It has been a while since I last entered words into the forum, but I determined when I started it that I would only do so when I really had something to say…now I believe that I do.
For those who don’t know, I have been coaching basketball on some level since I was 14-years-old. That in and of itself brings with it a certain level of scrutiny that I have grown accustomed to. I was a kid (albeit a mature one) coaching kids. As I have grown into the man I am today, I have learned that being involved in the coaching arena still brings about a certain degree of opinions from people, good and bad. As much as I believe things have changed in this country and more specifically in this great state of Michigan, I seemingly often find myself face-to-face with evidence to the contrary. Here is the latest of such evidence…
Last year I took my team to a tournament in Bel Air, MI (aka WAAAYYYY up north) and felt like we got mistreated pretty badly. This year, the tournament was moved to Mt. Pleasant and so we went again trusting that things would be different. Well, it certainly was…to a point. Before I get too far into it though let me tell you the make up of my team. I am an American male of African descent (AA), while my assistant is an American male of European descent (AE). The team is composed of a ratio of 6:8 (AA:AE), and also one young American of Asian descent (AAS). I know that some of you are wondering why I used those terms. Well, mostly because they are far more accurate than the more common terms used today.
Anyway, we won our first two contests and were moving to play for the top seed in the pool. We were up against a team we had lost to a couple of times the prior year (TEAM Basketball Red), so we knew that they were pretty good. The game was intense from the start and not 2 minutes into it, there were some hard fouls from both teams. It’s basketball, it happens. But a couple of minutes later, things became too rough. My best player drove to the basket, jumped to fake the shot, then passed the ball out to the wing where another player shot a 3-pointer and scored. I was pumped about the shot (those who knew my team from last summer would know that we had no pure shooters) and my fist pump told that well. Then my attention was trained back under the basket where the passer was now being pushed back down to the floor. The officials saw this and blew their whistles, but made little other response to stop an escalating situation. So, I sprinted from my bench and grabbed my player by his shoulders to escort him off of the court. That should have ended everything, right?
Nope…on my way to the bench with my guy, the opposing coach turned and yelled out to me to “go and sit my a** down!” What? Yes, I stopped dead in my tracks, spun around and yelled, “what did you say?” Of course I knew exactly what he said, but I was wondering why he said it to me. So, since now all of a sudden he couldn’t speak, I moved closer to him to say my question again and get an answer of why he thought he could talk me like that. The next action then told me exactly why…
A parent of a member of their team (who later was discovered to be a police officer in the city of Holly and was wearing a Holly basketball sweatshirt) jumped up out of his seat in the stands and came onto the floor saying, “yeah, go sit down boy!” Boy? Did he have any idea who he was talking to? So I asked him exactly that as I now turned my attention, my glare, and my stride toward him. It was about then I felt two arms wrap around me and push me backward. One of my kids’ parents had intervened on his behalf stopping me short of reaching him as my final destination. I could not even believe I would be called that by an older AE in 2011. Surely by this year, he should know what negative connotations that has. Even further, he was talking to a grown man, so that shouldn’t have even been a thought….but it was.
So, they went and got another official, called technicals on both initial kids that faced off and the game continued. I of course emphasized to my players to only use what happened as fuel and they did just that. We scored several consecutive baskets, prompting a time out from the other team. But just like most sophomores do, my boys let the other team back in the game. They also complained to me of being tripped by the opposition purposely. As I paid more attention, I saw the joy from the bench whenever it did happen and it was quite often. I mean this is not soccer where you use your feet to kick the ball so clipping is a natural occurrence. This is basketball and it happened way more than it should’ve. But as a coach I told my guys to play through it.
That was all well and good until with right about 6 minutes left to play, the same player that was pushed down before got clipped and hit in the face on his way to the basket. This time, however, not only was a foul not called, but he also now had blood rushing from his lip. He had to sit out until it could be stopped. In the meantime the opposing team came back and closed the gap to one point and it stayed that way until there were 7.7 seconds left. We were taking the ball out and they were trying to get a steal or foul. As one of my guys broke for the ball (right in front of the official), the guy guarding him grabbed his jersey, pulling it out from his shorts and pulling him down in the process. No call as the pass was made and the ball bounced helplessly out-of-bounds. now in shock, my boys let them get off a wide open jumper at the buzzer to win. By then the tournament director was there and I walked up to him and said you need to do something about this coach and parent.
He didn’t…and we would meet again. 4 hours later that same team lost by 1 at the buzzer to a different team (poetic justice). We were up next and were slated to take that same bench. Their players decided not to leave the bench when my guys arrived. Two of the players went toe-to-toe and one of my parents (a mom) jumped in to stop it. She proceeded to get cursed out by this kid and then the same terrible example of a police officer from before. That is when I saw the group forming and arrived on the scene. the coach of the team we were slated to play then got my attention and said please put a stop to this before I jump in. He couldn’t stand for a woman to be disrespected like that. I asked what was going on and as I did one of their players again flew off in a profanity-laced tirade. No parent/coach said anything to him from their side. One of my parents asked their coach “is this not one of your players? Are you not going to say anything to him?” he got no answer from the coach at all. As I am being told the whole story by the parents I ask was it that same parent from before that almost got jumped on while I was pointing directly at him. He said, “You wanna take this outside?” I said, “Ok,” and headed for the door. Once again, my parents reminded me that I had a game to coach and would need to do that, so I did. But the challenge was amazing to me. Where do they still challenge people to go outside at? Clearly in Mt, Pleasant via Holly.
We won that game and my boys played great. I have never been so proud of a team’s ability to focus as I was of theirs. Unfortunately, during practice the next week I had to sit them down and explain the whole scenario to them and what being called a “boy” means in the grand scheme of things. Some had no idea of these things so it needed to be taught. I let them know that I certainly could have shown more restraint, but showed much by not jumping down this man’s throat. I am a proud man. I am also a Christian. But I was a man first and sometimes he jumps out ahead of the Christian in instances like this. That shouldn’t happen, but it did. They needed to know why and more importantly, they needed to know that we may see the same type of taunting again.
If you have read my previous posts, you will know that this is not the first time a discriminatory term has been used toward me. It almost seems like God is placing these tests there for me to show everyone that, as my dad reminded me, it is not what people call you that defines who you are, but rather what you answer to. I responded to the term “boy”, but will never answer to it. It is the furthest thing from a definition of me. As I turn a year older in a matter of hours, I realize even still that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I start to believe things are different, and then I see evidence to the contrary…
But then I also realize that I have a major role in escorting change in…God let me know that and it continues with my book, “Four Seasons of Verse” and even further with the book signing at my”Chance of a Lifetime” showcase and program on June 12. It will be a call for community activism in our area. I will post more detail soon, but get ready. That is, if you want change….