Over the weekend there was another historic day for women's basketball at my Alma Mater, the University of Connecticut. The number one Huskies played host to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Unfortunately for the third ranked women from South Bend, it was no contest. The game however was broadcast as the week's "Game Day" by ESPN (a first). Following the game I conducted a little research of my own and learned that both Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw coached under legendary coach Jim Foster, at Saint Joseph's College in Pennsylvania. That information led me to another great player/coach, Theresa Grentz (who also worked with J.F.). However, Theresa's story led me back in time to the beginning of the women's college tournament; and the incredible success of Coach Cathy Rush at Immaculata College in the early 1970's. It's a small world...soon I found myself totally engaged in the story of the Might Macs. I soon realized I had stumbled upon something very special, "OUR LADY OF VICTORY...almost the perfect ending for my heroine Alexandra, should you wonder what happens to her following KNOCKOUT. OUR LADY OF VICTORY is a full length film, written and directed by Tim Chambers and due out in April of 2010. The film is based on a true story and shows how young athletes can do anything if they put their minds to it. Check out their link and keep your eyes peeled for its grand opening. http://www.themightymacs.com/
Chapter 2, KNOCKOUT
Nine months had passed since our basketball season came to an end. And no one was surprised when the final game was a lopsided 32 point defeat.
We were awful!
“Chalk another one up for the other team!” I heard one fan quip, as she stuffed her crochet needles into an oversized stenciled bag.
“Oh, but they're entertaining to watch,” Sister Mary Catherine chimed in. “You have to admit that!” Pushing her lower back forward, Sister Mary Catherine seemed to grow another three inches. “It's not all about winning, now,” she reminded the fans.
Over the past three years we had had a one and forty-three record.
That's one win and forty-three losses.
That's not good.
And to make it worse, our only win came by forfeit when the other team failed to show up. At least the “win” stopped a state record of 89 losses in a row. People still wonder why the other team was absent that day but Sister Mary Catherine insists, “It was a miracle,” tilting her head up to the sky.
Many believe Coach Buck should have thrown in the towel years ago, including me; but every year when Thanksgiving rolls around, Grandpa pulls out the worn, “Try-Out For-Basketball” sign from his dented gray desk and asks me to go post it up. I've been pushing the same red tacks, through the same holes for years. And if I have anything to do with it—this was going to be the last year.
TRY-OUTS....MONDAY 3:30- 5:00 Gym (Must Wear Sneakers! No Shoes)
I added the sneaker rule following last year's worst recruiting season ever! It was hard to imagine anyone showing up for practice without sneakers, but during the first day of tryouts, Arthur Mc Cleary took the court with his rolled up dress slacks, tan knee socks, a white tee-shirt and black oxford shoes.
“McCleary!” Coach screamed, readjusting his glasses and re-centering his sweat-shirt. “Are you planning on going to Mass or are you trying out for a basketball team?”
Coach snorted, shaking his head in disbelief.
“What happened to your sneakers?” I asked, raising my shoulders to my ears and holding both hands like I was checking for rain. Arthur took one look at me and didn't know where to begin, so I gave him the stinky-eye.
“Just don't kick someone with those soles!” I said. That was the last time Arthur came to practice without his high tops. Although he did forget his sneakers for opening game.
Grandpa always says you gotta learn how to deal with everyone differently. “Some with kid gloves and some with an iron fist!” I think Coach always asks me to deal with the ones that need a heavy hand.
Our whole school had kids just like Arthur McCleary. Filled with fun off the court, but half couldn't put the ball in the hoop—not to mention dribble, pass, or play defense on the court. And there was nothing I could say that would convince Grandpa to let me play on the team, even though I knew I was better than any of them.
I think if it wasn't for our Saint Anthony mission statement that declared, all students are considered equals, along with Sister Mary Catherine reminding Coach, “All children will shine,” half the kids wouldn't make the team. And the part about being created equal—I call it baloney, with a capital B.
I used to read the statement over and over, searching for the part that mentioned kids losing their mother or never knowing their father, but that was all left out.
No sooner had I put up the notice, and headed back to Coach's office, then the hallway began cackling like roosters in a hen house. I spun around and students were squeezing and jostling their way to the bulletin-board.
“It's like a bee hive,” I said, as Coach shook his head up and down with one ear pressed to the phone. “Uh-hah, uh-hah,” I could tell when Coach was in a serious conversation, his head bobbled up and down and he'd say nothing more than a few,
“Bumble bee. They don't realize they're all not gonna make the team. Some of them are awful.” I said. Coach gave me the look. “Wait until we put them through the first round of drills,” I added. “They won't be cackling after that!”
Coach shoo' d me out of his office, motioning for me to close the door. Spinning around in his oak chair, he coaxed his finger-tips through his hairs.
“Hey Knockout!” a sixth grader called out. “Wait until you see my shot! Nobody got a shot like the one I'm gonna show Coach!”
“Yeah, right!” I answered, pressing my face to the frosted glass window. I could see Coach pacing back and forth, paying no mind to me outside.
“Nobody got a shot like mine,” the new kid continued. “My old man says---”
I wheeled around.
“Don't tell me what your old man says,” I shouted.
“Can you dribble?”
“Can I dribble? What kind of question is that? Of course I can dribble, what you think a point guard does?” he moaned, tugging on my warm-up.
“My dad says, I'm like Curly Neil.”
This was worse than a beehive.
“What am I supposed to tell my dad when he asks me what position---”
“That's it,” I cried, pushing to my locker.
“Why ain't you answering me?”
“ I ain't answering you, cuz your an idiot.” I screamed. “And another thing, NO SHOES ON THE COURT!”
As the new kid drops to the floor, to take off his shoes, I wonder why I'm on the out side of of Coach's door—looking in.
Two, four, six, I race up the stairs and skip around the Dobrowski sisters. I was halfway up the second railing when Miss Rivers decided to take her class out for shadow drawing. If I was late for another one of Sister Angelica's history classes, I'd be staying after school and washing her chalkboard for a month.
I squeezed through the bottleneck, took a deep breath, then Sister Angelica gave me a frown that thrust-out her lower chin. Sister was a lot like Coach, nice on the inside, but ready to give a lesson you wouldn't forget. Sister closed the door in my face, just as the bell rang, pressing her watch up to her nose—I was sunk.
I stood outside her door and watched as Sister Angelica strolled to her podium. That witch, I thought. I gave her a sneer to rattle her cage.
Today was the first day of tryouts and I couldn't be late, and cleaning blackboards for Sister Angelica would mean—“Ahhh crap,” I said.
“Ahhh what?” A familiar voice echoed.
I didn't want to turn around. Threes—Coach always said—bad things happen in threes. First, Grandpa chases me out of his office, then I'm late for class, and now c-r-a-p, Sister Mary Catherine hears me saying something that's not supposed to be in a kid's vocabulary.
“Dear Miss Walkowitz,” Sister Mary Catherine said, leaning forward and peering over her glasses. “I do believe your choice of words leaves me wondering what is going on in your head?”
Sister always had a way of putting the obvious into phrases that made you wonder if she actually heard what you said—or hadn't a clue.
I played it safe, praying Sister not only didn't hear me, but couldn't read my mind.
“As a matter of fact, I was just on my way to see you.” I said, offering a glimmer of sunshine with a big smile.
“You were late for class again, weren't you?” Sister Mary Catherine said, her voice catching up with her mind. “I should have known.”
“Today's the first day of tryouts and Coach has problems on the phone.” I knew I had to think quick, because Sister Mary Catherine didn't have any patience for kids on their own clock. “Everyone's asking me about positions and Sister Angelica couldn't wait three more seconds---”
“I think you and I need a talk,” Sister Mary Catherine said, brushing by me and entering Sister Angelica's room. Sister Mary Catherine whispered something in Sister's ear, then Sister Angelica turned and nodded. I nodded back.
“Come now,” Sister Mary Catherine said, gathering her black tunic and adjusting her habit before skipping the staircase. “You need a re-adjustment.”
“A what?” I said, knowing what was in store for me. A half hour talk on listening for God's call. But when you reached sixth grade, girls realized, it was a convent conversation.
I followed Sister Mary Catherine down the stairs and out the front door, and knew I had another lesson coming my way. Nothing seemed to be going right and nothing I did seemed to matter.
“None of us are perfect!” I cried, pulling Sister Mary Catherine to a stop.
Sister raised her head up to the sky, then turned and let out a sigh.
“We all have cracks, Alexandra. Every one of us.”