As I’ve mentioned before, not only am I a fifth grade teacher, but I’m a jr. high girls basketball coach as well. A glutton for punishment for certain, but I love the sport and love being a teacher somewhere else other then a classroom. Some days, I wish I could have my classroom students do some sprints, just to wake them up and refocus, but that’s a whole different conversation.
Last night we played what are more then likely our last games under our current name. With whole grade sharing looming, our season has taken special significance. We’ve tried to celebrate each time the good things have happened, knowing that this will be the last time they take place. It’s been even more so with my 8th graders as after the season, one will be leaving, moving to a different school, and next year, another one will not be joining her friends, going to a different school as well. For them, not only will the season be ending, but their team as they know it will be done as well.
Our last games were against the school we are planning on whole grade sharing with. To say this has been an easy process would not be telling the truth. These two schools have a heated rivalry going back decades and not being from the area, some of that hostility is lost on me. However, it’s very real to my girls, who are smack in the middle of it. We’ve built towards this game all season because, honestly, I love beating this team, and enjoy watching kids on both teams strive to be their best.
Last night’s games didn’t go well. My 7th graders just don’t have a good chemistry, and no matter the line up I put on the floor, we just couldn’t gel. We lost the way we did most of the year, just not being focused, and not “playing” basketball. That game was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. We have 15 girls, and my philosophy on 7th grade basketball is everyone plays, period. 99% of the time, it’s equal playing time as well. I’ve lost games (last night’s as well) because of this style of play, but I’d be doing a disservice to my girls not playing them. This is their time to try out different things and perhaps they’ll grow, gaining skills for the next season. Our competition does not believe in that, with a bench of 13 girls, 8 played an overwhelming majority of the minutes. We could have won this game, had our chances, but simply didn’t.
My 8th graders, they are a different story. I have 6 girls playing, so they all play because they have to! I also pull up my best two 7th graders to help as well, something I couldn’t do last year, and it’s made a world of difference. Those 7th graders have been accepted with open arms, and have been a positive addition to our team. This has been the case with this team, and they’ve bonded with each other that few teams I’ve ever coached have. I don’t normally call teams my “favorite team” but this group will be hard to forget. They’ve worked hard, gotten better, and been there for each other time after time.
My competition last night had a bench of 13, with 8 playing an overwhelming majority of the minutes. Not an excuse, simply a fact. My 8th graders know that playing time is earned, and all know that they have to work to get the minutes. We started out on fire, taking a 23 – 8 half time lead. My girls got complacent, got sloppy, and suddenly it was 23 – 18. As a bench coach, my job is to keep my emotions under control because that’s what they need, but I could feel things slipping away. I used all my time outs, I yelled, I talked softly, but they lost their mojo when the comeback began. We played to a 27 – 27 overtime, and lost 34 – 30. They used a 26 – 7 run in that second half to win.
After that game, we were raw, hurt, and crying. I managed to hold it together until that last time as a team, and my voice cracked and they lost it even more. What makes this that much harder, and I review the game in my mind, two or three little things that we should have done, that I know better, that may have cost of a basket or two. I didn’t sleep well last night, and won’t tonight either as I play this back through my head.
This may well have been my last game coaching at this level as well. With our whole grade sharing, I’m not sure where my position will be in the whole sceme of things. I went through my team pictures yesterday before we left, and I have 10 years of pictures, 10 years of emotional investment in some of the most incredible girls on the planet. That’s the other part that makes me hurt, that I may not be doing this again. Today, tomorrow, the next day, I’ll think maybe that’s a good thing, to feel this awful over a game isn’t worth it.
But as one of my players told me: “Tomorrow, the off season begins. Tomorrow, I start working to get better for my team.”
Tomorrow is a new day, and maybe, just maybe, I won’t hurt as much.