The following was printed on May 18, 2006 and it involved one of my favorite all-time players, Tinu Agboola, as she was about to leave eighth grade. The picture above is my 8th grade players from our 2010-2011 team praying together for one one last time before they give up their practice tops which are laying at their feet in a pile. Predictably, there were tears shed. That's why I coach girls.
This was it for basketball. We have a practice period built into our schedule so I have our middle school girls' team at Westbury Christian from the first day in August through the end of the year in May. We went through pre-season work and scrimmages. We survived our eighteen game season, including two tournaments. We laughed our way through our athletic banquet and this Monday is my annual take the eighth graders to Chili's for lunch celebration following the first morning of finals. We aren't going to dress out tomorrow. I told the kids they could shoot around if they wanted. Every day since August, the young ladies have worn the same thing to practice: WCS P.E. shorts and a Lady Wildcat basketball reversible. (I make a couple of rules on the first day; no jewelry, white or grey T shirt under the practice jersey, and white socks only!) In the past, the players washed their reversibles, so called because they have two different colored printed sides, before I put them away for another year. That was a hassle so now, I take them up unannounced at the end of practice the last week. That was today. We met to pray as we concluded and I had the kids throw the tops in a pile to be washed. It was my day to provide drinks- Capri Suns!- so the girls left to grab their refreshments and change into school uniforms. All except one. The others had scattered when I saw Tinu. She was by herself in the middle of the court, next to the stack of tops. Tinu, whose given name is Grace, was holding her reversible next to her face the way a mother cradles her precious baby. To put it on the laundry heap with the rest meant it was officially over. No more practices, no more games, no more Got'cha contests, and no more free throw ladders. It was a private moment- I never saw her lay it down- but I know it didn't drop from her hands easily. In all my years of coaching, it was a first for me.
I wish you could know Tinu. Gifted and gregarious, she possesses an intelligent sense of humor adults would envy. She is the first girl in WCS history to be on the junior high team for three years. Tinu came out as a sixth grader- the only sixth grader- and I doubted she would make it. She was so intimidated by the older girls, who were good kids, that she changed by herself in the hallway bathroom. Tinu did not dress out for games that year but she survived. Early in her seventh grade year, I told her I doubted she would receive a uniform that year either- she cried. I was wrong and she did suit up for the games. She rarely played but she was on the roster. One afternoon, we were playing at St. Mark's Episcopal. Tinu was holding my dry erase coaching board when she got too into the game...and shattered the board. This year has been a remarkable one for Tinu. Through sheer determination, she not only earned playing time but became the smartest defensive post player I've coached at that level. We were not competitive when she was not on the floor. And it ended today when she finally let go of her reversible and, I would guess, placed it tenderly on the pile with the others.
I stopped her as she entered my classroom for Bible class sixth and asked about what I witnessed. She told me that reversible had been hers all three years, a fact I was unaware of. By rough calculation, Tinu wore that blue-and-white top to five hundred practices. She spoke of her attachment to her practice jersey and how it seemed to shrink over the years. I laughed and reminded her that she is much taller than as a sixth grader but the reversible didn't grow along with her. I love all my players. Today, I remembered why. My respect for Tinu took a quantum leap this morning. I will coach on that floor again, Lord willing, but it's over for her, at least as a middle schooler. Things that don't faze young men are traumatic for young ladies. I wish I could give her the top but I can't. I would have to give all the kids their reversibles and we can't afford that. I guess Tinu will be like other girls that played for me. They come by the following autumn and see who is wearing their reversible. I know one Lady Wildcat will be especially blessed next fall- the one who gets the top that Tinu could not bear to relinquish. And, as always, the beat will go on.
Applicable quote of the day:
"Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go."
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org