The Truth, Mainly - 03/11/1991

In my day, B-ball tougher
by Leon Satterfield

Of course I don't resent those guys who played on the state champion basketball teams Saturday—even though they didn't have to start the second half with a jump ball at midcourt. And I don't want to make excuses, but if we'd played under their permissive rules when I was in high school, we'd probably have won a state championship too instead of finishing 4-14.

* * *

It is 1950 and playing basketball in my hometown is tough.

For one thing, we have to keep one foot on the floor all the time—no jump shots or tip-ins or dunks. It's because of the wind that always blows in southwest Kansas: when you play outside on driveway courts, you have to keep one foot down as a kind of anchor, and it's a hard habit to break.

We don't dribble behind our backs either. We consider it sneaky; we think it weakens our moral fibers. And we have to shoot free throws underhanded, even though it makes us look like girls and we hardly ever make any, because Coach Hazlitt found out in a college P.E. class that's the best way.

The toughest rule, though, is the one that says we have to start the second half with a jump ball at midcourt. It's easy to get confused about whether you're going for the north goal or the south goal when you change directions at halftime. And sometimes you have other things on your mind.

We are beginning the second half of the B-team game at this little podunk town called Arcady just down Highway 54 from my hometown, and the other thing on my mind is the Arcady cheerleader I'm looking at. I'm wondering how a girl like that can stand to live in a town like this.

Here's how podunk Arcady is: they don't even have a drug store. Some of their players wear olive-drab Army surplus tennis shoes. Their court is so small the center circle overlaps both keyhole circles and at one end, the stage sticks out so far we always bang into it on layups.

And yet they have this cheerleader who is perkier and spunkier than any we have in our town, which has a drug store and isn't podunk at all. When she twirls around, we can see her red tights.

That's what she's doing at the second half tipoff and I'm watching her out the corner of my eye and thinking that maybe I see her smiling at me while she twirls. But maybe not.

I haven't had a very good first half. I've missed three out of four two- handed set shots, two out of two underhanded free throws, and a layup that didn't go in because I was watching out for the sharp edge of the stage.

We are behind 17-14 so Coach Hazlitt gives us his pep talk at halftime. "Do like I told you," he says again. "Hustle it up and keep your moral fiber strong and this team will jell someday."

I am thinking about all that, and about that cheerleader too, when our center tips me the ball.

We have a rule against fast breaks because when we try to run fast and dribble at the same time, we bounce the ball off our toes. But I am hustling it up and I'm pretty sure now that the cheerleader really did smile at me, so I grab the ball and dribble as fast as I can for the basket.

I can hear the crowd yelling—especially Coach Hazlitt and our players and the cheerleader. "Go, Number 24!" she yells, drowning out the others.

"Gee," I think. "She can't help yelling for me—and I play on the other team!"

That makes me dribble even faster. There isn't an Arcady player within 20 feet of me when I lay the ball against the backboard. I've finally jelled.

But just before I crash into the edge of the stage, it occurs to me that I almost crashed into the edge of that stage when I missed the layup in the first half. A hideous reality begins to dawn. I haven't read ?Oedipus Rex? yet, but when I do, I'll know how he feels when he finds out he's killed his father and married his mother.

I'm shooting at the wrong basket.

I bounce off the stage and onto the floor and look up to see that this time the ball has gone in. It sticks in the net, too, so everyone gets a good long look.

The Arcady players are pointing at the ball and jumping up and down in their olive-drab Army surplus tennis shoes and laughing their podunk laughs while the scoreboard changes to 19-14.

I hope I've paralyzed myself and they have to carry me off on a stretcher, but tragically I'm not hurt. I get off the floor and try to knock the ball out of the net, but I can't jump high enough. After my third try, the ball falls through by itself. While it bounces on the floor, the perkiest, spunkiest cheerleader I've ever seen laughs so hard she loses her Fleers Double Bubble bubble gum.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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