Friday, December 18, 2015

Super. Man.

"Superman!" my husband yells. "Run Superman!" The group of middle-school boys look up at him, then, tentatively, form a square on the end of the basketball court. (Please let them form a square.) The boy throwing the ball inbounds smacks it, and half the kids jump sideways. Or so they should. They don't always. They're mostly only 10 years old.

My husband is coaching middle-school basketball for the first time in four years, at the small Catholic school both our children attended. He coached when our son was in 7th and 8th grades, and then again the following year after his replacement was seriously injured in a car crash.

He coaches for love of the game, and for love of the players. He coaches because, like me, he understands that sports gives kids discipline, toughness, and pride. He coaches because, like me, he's had coaches who became mentors, who helped him through rough spots in his life. He coaches because he knows he's got a gift to give these players--in many ways, coaching is a vocation.

It's not easy. The time commitment is enormous. Last week: 2 games, 3 practices. This week: 3 games, 2 practices. That's a lot for a surgeon without children on the team. His players right now are mostly small, inexperienced, and young. They'll grow, but not by next week. "Run Superman!" my husband yells, and some of them look confused. They have playbooks. They practice plays. Superman--I could run it, I've been to practices enough.

Sometimes you catch the magic happening. In yesterday's game one boy caught a pass, pivoted, and threw the ball to a teammate who had just come open. It was almost nothing, and yet that boy had never managed it before--the catch, the pivot (no traveling!) the throw (no jump ball!)--and the other boy, too, was where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there. They did it right for the very first time. It was fabulous.

Over the years I've seen kids who thought of themselves as clumsy, slow, weak, gradually become stronger, faster, more graceful. I've seen how it changes how they carry themselves. I've seen how they become better versions of themselves under my husband's guidance.

Yesterday in the stands one of the teachers reminisced about a boy who once played for my husband that she called the most disruptive, impossible student she ever had at the school. I remembered the child very well, because he would have walked through fire for my husband. I remember my husband saying to that boy, "I love you," and I remember that boy saying, "Coach, I love you too."

This team, this new team, won't run through fire yet. But I think they're starting to understand that they can. After last night's game, after some fabulously good plays and some not-so-go ones, the team gave my husband a Christmas gift. He opened it when he got home, and I heard him laugh. "They gave me a shirt," he said.

"A St. Anne's shirt?" I asked.

"No." He held it up. Royal blue, with a big red S outlined in yellow on the chest. You've seen it before. Superman.