(Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories submitted by readers in describing some of their favorite sports memories. We are still accepting them, and they can be sent to email@example.com. Put “Sports Memories” in subject line and please include a phone number and picture.)
In the winter of 2006, my sister, Meg, and I played on the same local Upward Sports basketball team with the team name Cougars. (My brother Devin was with the upper-grade group at this time)
We participated in the branch of Upward Sports coordinated by Mr. Ken Fraunfelder (He gave Upward and sports a good name) at the Boys and Girls Club of Martinsburg. It was interesting for me at the time playing on a court that wasn’t ground level, but it was fun all the same, each Saturday flipping jersey colors inside-out to display the away and the home teams. The colors were purple and gold as I can recall, but I remember having an indelible highlight of a game, donning the purple suit.
I should mention that I was in the K-2 level, so Meg and I were always prepared to play half-court format. I gave the measurement of half-court a new meaning the one game, I banked a buzzer-beater shot against a plastic graphics backboard before halftime. I can still remember both coaches for my team elevating their arms like I scored a touchdown.
And I think in a way, I did score a touchdown a year later in the fall of 2007. Still with Upward Sports and under Fraunfelder’s leadership, this time, I was provided a green-and-white jersey top with a yellow plastic belt. I still remember hearing the plastic-snapping pop of a yanked flag from my belt during games and thinking, “Oh no!”
Yes, I went on to play flag football that fall on the surrounding terrain behind North Middle School off of Eagle School Road near Big Lots store. The team name I pledged good-sportsmanship allegiance to this time was Steelers. (I was extremely ecstatic at the time given that my family is from Pittsburgh, and I grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and loved Hines Ward.)
This was the first Upward team I was on where I wasn’t the tallest.
In fact, I was the second-smallest on the team, now that I think about it. I loved the cool brisk practice nights where the sunset was a visible orange-red-blue fusion in the distance. As much as I enjoyed my second flag-football experience that fall, I never scored a touchdown; all I did was catch two interceptions in one game on a rainy weekday evening.
Let me cut to the chase, though. I’ve held off the core of my reminiscing way too long now. When statistics didn’t come through for me that fall 2007, life lessons of listening and perseverance did on one practice occasion.
The three coaches for the team had my teammates and I run a straight yet dirt-bumpy line toward a grassy inclination defining the ground. Cleats afoot, saliva and slits of breath brushed against my mouthguard I had in. There was a catch to this exercise, however.
The head coach wanted all of us to run while saying “Steelers never quit” softly while in motion and then shouting “Steelers never quit” from the higher-up ground before jogging back down. I jogged and spoke as best as I could achieve, while most of the other jogging bodies arrived back to the starting point before I could even step up the hill.
Finally, just as practice was ending, the head coach rounded up the team as parents stealthily were in our huddle’s backdrop listening in.
What happened next was unexpected to me and felt like a dream. The head coach named me the “heart and soul” of the Steelers team that season. Why? Because though most of the other players displayed their designated forward jogging motion better than me, they fell short on saying “Steelers never quit” at the same time.
For following every instruction as was delivered, I earned an honorary title. All who had gathered clapped for me, and my mom stood by listening the whole time. She gave the biggest smile toward me when she heard my name linked with the evening honor.
Maybe I didn’t get big stats or athletic recognition, but apparently resilience and focus are some of the most looked for stats of all in this world.
Thanks to my family’s support, here I am satisfactorily reflecting on a sincere memory where sports and morals blended harmoniously. As my mom reminded me before and still reminds me: “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.”