The clock was winding down to 00:00 in the annual Everett High School Seniors versus Staff game as I received the basketball on the right wing from Byron Lewellen. With no other real ball-handlers on the court for the E.H.S. staff at that point and the score tied, the responsibility fell squarely on my shoulders to advance the ball and try to find a way to win this one for the reputation of the staff.
I relished the moment.
Not because I am a great ball-handler. Heck, I’m not even a good ball handler. But this was the annual game for bragging rights. It was the first one in the new and improved “Pit.”
And, truthfully, this was all just for fun.
But for that one moment, I put aside my desire to “ham it up.” I wanted to make this dramatic. No fake pulled hammie. No bucket of confetti trick like Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon used to do. Just a behind-the-back dribble at mid-court to slip by the lunging young defender and then a dribble straight down the middle of the lane toward the basket.
Here’s where my reality got the better of me. Yes, I had been crafty enough to get the behind-the-back dribble executed, but I know my strengths. And my weaknesses.
In all my years of playing basketball, I have never made a game-winning basket. So, armed with that knowledge and the burning desire to give every one of the over 1,000 students in the stands a memorable finish to a sloppy game, I looked for someone else to be the real hero.
Inexplicably, in the far corner hanging out at the three-point line, absolutely unguarded, was our ringer, Rachel Zupke, the young substitute teacher/JV girls basketball coach who had played basketball at Seattle Pacific University and had made shot after shot all afternoon to keep the staff in the game.
With only seconds left on the clock, and a defender coming up to stop me at the top of the key, I no-looked passed the ball to Zupke and then I raced under the left baseline in anticipation of a possible last-ditch offensive rebound if Rachel happened to miss.
Fortunately, there was no need for a rebound as Zupke’s shot made a perfect swish to end the game.
And put a dagger in the heart of the seniors.
My emotions can sometimes get the best of me, so perhaps my impersonation of Michael Jordan’s celebration after nailing the shot against Craig Ehlo was going too far.
But this was the staff’s “One Shining Moment.” And I was out there during ‘crunch time.’
A year ago, that wouldn’t have happened. A year ago, Coach Darrell Olson wouldn’t have even considered putting me out there with the game on the line. Nor would I have wanted to since, a year ago, I was in no condition to effectively run up and down the court for more than a couple of times.
My, what a difference a year makes.
This time around, partly because I have been working out at CrossFit Marysville for three months and partly because I have been playing basketball with a bunch of older guys on a regular basis, I was able to hang with the young guns.
Suffice it to say that I probably had at least 15 years on the next youngest player on the staff team. In fact, prior to the game, one of my students came up to me and snidely asked, “Isn’t there an age limit in this game?” And Mike MacCormac, the announcer for the game, confided afterward that he was worried I was going to pull something out there as I ran around like a scalded dog.
A year ago, I did pull a muscle. A year ago, I was gasping for breath and begging for a substitute within a minute of being on the court.
The beauty of getting in good shape is that you get the opportunity to be involved in these memorable moments.
I will cherish the times I got to go ‘head-to-head’ with my two sons who played in this game. I also have felt a sense of pride over having many of my former Everett Parks/Everett Boys &Girls Club/AAU players — both boys and girls — playing against me in this special game.
I wouldn’t want to be in the stands for this. And I hope I can be doing the same thing for another decade of so. Even if it eventually comes down to simply throwing the bucket of confetti into the unsuspecting crowd.