Friday, April 15, 2011

Glad to be wrong

Part II of this story is here.

The first game of Spencer's season was a scrimmage-- a practice to help acclimate the kids to basketball. Before each quarter, the coaches lined up the players and paired them with a member of the opposite team for defensive purposes.

At this scrimmage, I knelt next to Spencer and whispered a few reminders about staying with his man. Then I turned to look at who he was paired with-- and saw the embodiment of fear.

The poor child was distraught. His eyes were red and swollen. His lips trembled, and he clasped and unclasped his hands repeatedly. His breathing was irregular, and his legs shook. My first instinct was to reach out and hug him. Instead, I asked,

"Hi, sweetie. What's your name?"

"M-m-m-Michael." he gasped.

"Well Michael, this is Spencer. You two will be guarding each other. Spencer, can you say hi?"


"Hi." he sniffled.

It became obvious rather quickly that little Michael was way out of his comfort zone. He flinched away from the ball and avoided the crowd of players. He was mostly a non-participant, much like... much like Spencer! In fact, they were a perfect match.

Each time the ball changed possession, Michael and Spencer would run to the opposite end of the court, face each other, and fold their hands neatly in front of them. The rest of the game would swirl on around them.

Over the course of the regular season, we played Michael's team two more times. Every time they were on the court, Spencer and Michael were paired up by what was an unspoken agreement between the coaches.

When Spencer's defense would lapse (which was-- ahem-- quite frequently,) Michael was able to catch passes from his teammates and try to score. The spectators would go wild. I had a sense that he didn't get this chance very often.

Sometimes I wondered what Michael's parents thought about the situation. Did they find it insulting that their "normal" child was always paired with a child who had a disability? I knew it wasn't my problem, but I did think about it from time to time.

We ended up playing Michael's team for the fourth time, in the second round of the playoffs. I saw a different child then. Michael was confident and tried hard. He and Spencer were, yet again, a perfect match on the court.

We lost that game, and were out of the tournament. But as we lined up to give the other team high-fives, I saw a man standing at the side of the court. He was waiting for me.

It was Michael's dad.

He wanted to let me know that Michael used to hate basketball. But when he played our team, Spencer changed his mind. In fact, before every game, Michael would ask if he would be playing Spencer's team that day. That fact was the only thing that mattered to him. Then Michael's dad said,

"Spencer is the reason why Michael now enjoys basketball. Thank you so much."

I was speechless. Here, I had thought that Spencer's performance in the game was the highlight of the season. But I was, happily, so very wrong.


ctarbet said...

You were right about the tissue warning. I am still fighting back tears so I can see to write this. Isn't it amazing how much we learn from children and the experiences that we find them in? Spencer is a wonderful child and he will continue to teach those around him, just from being himself. Thank you for not giving up on basketball with him!!

Susan said...

Thank you, Lauren. These experiences are priceless and your writing captures them so well.

Valerie said...

never understood when my mom would cry at things that weren't sad. now i know. i have tears. love it.