SNEDEKER: Losing season earns winning memories
It was 1968, and we McClintock High School Chargers were in the locker room psyching ourselves up for our first varsity basketball game of the season. I say "psyching," but what we were really doing was trying to keep our terror in its bottle.
Our opponent, West High School, was vastly experienced, ranked fifth in the state, populated with players as towering as skyscrapers, and had a tall, whippet-like center who moved like a cheetah and nearly as fast, and -- this was really unfair -- looked exactly like James Dean. All our senior big guns from the year before had graduated, and our new, untested starting five, of whom I was one, were a bunch of recycled, semi-tall, goofy-looking benchwarmers. If we had any chance at all, you could count it on less than one hand.
But, we later discovered that fear can have a very impressive byproduct: crazy energy.
At the opening tip-off, each of us sure losers was so pumped full of natural fear adrenaline, we probably would have tested positive for methamphetamine if anyone had thought to try. We flew around blocking shots, stealing passes, making impossible shots and generally being completely out of our minds.
The adrenaline was so pure and potent that its effect didn't fade one shade for four quarters. At halftime, we were, miraculously, only five points down, the surreality of which kind of freaked us out. Somehow we kept within a basket or two through the third and fourth quarters. Then, with 15 seconds left, we were only down by one point. WHAT? And ... we had possession ... having grabbed the rebound of an errant West High shot.
We tore down the floor like demons and, literally at the buzzer, one of our peach-faced sophomore second-stringers named Bruce Graff who just happened to be in the game because someone fouled out and who just happened to have the ball, let fly a very long, desperate prayer of a jump shot from the deep right side of the key. The buzzer blared as the ball arced gracefully toward the basket. Time actually stood still.
It. Went. IN!
In an instant, our adrenaline was replaced with a flood of top-quality dopamine from the "You win! You WIN!" lobe in our adolescent brains, and we immediately were convinced that we were way better than we had thought we were and would probably win the state championship that year, and possibly could beat an NBA team any night we felt like it, too. What a night.
Well, fast-forward to the end of the season. Somewhere or other during the long season, we clearly lost our mojo. Our final record: 5-17. But, hey, what an experience.
I remembered this while reading a story in The Daily Republic sports section the other day about the Mitchell High School boys' varsity team losing to Brandon Valley, yet another disappointment in a struggle of a season. I felt a strong connection.
I've never met any of the Kernel players or been to any of their games this year, but I know these guys. I know that their passion for the game and drive to succeed are every bit as powerful as that of kids on the top-ranked teams in the state. I know that losses can be agonizing and the causes unknowable. I also know that should the Kernel men end up with only a single win for the whole season, they will still remember that win and their band of brothers for the rest of their lives with a soulful reverence bordering on sanctity.
Winning truly isn't everything. And certainly not the only thing.
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