If You Can Play, Play. If You Can’t, Wing It Anyway


It’s real easy to get a bus full of kids even more freaked out on the way to their big basketball game. All you have to do is slow down and point out the Krispy Kreme store that’s on the same street as the recreation center where you’re about to get slaughtered by the other school. The sign screams, “HOT DOUGHNUTS NOW. DRIVE THRU”. Point out the Krispy Kreme doughnut store to the kids enthusiastically, but keep driving. That’s the trick.

The name of the other school we played was called the Swift School. They sure were. At halftime they were leading 22 to 4, but we were more interesting to watch.

Our kid was on his way down court to set up on offense and would often stop by to get a drink of water. We coached him out of the habit by screaming at him and shoving him back onto the court in a way that looked like, from the parent’s perspective across the court, the kindly administering of hugely encouraging words and an affectionate pat or two on the back. You have to practice it and hope they can’t read your lips. Another time he dropped by while actually playing in the game and said he was having a heart attack. I told him having a heart attack would most likely get him out of homework… so play hard. I eased him back on the court again.

Only one of our kids, Ferrari, was going back to school with me and Coach Hank in the bus after the game, so I got his attention during halftime and told him that if he kept playing like he was, which was a peculiar style of basketball probably never before seen in this part of the county, that he could eat all the Krispy Kreme doughnuts he wanted after the game.

Ferrari was excited by this. But then I realized… Oh, my God! I don’t have any money!

I pulled out my money clip, wiggled it, and by God the bill showing on top was a fresh twenty. Upon this beautiful teaching moment that the underpaid teacher-coach would be buying a lot of doughnuts and allowing him to eat as many as he wanted. Ferrari began jumping up and down. When Ferrari jumps into the air, he pulls his legs up underneath him where his knees poke out east and west. While he’s in the air he flaps both hands as if they’re covered with angry ants. Maybe scorpions. I watched Ferrari jump up and down quite a few times. That loud buzzer used by the scoreboard operator finally stunned him still.

Ferrari is thirteen years old and has the mind of a mischievous pixie who’s constantly being electrocuted at all his joints. His body seems to be made of wiggly rubber hoses. Ferrari is the most hyperactive kid, mentally and physically, on all continents of the world and more than any kid who might also be sailing around on any of the oceans and seas, too. I’ve always liked him. He’s the only kid in the school who eats yellow mustard. I bought a special stash one day just for him and I hide it in the school kitchen. I don’t have him in class but Ferrari says I’m his favorite teacher anyway. I think bribing kids is fine because it works, even with mustard.

For our team, in the first half, Ferrari had been the guy who always seemed to get a hold of the ball to take it down on offense. He steals it from his teammates he loves basketball so much. And that was okay with me and Coach Hank because Ferrari knows how to dribble and run real fast at the same time.

But Ferrari, we learned, on the very first play of the game, would put it up, high altitude B-52 bomb style, with both hands, the moment he crossed mid-court. The crowd loved the kid. Me, too. Ferrari makes everything interesting. Everything. But he hadn’t hit one yet from his personal launching pad between mid-court and the apex of the three-point line … and he was really trying. Even when he outraced the other team and could have laid it up with time to spare Ferrari would stop and pop.

His bombs, with not much spin, would clank off the rim or boing off the backboard, and one time the ball bounced way up behind the backboard and got stuck between the backboard and the contraption that connects the goal to the tin roof. The ref had to call a special time-out. A guy from the recreation center had to come over there with a bamboo pole to poke it out.

So I told Ferrari to keep it up in the second half. You know… doughnuts.

He did.

We lost big, though, to a coed team of super special kids just like us, 33 to 9, but the real highlight of the game was when Ferrari finally and correctly calculated barometric pressure, wind, distance, the curvature of the earth, axis tilt, seasonal anomalies, El Nino, the Jet Stream, and his excitement for a promise of unlimited doughnuts with the coach’s money. Statistically, Ferrari was 1 for 16, but universally, he was the crowd favorite. When Ferrari finally helped the cause with three big points, everybody in the stands jumped up and down and went nuts, too. The moment was preceded by near silent, mouth-open marveling as the orange bomb floated toward the golden ring.


I listened to the sweet roar of bi-partisan parents going nuts for a kid’s momentous moment in time during a lopsided basketball game for kids who really don’t care about the final score. The apples don’t drop far from their trees. Sometimes they drop just right.

At the Krispy Kreme I handed Coach Hank the twenty and said to Ferrari to go nuts. You earned it. I juked open the squeaky bus doors.

Ferrari leaped out of the bus from the top step to the asphalt parking lot and screamed back at Coach Hank as he ran akimbo across a busy parking lot… Are you going nuts, too!

Waving the twenty around in his hand, Coach Hank smiled at me and said, “You’re cool with this, right? Spend it all?”

I said go nuts. We all deserve it.

(photo courtesy of Lobe/Dreamstime.com)