After close to 40 years of participating in, writing about and photographing individual, self-propelled sports, I recently developed a passion for a team sport. Not any team sport - girl's basketball and one team in particular: the Pilot Butte sixth grade girls park and rec basketball league team called the Greenwave.
In the beginning, I figured my role would be one of dutiful grandfather, delivering and picking up my granddaughter to and from practice and games. But as things developed, I found myself watching the practices and getting involved in the games.
Soon I was photographing the Greenwave in action and found myself slipping into the role of the worst possible male on the planet: the little league granddad. Luckily, a sharp reprimand from a ref after I loudly protested what I though was a bad call shocked me back into the role of calm observer. That was only on the outside. On the inside, I wanted the Greenwave to win.
Frankly, from the outset things were pretty much stacked against the Greenwave. Most of the girls, like my granddaughter, were new to basketball. Yet they came to the practices full of verve and energy and gave it their all.
But for all their work, they were the original gang who couldn't shoot straight. They tried hard, but got beaten badly their first three games. The team sunk into a collective depression. "We suck," several of the girls told me. Their body language betrayed their emotions. And then something magical happened. The Greenwave players forgot about winning and losing and started playing for fun. Every girl got playing time and all seemed to enjoy just being on the court.
The losses continued, but the Greenwave really started having fun. The girls all took on distinct playing personalities. One of the point guards played with a constant grin on her face. When she blundered she'd laugh it off and keep going with that grin even wider. Others learned how to scramble for loose balls, how to set picks, or how to steal the ball from a high dribbler. They even started getting their hands up on defense and making a few stops.
The Greenwave stayed competitive in two games and came within one point of scoring 30 points in a game at High Desert Middle School. Thirty is the margin they were usually beaten by. Still they played on and the chemistry was obvious to everyone who watched their games. It was so infectious that whenever the Greenwave scored, everyone in the gym would cheer them loudly, including opposing teams' fans.
Finally it came down to the last game against Seven Peaks. As the game moved into the third quarter, Seven Peaks eased into a four-point lead and I wondered aloud if the Greenwave could come back for at least one win. Hearing this, the Seven Peaks coach told me that her girls had also gone without a win.
Now I found myself rooting for both teams; it became apparent that Seven Peaks and the Greenwave shared something special. They were playing for fun and were having a good time. Seven Peaks won, but the Greenwave treated the game like a win, as well. It was an insight into what team sports can be - if we leave it to the kids to find their own way.
You made my winter season much more enjoyable with your fine play.