So much more than a game

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By Vanessa Hurst

Since our son, Isaac, started playing Rec League basketball he has treated it like a career. The only other child I have ever seen as serious about a sport is my brother who was bound and determined to play baseball for the Cleveland Indians.

Isaac has had several coaches since he first started playing basketball for the Bardstown Rec Department’s Fifth Quarter youth basketball program. This year was the first time he represented New Haven and the first time a coach made a huge impact on him.

Going to the practices and games in the beginning was filled with amusement as awkward boys found their footing and stumbled around dribbling the ball. But as practices and games progressed every child on the team saw remarkable improvement. By the last few games each player was able to score baskets, handle the ball, follow plays laid out by the coaches, steal the ball and occasionally even “break ankles.”

You could say this isn’t anything unusual for a team to improve as the season progresses, and that would be absolutely correct. Like I said, Isaac has had several different coaches but none quite like Coach Boo Mattingly and Coach Jacob McCubbins. There was nothing easy about their practices; I would probably have given up had I been in their shoes. However, their coaches wouldn’t let them have that option.

I’ve heard on more than one occasion that the toughest coaches are often the best and well respected amongst their players. Coach Boo was hard on the boys, but I heard a few of them say they only wanted him to coach them in the future. He saw the potential each kid had and knew what it took to help them achieve that potential.

The work ethic that these coaches instilled in our kids, the fact that our kids were able to see how the hard work of seemingly relentless drills paid off goes so much further to teach them about the value of hard work than simply learning how to shoot and dribble.

Each game us parents sat at the edge of our seats, cheering and riding the highs and lows right along with the players. For me, never before has my emotional well being been so entangled with the results of a sports game. It wasn’t only because I wanted our team to win; it was because I saw how hard they have worked for it. As I watch my husband clench his jaw at bad passes and missed shots and my friends yell and cheer when one of the boys made a basket, I found myself doing something I never imagined myself doing so enthusiastically; I was cheering and yelling with them. White knuckled I gripped my camera not only to get some photos of our boys, but also to give myself a little distraction from the stress of the close game.

The last game they played was a close one; they were ahead, and then behind, then tied but they just couldn’t pull it together at the end and lost the game. As I watched the clock run out, with each second, my heart sank for them. At 30 seconds a few of them, including Isaac, already knew it was over, but they still put in every ounce of effort until the buzzer.

Afterward, nine tear-stained faces marked with the sting of defeat gathered around Coach Boo and Coach Jacob for their post-game huddle. Coach Boo was a little softer at this defeat than he had been before as he talked to them about how proud he was of the skills they have developed and making it as far as they had.

Isaac went home disappointed. He played basketball in the driveway for a few hours, as he always does. But he also went away from that last game with a little more determination and work ethic instilled in him by good coaches. For that, I want to thank our coaches and every coach who has dedicated their time, energy and a part of their life to teach kids so much more than a game.