw thanks, Kathy. Still all and all, I’d rather be running than writing. It is only when I was forced to slow down that I realized what life was really all about…family, friendship, faith.

  3. I saw that story in the news. So inspirational. And I agree, there is something really special and wonderful about high school sports. The joy of attending those games is still very real to me.

    • Always nice to hear from you, Don. When sister, Sue, sent me the clip about Spencer, and I saw it for the first time, I was moved to tears.

  4. Pat, thanks again for drawing my name — I’m going to love reading your book!
    Thanks, too, for such a heart-warming story. Basketball wasn’t my game-of-choice (tennis was!), but it comes through very early how much you miss it. You’re blessed to be able to pass your love of the game onto the next generation — I just know you’re an outstanding coach and mentor!

    • Oh, I loved tennis, too. And yes, I do love coaching…keeps me feeling young, though clearly I am the grandma of bball, now. I bet you will really enjoy the book on many levels. Be sure to send me your mailing address.

  5. Your posts always dig deep and lingers long after I’ve read them. You are a treasure that takes your readers back to the riches that defines the meaning of humanity . Thanks for sharing!

    • You are too kind, Clara. As you well know there are times when the words demand to be written and it our connection to humanity that gives our life meaning.

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