Saturday, March 19, 2011

Give Me Liberty: Lessons from the Hardwood

Published March 4, 2011


Basketball is my favorite sport. Throughout my middle and high school years, I’ve enjoyed playing on our home school team. When I joined the team seven years ago, I never imagined the enormous affect it would have on my life.
It all began when our home school group decided to organize a basketball team. I’ll never forget our very first practice; an unlikely assemblage of middle school-age boys and girls dribbled up and down a country drive-way, dodging farm cats, cracks in the pavement, and each other. From then on, we held weekly practices in a local elementary school gym. The girls on the team were fortunate enough to participate in games every Saturday at the Whitesboro Parks and Recreation Department, although the boys, who were lacking in numbers, would have to wait a few years before they formed a team of their own. As the years progressed, the “Red River Rattlers” gained structure, accumulating a schedule of games against local schools. However, it was hard to find teams willing to play a brand-new home school team that wasn’t very good.

In ninth grade, we underwent some big changes. We joined a basketball conference just for home school and private school teams, got a new coach, and discovered something – we could be good! That season, the Lady Rattlers felt what it was like to work as a team and win. Quicker than we could believe, we went from being the team that no one wanted to play to the team that everyone wanted to beat.

Through the last four years, we have realized that although we had potential, winning didn’t always come easily. We encountered many obstacles that left us humbled. Last year was especially tough, and we had to remind ourselves that hard work and team work were necessary ingredients to success. The reminder paid off. My Junior year ended like a dream as we fought our way through the state tournament, coming from behind in every game. Never giving up, we survived all the way to the championship game, and won! (We were the first home school team to ever win the championship in the Texas Christian Athletic League.)

Returning to the State Tournament this year, we wanted a repeat. Hoping to defend our title, we entered the semi-final game against our arch-rivals. As much as I’d like to say that we won, we didn’t. And with TCAL’s single elimination policy, we were out. Our season had ended. And for the seniors on the team, our high school career was suddenly over.

Though my last season of basketball has ended, the sport’s influence in my life has not. During the last seven years, I’ve learned lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I’ve learned how to win. I’ve learned how to take a loss. I’ve been taught to challenge myself, and I’ve seen hard-earned improvements.

Our high school coach was full of practical wisdom, but there was one saying we heard more often than any: “No excuses. No explanations. Leave it on the court.” It took a few years for me to grasp what “leave it on the court” meant, but now I understand. It means to go into the game and play your very hardest for four quarters, so that when you step off the court, you can honestly say that you gave everything you had – you have nothing left. The score, he said, would take care of itself, and if we had truly given our all, the “W” or the “L” wouldn’t matter.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned, which really hit home this year, is that victory isn’t determined by the scoreboard. Victory is determined in the heart. Maybe we didn’t win our last game, but with everything that I have gained through being a Red River Lady Rattler, I am most definitely a champion.

I’ll never forget our first season, our state championship, our last game, or my amazing teammates. More importantly, I’ll never forget the truths I was taught in the gym. Those truths do not apply only to sports. In the game of life, you never know what will be thrown your way or what challenges you will face. You never know if you’re about to encounter a bitter defeat or a winning streak. But whether the scoreboard reflects a win or a loss, you can be victorious. No matter the obstacle, give it your all. Leave it on the court. Be a champion!