May 26th, 2023
When I was a senior, my high school basketball team made it to some important round of a state tournament. As an officer of the student council, I remember printing out the flyers on the newly invented copy printer and making posters at lunch to hang around school to ensure a lively student section. The night arrived like most cold March nights in White Plains NY. Kids tromped in wearing thin Jean and letter jackets. Big thick hair ties held wild 80’s hair as high as warrior crowns and you could smell the bubble gum lip gloss, the edge of booze and the wafting faint aroma of joints passed around in the woods.
The marching band itched to bang their drums and the brass tooted their horns to tune. The cheerleaders were loud and hot and had moves. Around me were 80’s icons, the White Plains version of Demi Moore, Matthew Broderick, Whitney Houston, Michael Jordan, Molly Ringwald, Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Rob Lowe, Cindy Lauper, Sean Penn and of course Madonna. (I personally leaned toward the Jenifer Gray type but with braces.) Everyone had their part and all of us for this one night were in orange and black. We had pom poms, noise makers, posters and most importantly good constructions boots with white tube socks to pound our feet hard on the steel bleachers.
The game was back and forth, back and forth but then we fell behind and this took us to the very edge of the last minutes of the game. An amazing play tied the game. Then in a flash, with only seconds remaining, the ball went up. With a wild hail Mary from the middle of the court the whole gym held their breath. Not a sound could be heard. The 3 point ball swished in for the win. The bleachers roared like a dragon about to lift off. We screamed, we jumped, we hugged. We did it.
I remember looking around this explosion of joy. I remember that it was so hot that the little high up windows fogged. I remember hugging someone I ached to touch. I remember my heart pounding and then settling down in awe. I was in love with everyone. I loved the school, my classmates, and the power of sports. Mostly though I loved bringing people together, I loved watching ordinary people become heroes.
This past Wednesday Maya’s high school women’s lacrosse team played for the state finals. Maya, like me, is involved in the student government and as such checked to be sure there was a bus to take kids to Stevenson, our local university stadium. She reported to her coach that she got a hard “no” from the AD when she requested a spirit bus even though he sent a bus for the boys game for the semi finals. The coach made a call. The AD didn’t argue. I rallied a few good friends and showed up with my own crowd of 10. Dressed in red we took over our section of the bleachers. Kids who could drive started to roll in. Then all at once the bus arrived and the student section filled up.
I am such a sap for 80”s high school rom com stories. I could feel the imbalanced and unpredictable hormone surge at my back: the drama, the unrequited love, the bouts of depression, the mania, the awkward and dopey, the beautiful and untouchable. Simple minds played faintly in my scene edits. In this crowd, instead of my heartthrob 80’s crew, there were conniving Taylor Swifts, dangerous Robert Pattinsons, Bright Zendayas want to be’s, intense Timothee Chalamets’, and emo Billie Eilishs’. I watched the woman’s team on the other side of the field, all made faceless by their jerseys and headgear. Had they had ever played for a crowd this big before? Where there ever so many eyes just on them? How would they handle the pressure? Would they be heroes or go home losers?
By the end of the second half I would say they were heading toward a loss. With a 6-2 score against them, I felt the codependent mamma tug in my gut. Was there anything I could do? I prayed, I cast spells, I visualized, I loved, I hated. I was a mess. Because I am a helpless romantic and a root for the underdog kind of girl, I had hope. They write movies just for my type. But every time we scratched a point, the other team took it back. With only 15 minutes of the game left there seemed little hope. We were down and really down.
But then this guy, (from the 80’s mind you), a random friend of an uncle of a player, got up and started getting the students all riled up. He started to spell out the name of the school. D. U. L. A. N. E. Y. They roared back. Then he spelled the mascot L. I. O. N. S. Then we all roared back. Every time we did this we won the draw and scored. Suddenly we were all breathless. 5 points up in minutes! And just like when the music turns up an octave in the movie and you know the guy is going to get the girl, good will triumph over evil, the world will be saved, we all felt it. God had a say, we were destined to win. The crowd’s love was feeding the team the nectar of victory. On the edge of our seat we miraculously and suddenly were one point away from tying the game. In the last moments, a forward got the ball and charged the goal. A hail Mary shot was made and in the last second hit the pole and missed. I will never forget the sound of that ball hitting the metal of loss instead of the silent victory of the ball in a net. 9-8
A collective, “OHHHHH…….OHHHHH…FFFKKKKK…DAMMMM….SHTTTTT”
We reorganized. Suddenly this tight nit crowd was cast away from each other. Embarrassed by our spontaneous unbridled connection and with unsynchronized breaths, we bled red, each of us left suddenly alone to process the shock of it all. Tossed out of the powerful chant of our collective fate to win, and with hope rolling down and off us like rain, we were forced to accept the lonely crashing feeling of loss.
The other team piled onto each other. Our girls walked off the field.
It was a hell of game.
I stupidly said to Scott too soon, “Looks like they still get a trophy and medals around their neck. They came in 2nd in the state!”
Scott is a very competitive athlete who played baseball for Hopkins. In his junior year he went all the way to the world series. In his rather tough, Italian, Irish, Brooklyn, Long Island blood is an ice-cold warrior, who I know, would kill if push came to shove. He channels his fire into being precise and unwavering in the operating room. I watched for years as he channeled it into being a compassionate baseball coach for Jack, and now mostly I watch as he channels it into a titanium golf club that hits a little white ball and wills it to land in a little round cup. He has finally met his match and it is his handicap.
He can’t help himself. He hates to lose. And in this moment, he is all adrenaline, all testosterone. He belongs on that bus back to the school. He says, “No one remembers 2nd place. I guarantee you, that trophy will not make it in the trophy case.” I leave him alone. 90% of marriage is about leaving each other alone. But then I see him check himself quickly. Parenthood teaches us that. He looks with concern for Maya on the field. He is proud. Very proud. He loves her more than he loves to win and he will chooses loving us over a win every time.
Later that night we waited for Maya to come home. We wondered how she will come in the door. How was the bus ride back? What did the coach say? She arrives close to 10 pm in her red uniform and smelly socks in open toed sandals. Like her siblings she proudly wears the number 3 and this is last time she will wear the jersey this year. She is happy. She sits down starving. We wait for her version. She says, “Wow that crowd. That was amazing. That guy who led the chant. Wow! We really felt that. It like fed us. We have never come back like that.”
And I know she walked away with something better than 2nd place. She is a person who will always lead the chant, fill the bus, gather people and guide them into experiencing things beyond their limited lonely thinking. I know she feels the music under it all and that she will always want a part of scripting the love narrative.
When I look to see who in her world she models, who she looks up to, who she knows will help her carry the heavy load her generation has for reimaging and creating a sustainable world, I know that she has us. That same part of Scott that will not settle for second is the part of my kids that will not settle. They dig deep. They show up. They work hard. When they lose a game, it only fuels them to learn and play at the next level. Like Lu, she will challenge the sneaky unlocked but closed doors that woman still have to bang down in sports. Like Jack she will lead by building up the underclassman and making them feel they are a part of something great. That a legacy awaits. The part I offer, looks for the cracks where love pours in and erases the hard edges of “sides”. Maya knows, like me, the plain and gorgeous truth. We are all in fact on the same team.