The whistle blew, sneakers squeaked to a halt, and rows of parents breathed again. We knew it was only pee wee basketball for 10 to 12 year-olds, not quite the Nicks…but when your child is playing, it might as well be. Our hearts were in the game. And our side was feeling the weight of defeat. This day the gold team looked like the Bad News Bears of basketball–the Bad News Goldfish.
End of the third quarter: complaints continued from the bleachers.
“Why doesn’t coach tell them to pass the ball?”
“Number 8 is a ball hog and misses 95% of his shots.”
I cringed to think the child’s parent could be listening. That could easily twist into a brawl, especially when tightly packed bodies dressed in winter sweaters are fired up in anger. Not much room to cool off.
I kept my mouth shut, but nodded in agreement, thinking almost the same thing; if number 8 would ever pass to my son, he would definitely score some points…you know – parental pride.
My son’s team resembled fireflies fluttering around their coach; the white team formed a compact snowball with the coach its center. Only one snowflake drifted away…number 3 stood under the hoop and stared upward as if waiting for a ball to drop through.
The whistle blew again, and they ambled into position for the last quarter. The bleachers were silent except for a restless baby’s cry. We hoped the game would turn around so our kids could own the joy of victory.
Parents groaned as number 8 rushed down court with his eyes fixed on the hoop. The ball teased us by circling the rim only to roll off. Another missed shot.
The white team charged down the court passing back and forth like a pinball machine and scored. They were ahead by 6 points. Still a chance for the gold to come back.
My son took the ball out, dribbling as high as his chin. When he reached mid-court, the tallest kid on the white team stole the ball and dribbled back to the other side.
“Come on team!” The man next to me slapped his thighs in disgust. I know my son tends to dribble too high and lose the ball, but I felt like pouring my water bottle on that man’s hot head.
That’s when the head coach from the white team began shouting, “Pass to Brendan!” Every kid on the bench joined in the chant. “Brendan…Brendan.”
Brendan caught the pass and walked without dribbling to a spot clear of golds. A whistle should have blown.
The white team shouted, “Shoot, Brendan!”
The gold team looked confused. Parents looked confused…until the whispered word “autistic” bounced around the crowd.
After the bleacher mumbling dwindled, silence filled every corner of the gym. The players all froze.
Brendan missed. A teammate passed it to him again. He jumped around with the ball, bounced it few times, walked to the same spot to shoot again. No one moved, white or gold.
He missed again, but the ball bounced back to him.
Both sides of bleachers began shouting, “Shoot, Brendan!”
When the net finally swallowed the ball, everyone in the gym including gold players cheered: “Way to go…nice shot…BRENDAN…BRENDAN!”
Brendan jumped up and down and clapped his hands vigorously while twirling in circles – a trick that would make most people dizzy.
The whistle blew, whites high-fived like angels rejoicing.
I wiped the corner of my eyes with my coat. The man who slapped his thighs in frustration only minutes before was doing the same thing. We needed to pass around a box of Kleenex, the thick kind with aloe.
The man looked over at me. “Wow, that was real sweet. The white team deserved to win.”
Nodding, I had a glimpse of what heaven would be like–when everyone has a tender heart.
Gold may have lost the game, but left the gym with their hearts ahead. The bitterness of defeat was sweetened by witnessing compassion and true sportsmanship.
This is a true story that I dedicate to the parents of autistic children who face extra challenges in parenting.
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