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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Dribblers a family, community tradition

by Zoya Saltonstall
Published in Kodiak Daily Mirror on October 29th, 2015

The sharp whistle stopped every one in action. You could almost hear a pin drop in the gym. The small mob of basketball-playing elementary boys convened in the center by the adults. The unknowns were hanging in the air. For the players, the parents and the coaches. This was the start of  Little dribbler basketball tryouts.

With paper numbers pinned on their chests, the boys were split into three groups and sent off to various parts of the gym for  drills. They took turns doing layups. Passing drills. Dribbling skills. 

I have to play my cards well so Stuey doesn’t know just how excited I am for him to finally be playing organized basketball. I hear the stories of sports pressure gone bad. Parents who so desperately want their child to play a certain sport and in the end it pushes them away from it.

I’m taking the opposite approach. I’ve tried to be completely chill with how much I love basketball. 

My love for basketball began 30 years ago, as a little dribbler myself. Sweaty, hot games in the middle school. Enthusiastic parents sitting on the bleachers up high, screaming out during games. Cheering. Sometimes yelling at us or the coaches or the refs. T-shirts with awful contrasting colors and team photos where the coaches stand behind us with ’80s hairdos. Painfully learning how to play the game.

I remember it feeling so good to win. And so good to make a basket. 

Then middle school basketball where I have zero memories. Perhaps there is a picture in a photo album somewhere that could jog my memory. Those years are in many ways a memory void. If my middle school basketball coach is reading this, I’m truly sorry. I just don’t remember. Perhaps  we really do spend the rest of our lives trying to recover from or forget what happens in middle school. 

“Do you want to coach?” I  was asked by city Parks and Rec when I signed Stuey up for dribblers. “Oh, no! You don’t want me coaching!” I chuckled. I would have to get Cliff Notes for basketball coaching and it wouldn’t be pretty. 

I prayed to my lucky stars that they found enough coaches so I wouldn’t have to. 

At tryouts, I was glad to see five coaches milling around the gym. My stars came through for me. With clipboards and pens in their hands, the coaches had semipensive looks on their faces as they watched the boys play. They intermingled some, took notes on their papers, and watched some more.    

Three of the five coaches are familiar to me. One was a Kodiak High School classmate back in the 1990s. One was a prior coworker who has a great sense of humor. One was an old boyfriend.

I am curious who will end up being Stuey’s first basketball coach. In real estate they say “location, location, location.” In sports, it’s really all about the coach. The coach is the one who instills confidence, gives the framework, and yet pushes just the right amount. It truly is an art. 

The next 45 minutes were awash with ball handling drills. Chest passes. Bounce passes. Stop-pivots. Dribbling around cones. Layups on the left. Then on the right. Moves that will become so practiced, and so routine for these boys as they learn the art of basketball. These skills that will build their foundation. And becomes threads of their existence and beings. 

Before I know it, tryouts end. The hour flew by. We learn that we’ll find out team assignments at next practice

As we leave the gym, Stuey runs ahead of me to the car.

“I’m glad I knew two people from my class!” Stuey yells. 

“Yes! That was really fun, Stuey! I reply. 

My heart thumps with basketball joy. 

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves black labs and chocolate.

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