Now that my background has been adequately painted, let’s get into the meat of this story. Things might have been gong haywire on many levels, but basketball was still the most important thing in my life. I practiced every day. I still had a burning passion to play on the team. In light of everything going on, basketball was my escape. I could get on the court and forget about all of the drama that hovered over my life.
I passed on trying out in 8th grade. Whether that was a good idea or not I will never know. I’m at the mature point in my life where I don’t really need to know. God works all things for the good of those who serve Him…who are called according to His purpose. Whether or not trying out for the team in 8th grade basketball team would have changed things for me is irrelevant. I have no regrets.
As the 9th grade tryout approached, there was no way I was going to miss this one. I was no longer the 70 pound wrestler I was in 7th grade. Yeah that’s right! I gained a whopping 15 pounds, and I finally grew taller than 5 foot (maybe 5’1″, but it was progress). In 7th grade, it was clear that I didn’t belong. I didn’t score a basket, I couldn’t play defense. I didn’t know how to do any of the drills we were doing, and I was a slow learner. I was clueless. This time around was different. I was better. I remember one play in particular when Jameel Wooden, an incoming 7th grader, fouled me while shooting a three pointer. I made the shot, and it felt like I arrived. Everyone was going nuts.I guess it was shocking enough that I made a basket, let alone a three point basket while getting fouled. I was actually feeling pretty good about my performance. I felt like I was where I was supposed to be. I remember finally feeling like something good was going to come my way. Boy was I wrong.
One of the most clear basketball memories comes from a conversation I had with Coach Schaum and Mr. Wilmont at the end of the 9th grade tryouts. I was confident that it went well…that I might have a chance. Instead, the news I received was heart-wrenching. Coach Shaum called me into his office after the tryout. I remember it like it happened 5 minutes ago. He was halfway sitting on the edge of the back of a chair, leaning forward with his hand on his cheek. It was that sort of posture where you know that some bad news was about to come.
“Mark…you didn’t make the team son,” he said. My head started to spin. I’m sure my heart stopped for at least 2 seconds. I entered into this out-of-body experience, where I heard him talking, but it was this vivid, irrelevant echo, as if I was physically there but consciously somewhere else. Everyone knew how much I wanted to play for the Franklin Hornets basketball team, even the coaching staff. That’s probably why Coach Schaum had the posture that he did. You could tell that he and Mr. Wilmont didn’t want to be the bearer of the bad news. He then proceeded to offer me a position on the team as the manager. Not only was I getting cut, he was adding further insult to injury by asking me to be the team’s water boy. There was no way that I could do that.
I think I declined politely. To be honest, that part I don’t remember. ALl I know is I never served as the manager of that team. It wasn’t even an option. I left the office as fast as I could, holding in the tears that pushed heavy against the back of my throat. Nothing ever seemed to go right for me. You would think I would be numb to bad news by now, but this hurt. I got myself outside and I let it all out. I cried like I lost a dear loved one…like I lost the most important person in my life. It could probably be argued that I did. It certainly felt like I did.Basketball meant everything to me. It was all I thought about. I slept with my basketball. I’d lie in bed every night envisioning myself outplaying my opponents. I’d come up with new moves to try the next day.I just couldn’t believe I was cut again. All I kept thinking was “Doesn’t Coach Schaum know how bad I want this? Doesn’t that matter?”
Shortly after, others made their way outside. Some were content with being cut, like it wasn’t a big deal. Others walked out with a swagger like they knew they would make the team before they even tried out. All of them couldn’t help but see how tore up I was. Just about everyone assumed I would get cut. That wasn’t a surprise to them at all. What was surprising is the way that I reacted. It wasn’t like I was the only kid to get cut. We probably had 30-40 people trying out. It clearly meant more to me than everyone else. Unfortunately, that didn’t matter. I was cut, and there was nothing anyone was going to be able to do about it.
I was such a wreck that some of the guys who had given me a hard time about trying out couldn’t joke about it. I don’t think they realized how bad I wanted to make the team until that very moment. I thought I was going to catch some more pot shots as they walked by and noticed my waterfall of tears. instead, they shook there head and apologized. “Dang Markie…I thought this was gonna be your year.” Nope…I’d have to wait a whole lot longer for my time to come.