Friday, May 25, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio


Basketball takes some unlearning

That very first game, they played surprisingly well, although there were moments when it was like being witness to a mugging.

For instance: The other team would get the ball and, even as they dribbled off toward their basket, our girls stood by with dreamy, vaguely puzzled expressions.

Think Ferdinand the Bull plays basketball.

Probably it was the urgent adult cries of “Deeefense!” that caught their ears. Finally, off they loped, down toward where all the girls from the other school were already clustered beneath the net.

And so it was, lo these many weeks ago, at the home opener of the 5th-graders' basketball season.

For many girls on this team, it was their first time out on a court playing with actual intent. I know it was for my own child, who, only last year, liked to play basketball this way:

“OK, Mom? You pretend to be the player from the other team, and I'll be the player on the winning team. And I'll pretend to go around you with the ball, like this, and then you pretend to be really mad about it, OK?”

Basketball as psychosocial drama.

But then one day, we managed an entire game of p-i-g without the let's-pretend factor. Then, a round of h-o-r-s-e. And then, one day, a little one-on-one.

Oh, it was a while before she no longer protested whenever anyone stole off her dribble - “Hey! That's not fair! It was supposed to be my ball!” - but soon enough, she began to understand that basketball was a game of possession, not of taking turns.

This is no small feat of comprehension, considering that girls this age just emerged from a solid decade of constant commandments to play nice. To be fair. Be considerate. And, whatever you do, for heaven's sakes don't ever grab anything away from other kids.

No surprise, really, that it took a few games before all the girls reached the profound understanding that, when the other team wanted to get the ball from them, they did not actually have to hand it over.

Passivity is a hard quality to shake, especially for girls so new to the sport.

Last year, we took our daughter to a women's basketball game at Savage Hall to watch the University of Toledo Rockets. She spent a great deal of time searching the crowd for any friends who might coincidentally be there. The game, when she happened to notice it, was “sort of” interesting.

This year, midway through her own very first season, we took her and a few teammates to watch the “Lady” Rockets (as if they pour tea at halftime or some such thing) beat Eastern Michigan University.

Each girl's eyes were trained on the court throughout. They cheered and stomped and paid attention as if their lives depended on it. We dared not leave until post-game autographs were collected from the triumphant young women, who, by 5th-grade standards, must have seemed so tall - but perhaps no longer out of reach.

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,

and Saturdays. Email her at or call 1-419-724-6086.

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