Tuesday, January 04, 2005

When Girls Ruled The Court

Because of college football's national championship last evening, there was very little college baskeball on television. And because of my newfound love of stir-frying, there was no time to go out to a high school game (though admittedly, Bay View at Bradley Tech looked tantilizing). However, I do at least have something irrelevant to comment on. During an email exchange with my friend Steve (who has a basketball mind that puts guys like me to shame), the topic of women's basketball came up. Now, I'm not an expert on women's ball, largely due to the fact that there are very few people to discuss the games with. I can still recall running around my freshman year in college trying to get someone to buy season tickets for women's basketball with me, but pretty much everyone laughing in my face. I thought $24 was a pretty good price for a season of live basketball, but most other 18 year olds thought Miller Lite was a better investment. Anyway, I have limited experience with females playing basketball, but I do recall one magical weekend when I was immersed in it, and that is my story today.

Back when I was in high school, I of course, played basketball. However, the fact that I wasn't all that good meant that I really only got to play for my first two years before getting squeezed out so that more talented players could get pummelled in the varsity practices. Since I enjoyed being around just about any basketball game, though, and since I was good friends with our athletic director's son, I had the chance to earn periodic money by working at the scorer's table for basketball games. Two friends and I rotated when we were needed, filling out the score book, running the scoreboard and announcing the games. Freshman and JV games were $13 apiece, and on the rare chance that we got to do a varsity game, that was $26 in our pockets. To this day, it's the best job that I ever had, and if I could be a professional PA announcer, I most certainly would. Sadly, my enthusism for rolling my "R"s on Latin names occasionally made me an awkward fit, and I was forced to give up this trade upon entering college, but I'm gettting off point.

My junior year, my high school was hosting a small holiday tournament for girls teams. JV and freshman girls' teams. I was excited at first because this meant that I would work something like eight games over a two day period and earn enough money to pay for legitimate Christmas gifts for my family. I was more excited when I realized that I would be earning this money by working with one of the most hilarious tandems of people I've ever met. No offense to my high school buddy and co-worker, Steve (different guy than the one who sparked this thought today), who's an awesome guy, but he just didn't bring it like the guys I was working with this weekend. No, I was going to get to work the score book with my friend Nick and his brother Vince, who was home from college. Both are near the top of the list of people who can entertain you, and today both are Wisconsin media personalities. Clearly, neither is lacking in personality and wit, and if you've ever witnessed a JV or freshman girls' game, you also know that neither would be lacking in material.

So the tournament got underway. I was working mainly book, but occaisonally got to do some announcing. I can still remember some key names from the day--that's just how hilarious this day was--Dee Ballard, Rachel Lavin and Shannon Quade are burned into my memory for no reason whatsoever. As usual, I can't put together a narrative to save my life, so the day is best described in key points:

1) During one freshman game, I saw something that I had never seen before, and am confident, no matter how much basketball I watch, that I will never see again. An inbounds pass went into Tosa East's center, who was camped out in the lane, just below the hoop. Beceause she was much taller than the player guarding her (beleive me, skill had nothing to do with it), she was able to turn and shoot fairly easily. She put up a nice, soft shot that she tried to slip just over the front of the rim. The shot was so soft, in fact, that the ball came to rest on the front of the rim. This wasn't one of those deals where it got caught between the rim and the backboard, or it came to rest on the small platform connecting the rim to the backboard. No--it sat completely still on the dead center spot right on the front of the rim, with no contact whatsoever with the backboard. I could quit my job and devote the rest of 2005 to replicating this type of shot, and I know I would never come close. I probably couldn't even get on a ladder and get a ball to rest on a rim like that. Nonetheless, in some freak physics incident, the ball stopped clean in the most unlikely spot in the entire gym. The bewildered referees called a jump ball and grabbed a warm-up ball to end this frightening moment, but it's burned perfectly into my memory. I wouldn't believe it if someone told me about it, but I was there. Frankly, even though I was there, I'm thinking of giving Nick a call to make sure this really did happen. (On a side note, the last time I had this feeling, it was when I was 16 and had a vague recollection of a show called "The White Shadow" that I had loved as a 3-year-old. 16-year-old Chris briefly believed that he must have imagined a show where one of the main characters played basketball and went by the name of "Salami," but thankfully Nick at Nite and ESPN Classic would someday prove me sane)

2) I wish I had a copy of the program used at the tournament, because there's one name that I would love to get my hands on. Normally, whoever had the announcing duties would scan the program before the game, and make sure that there weren't any difficult to pronounce names (it was for this reason that we hated announcing games against South side schools, or inner city schools, due to Polish and creative names, respectively). If there was a difficult, or ambiguous name, we would seek out the team manager, or if they were available, a coach, and get a pronounciation. Every JV athlete deserves his or her moment of glory on the PA system. Anyway, Nick was working the microphone for this particular game, and we came across the most difficult name we had ever seen. Nick and I went to the manager to find out the name of this girl, and the manager just looked at us and said "I feel really bad, but I don't really know her at all, and I have no idea what her name is." I thought we were going to make the manager cry over this lack of knowledge, because she felt legitimately bad. We, of course, didn't really care, because social relations at another local high school weren't our real concern--we wanted to be able to announce the game. We kind of shrugged it off, though, and hoped that the girl wouldn't get into the game, though, since she wasn't looking real talented in warm-ups. Given this oversight on our part, it was certain that the game would be a blowout and that the girl with 8 vowels in her name would get in. Nick played off her entrance, by calmly ignoring a table full of women checking into the game. This way, he could just look too busy to get all of the names out to the crowd. He was busted when Nicole Tpaoxifenaosuip, or whatever her name was, banked in a late lay-up. The confused, "What do I do?" look that Nick gave me was priceless. And he did what anyone in his situation would have done, and simply didn't call out the basket. Heck, if what the manager told us was representative, no one actually knew this girl, anyway.

3) Nicknames were a-plenty at the JV girls tournament, but none stuck out more than that the first time that we heard one of the girls yell out "C'mon Roach!" I think we all started laughing immediatley. Roach? If you had a daughter, would you want her nickname to be Roach? Let's put aside the potential drug reference there, and think about how un-ladylike that is. It would be like if as a guy, my high school nickname was "Tulip." It just doesn't fit. The only way this poor girl should have had such a nickname was if her last name was something like "Roachenberger," but as an announcer who had to read these names, I assure you this was not the case.. No one wants to date a "Roach." No one wants their kids hanging with someone named "Roach." In fact, I think the only person in history that sort of pulled off this name was Theo's friend Cockroach from The Cosby Show. And I think we all know that as bad a girls' nickname as "Roach" is, it would be even tougher for a female to go through high school with the moniker "Cockroach." So maybe Roach didn't have it so bad.

4) It's seldom that I laugh so hard that it hurts, but on occasion, it does get that good. By game three of the first day, Nick, Vince and I were pretty much just trying to entertain ourselves with comments about the young ladies' bench antics, bizarre nicknames, and often, a lack of basketball ability. I don't recall why it happened, but Vince was (as he often is) on a roll with several comments, heading into a timeout. Fifteen seconds into the timeout, a child of about 5 years of age ran directly in front of the scorer's table, at which point Vince leapt out of his chair and yelled "Hey, you didn't check in!" It sounds juvenile, and it probably was. And you're probably not all that entertained. All I can say is you had to be there. It was one of the 10 funniest moments in my life. Right up there with Tim St. Louis' story about his doctor telling him after his hernia operation to make sure not to bear down on his bowel movements. But this story has gone too far awry already to get into that story.

5) I don't recall exactly what session it took place in, but the defining moment of the tournament took place at halftime of one of the games when the athletic director, Nick and Vince's father, came over to the scorer's table to talk to us. He wasn't happy. Basically all he said was "Guys, I've been getting some complaints about you. Could you please try to remember that you have a microphone sitting in fromt of you all of the time, even if you're not talking directly into it." Thus, we realized that we had been mocking the girls too loudly, and calmed down as much as we could. Given what we had to deal with, though, it was tough to do. How could we pass up this much entertainment, all while we were getting paid to be there.

Of course, I did other games and the job had other perks. I got to see several good boys players develop at the JV level. I got the prestige (hey, I was 16) of announcing in front of the entire city when I was called on to announce the Tosa East-Tosa West girls' game. And I got an excuse to show up and ogle at the DSHA girls players in a varsity reserve game one Saturday (note to my friend T.J.--I believe your wife was a starter, so I'm pretty sure I wasn't ogling her, and you don't need to kick my ass). Nothing will match that magical weekend, though.

So that's the bulk of my experience with women in basketball. Recounting the tale, I'm a bit ashamed that I was such an ass at the tournament, but seriously, sit through a freshman girls game and try not to crack a joke. And given that I joke around pretty consistently about division one men's players that are about 150 times better than me at the game of basketball, I see no reason why I shouldn't be able to crack a few jokes about some freshman girls that were probably only 2 or 3 times better than me. That would take all of the fun out of the game.


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