Regardless of how old you are, there’s one thing we can almost say for certain once any little league game ends… At the end of the day, everybody’s getting ice cream! (Or a similar treat.)
It’s a motto I’ve carried with me throughout this first full year of officiating baseball/softball, basketball, and football on the recreation, select, all-star, middle school, and junior varsity levels.
Simply put, it’s my way of remembering that no matter how far a coach, parent, player, or fan goes to show their emotions about a given situation, everyone goes back to their lives at the end of the game. They tackle chores, knock out homework, make bedtimes, and prepare for yet another day waiting for them in the morning.
For those on the outside looking in, though, they wonder if these child athletes are being pushed too hard. They wonder if the reality that well more than 99-percent of these young guns will never see any athletic career beyond their high school days is truly understood by everyone. Most importantly, is it crystal clear for the parents involved in the day-to-day push to make their child standout on the fields and courts across the tri-state area?
After calling travels, blowing dead plays, and signaling for infield fly rules for the past 12 months, I can tell you some certainties I’ve learned along these lines.
First, there are coaches and parents who have most assuredly lost sight of these facts. However, it’s also easy to see that they simply want the best for their children. Sure, everyone has different opinions about what’s best for a child. In the field of competition, though, it’s evident that sometimes the fine line between “what’s best” and “what’s popular” gets awfully clouded in a hurry.
In the grade school ranks this season, shortly after I completed a shift on the hardwood, I watched the start of one game in which a coach reached octaves only certain types of canines could hear in pleading for a foul. “Everyone else in the gym saw that foul! You’re the only one that missed it,” screamed the coach of the nine and ten-year olds who stood by and watched as the coach let his opinions be known.
Here’s the problem… I saw the play and both players were guilty of minor infractions. So, the referee did what most would do in a grade-school game; he stopped the game to explain to them what they did wrong and then he let them play on. They learned how to play the game they loved, better.
The sad side of this is that this particular coach didn’t seem to see things with the same set of eyes as the players or the referees. He felt “robbed” and wanted redemption. However, no one lost a thing that night. If anything, everyone walked away with more than what they came to the court with hours before. They now were the proud owners of more knowledge and more experience about a hobby to which they and their families had decided to dedicate a few months of their lives.
On the flip side of wearing the stripes on the basketball court, there is one young nine-year-old in Tennessee who will never forget his last game of his first season of play. His team had a fairly good year in the win column, but that wasn’t due to his in-game success. In fact, the young man hadn’t managed to hoist up even a single shot during his court time this season.
With just two minutes remaining, the coach of the opposing team, which was up by only five points, took matters into his own hands. Familiar with the situation, he instructed one of his top players to “gently” foul the young man if the ball got into his hands so he would get a shot to not only shoot the ball, but to score.
As the ball found its way into the hands of the smallest boy on the court, our officiating crew was on the spot and quickly called the foul which sent the young man to the foul line. Now, in a league which saw coaches and players fighting tooth-and-nail for wins all season long, players for both teams lined both sides of the paint and began to cheer for the all-too-nervous, end-of-the-bench reserve player.
And like all good fairy tales, do you even have to ask how it ended? He lined up at the charity stripe, squatted down as close to court as he could, and then uncoiled himself launching a 30-mile-per-hour line-drive into the backboard which almost instantaneously banked straight through basket. The crowd simply erupted into cheers and tears, all at the same time.
Now, what happened in the final two minutes was irrelevant at that point. For the first time in the entire season of calling basketball games on most every level in our region, there was no one upset over playing time, called fouls, or final scores. Everyone was focused on the smallest kid in the gym who couldn’t stop smiling from the basket that will most assuredly bring him back next year for another crack at the scoreboard.
And, you guessed it, he and his teammates took off for Dairy Queen once the final buzzer sounded.
P.S. By the way, 20 years from now when that kid tells this story, it will be his one foul shot that won the game and saved the season for his team.
P.P.S. Guess what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.