As a kid, I amassed an impressive collection of polyester ballcaps, t-shirts, and tube socks from community sports leagues (“Bartlett Youth Softball–Sponsored by Yarn Barn”).
But a spark lit the moment I first put on my junior high basketball uniform. It was a real uniform, with actual stitched numbers that wouldn’t shrink in the dryer. I would wear it home after games, through dinner, then doing geometry problems in my bedroom, still admiring my “11” and its thick, satiny sheen.
My basketball skills were nowhere near as pretty–much like my new braces and glasses. I was fresh off my father’s sudden death, had just transferred to a new school, and was quietly suffering in a way I could not articulate.
But the basketball team earned me instant friends, entrée to slumber parties and secret notes passed during history class. I was never Homecoming Queen or MVP, but the thrill and camaraderie I felt from that team guided me toward the other sports where I excelled, to good grades, and a college scholarship.
Which is why I find ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” current feature, “Losing to Win,” especially poignant. Imagine living in a county where the poverty level is 20%. Where one, often both parents—if even together—are addicted to alcohol or meth.
As a result, many of the kids in Tennessee’s Carroll County follow the same patterns of addiction and crime. Luckily, Carroll Academy, an academic/juvenile reform institution founded by a judge tired of watching kids fail through no fault of their own, has found a way to curb the despair: basketball.
And not even winning in basketball. The Lady Jaguars—girls who are court-ordered to play sports–have lost 213 games in a row. But they are learning bigger lessons to lead them down a better path. I highly, highly recommend watching the feature on ESPN, or, if you can spare 14 minutes, the website here.
Parenting is not easy even under the best of circumstances. As a young widow, my mom had her hands full with my sister and me, but it was tough long before. A coach herself, and with my dad’s unpredictable police hours, my mom (and dad) worked very hard to ensure Lynda and I made it to all our practices and games and tournaments and dance recitals—and it often took help from others.
So I want to thank not just my own mom, but the other mom’s who picked me up, dropped me off, and fed me dinner if my parents’ schedules ran late. Without the Patricia Bryson’s, the Bebe Jonakin’s, the Pat Hill’s, the Reathel Bonnot’s, and so many others, who knows how things might have turned out for me and so many other kids? I tip my polyester ballcap to all of you.
Happy Mother’s Day!