Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Basketball Team

Leland's varsity basketball team celebrates their win over Bellaire in the Regional Championships. This photo, by Jan-Michael Stump, was published in the Record Eagle a few days after Chess Club.

4-H Chess Club gets a little lumpy towards the end of the winter. Kids are hitting walls, where they pretty much know who they can beat and who can beat them. Kids who were making great advances in their games just from playing, now find themselves playing the same game over and over again. A few are bored because they always win; a few are discouraged because they always lose. In this small school, kids are starting to get on each others' nerves and the walls seem to be closing in on all of us.

This year we've held off the cabin fever by bringing in adults to play. First it was Ian, my co-leader's son, back from Iraq foe a few weeks. Then it was Shelagh and Jordan, my daughter and son-in-law, home on spring break. (Shelagh handled my rudest kids with a combination of the phrases she grew up with and new repertoire from her education classes. It was like watching a new and improved version of myself.)

March 6th is my favorite, though. I hadn't planned on guests. One of my kids took a board to another table to play with a friend. Jordan Gibson, a former chess club kid and now a senior basketball player sat down to watch the game. I think he asked to play the winner. I was absorbed in my own game; by the time I looked up again, most of the team was there and my boards were full.

Much of the basketball team had been in Chess Club when they were in the lower grades. Those guys had gone through the chess club cabin fever thing, too. They ended many Chess Club meetings by playing touch football, even in the slush and mud of spring. It was always the continuation of the same game, which reconvened anytime the could get together for 20 minutes or half an hour. Now they were grown up, calm and polite, wearing dress shirts and ties because it was a game day.

My co-leader was amazed. "Why are our kids so well-behaved?" she whispered.

"Because there are men here," I answered. Our usual problem kid was quiet, watching the games. Every once in a while he would try to tease someone, but the older guys would growl "Cut it out!" and then he would.

The team won their game that night, against Mio, and then won the Regionals against Bellaire in a nail-biter on Wednesday. By the end of the week, the team was the big story, a story made richer by the many similarities to the Northport team that their coach played for a generation ago.

The team's run ended last night in a loss in the state quarterfinals against Muskegon West Michigan Christian. In chess, one of my tasks is to teach grace while both winning and losing. You don't gloat when you win. You don't cry when you lose. You shake hands -- eye contact, palms together, -- and thank your opponent for the game. I'm as proud of these guys in a loss as I was when they were winning. Maybe prouder.

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