My daughter Zoë is a basketball fanatic. She nearly always has a basketball in hand, regardless of what she is doing. She dribbles in the kitchen. She watches TV with a ball in her lap. She even takes it in the car, just incase we end up anywhere near a hoop. This child loves basketball. I mean loves it. She loves playing. She loves watching. Ask her about the time Paul George touched her hand at a Pacers game. (He touched mine too. I may or may not have been the one screaming like a 12 year old girl.) But as much as Zoë loves the game, she has never had the opportunity to play on an organized team. In our school district, basketball is a team sport not offered until the 7th grade. So about 6 months ago, Zoë asked me if she could try out for county league basketball. We went to the tryout, not knowing that she was vying against 19 other girls for the all star team. 20 girls trying out for 10 spots. Yikes. When I tell you that some of those girls look like they had fallen right out of the WNBA, I am so serious. One of the girls ran like a gazelle. Her stride was so fluid and long, she ran a full lap ahead of the rest of the girls. I remember during the shooting portion of the try-out, one tiny little point guard did a spinning lay-up. I was waiting for her to turn into a Teen Wolf. It was insane. So I sat in the bleachers, while all the other parents talked with each other. They had known each other for years. Apparently there is a world of parents, who have their kids playing ball from the time they are in diapers. But my little girl was undaunted. She played her heart out. We were told by the coaches that the phone calls would be made the next day to those who made the team. We waited for the call…but our call never came. Zoë was understandably upset. We cried together a bit. But later that evening she said, “Mama, I am going work really hard, and next year I am going to make the team.” Atta girl! But I hadn’t seen anything yet. About a week later, Ms. Campos pulled Zoë aside. Ms. Campos is Zoë’s afternoon teacher, and also the 7th grade basketball coach. She asked Zoë if she would like to be the manager for the team. Zoë was over the moon! We talked about it, and decided to take some time off from Zoë’s Starfish so she could manage the team for a few months. I told her to have Ms. Campos call me, and we would work out the details. When Ms. Campos called, she said she wanted Zoë to practice with the team to improve her game, so she would be ready to tryout for the team herself next year. Zoë spent the season managing that team with all her heart. She never missed a practice or game. She got to play ball with girls a year older than her, who have been playing all their lives. Her game has improved, her character and attitude have improved, and she found an outlet and another little family to call her own. Last night was their last game. It was the playoff game that would have sent them to the championship game. They lost. Zoë waited until she got into the car to burst into tears. She sobbed in my arms for several minutes before she finally took a breath and said, “Mama, I don’t want it to be over.” I cried with her, and said, “Honey, don’t be sad it’s over, be thankful it happened. You will remember those experiences for the rest of your life.” I am so proud of my Zoë girl. But my proudest moment was not anywhere near the court. That moment was when I called Ms. Campos to thank her, and to tell her what a good outlet the basketball team was for Zoë to have some time away from Zion. Ms. Campos said, “What do you mean?” And I said “I just mean because of the autism, it is exhausting. We both need breaks from time to time.” She had no idea what I was talking about. Come to find out, my sweet girl had never once played the victim card. Zoë had never whined about her brother’s autism. Or carried on about the fact that her dad left when she was 5. Or blathered about our constant fundraising efforts. Or cried about how much we have struggled through the years. If anyone could play the victim, it could be Zoë. But she hadn’t done that. Not once. I’ve raised a fighter. And that’s a sweet victory that’s better than any basketball championship.
March Madness, Sadness, and Gladness