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WOSTER: 'That's my grandson they're beating on'

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Somewhere in South Dakota last evening, in a gymnasium built for a few hundred people or a few thousand fans, a grandmother sat on worn wooden bleachers with her son or daughter and watched her grandson or granddaughter play a game of basketball.

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0 Talk about it

It happens every weekend all across the state. I know it does. You know it does. If you've been the son or daughter in that scene, you have a pretty good idea how the conversation goes between the grandmother, who watches only her grandchild on the court, and the son or daughter, who watches the child, the teammates, the other team and the scoreboard, and sometimes forgets that the scoreboard isn't the most important thing to watch.

I ran across a couple of photos of our son, Andy, playing basketball his senior year at Riggs High School in Pierre. The photos reminded me of the night my mom and I sat side-by-side in the Corn Palace and watched the Governors play the Mitchell Kernels. It was a Saturday evening, a playoff game. Pierre upset Aberdeen on the road the evening before. That earned the team a trip to Mitchell to play the Kernels for a berth in the state tournament.

My mom, who lived in Chamberlain at the time, rarely went to games in those days. She hadn't been in Aberdeen for the thrilling and unexpected Friday evening victory. Chamberlain is right on the way to Mitchell, though, so we stopped and brought her along.

As we drove toward the Corn Palace, I was trying to remember a time when my mom watched me play basketball half a century ago. She must have gone to some of the games, but I don't remember either her or my dad being at them. I don't remember us talking about games before or after, either. Maybe we did. Maybe it was just something for me and they watched and went home, kind of like tuning in an episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show.'' You didn't spend a lot of time afterward talking about Senor Wences and Pedro, the head in the box. You just watched the show.

If my mom did go to my games, she saw a more courteous version of basketball than today's game. No bumping or leaning, pushing off or throwing elbows (OK, one or two elbows). I was a center, a bit taller than 6-1 and weighing maybe 150 pounds. I managed in the paint -- which we didn't call the paint -- by out-jumping people, not out-muscling them.

Andy was a center, about 6-5, maybe 200 pounds his senior year. He worked his tail off to be a varsity player, and he dearly loved basketball. He muscled with the best of them, and Mitchell had some tough ones -- Jared and Mike Miller, Brent Theeler, a couple of others. And, after seeing the Govs knock off Aberdeen, Gary Munsen wasn't about to let our kids think they could beat his team. Not in the Palace. The Kernels blitzed away from the opening jump. My mom wasn't impressed with the play.

"Why are they letting that guy shove Andy?'' she whispered, her grandmother's eyes blazing.

"Look at that. That boy just pushed his arm into Andy's chest,'' she said. "Why doesn't the coach do something? Look. He did it again.''

Me, I was worried about Andy, sure. But I was more worried because we were down by a dozen or more already and having trouble handling the basketball.

"Andy's OK, and the coach can't tell the other team to leave him alone, really he can't,'' I said.

"That boy just jumped right up Andy's back,'' my mom said almost immediately, quite loudly. "He can't do that. Why don't you do something?''

"What do you want me to do? Get on the microphone and tell them to leave him alone?'' I asked, loud myself.

Then, feeling bad for being short with my mom, I said in a more reasoned tone of voice, "That's just the way they play the game now.''

My mom snorted, indignant.

"That's my grandson they're beating on,'' she said. "Some game. Why did you ever make him play it, anyway?''

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