Showing up

My son’s first season of playing basketball was when he was ten years old. Often, when I picked him up from his father’s house, he was shooting hoops. On one such day, he came running over to my car and said, “Mom, can I pleeease get another basketball?”

“Why do you need two basketballs, Tyler?” I asked.

“Because then I could have a basketball at my mom’s house and at my dad’s house,” he replied.

I thought that was a fine idea, especially since all Tyler could talk about was basketball. Sometimes he’d ask me to take him to the gym an hour before practice began. He enjoyed meeting his new teammates and thought the basketball drills were fun. I often had to convince him to leave the gym after practice was over. He usually wanted to hang around and shoot baskets.

Tyler and I have always had our most special talks when I go into his room to say good night. One night, he expressed some concern over his basketball shoes. He told me that maybe he needed better ones. I closed my eyes tightly, wishing that his last sentence would just go away. Being a single mom, the topic of new shoes was always difficult for me. I looked over at his “broken-in” shoes sitting next to his perfectly folded uniform. They looked just fine to me. I quickly changed the subject.

Finally, the first game of the season arrived. The gym was surprisingly crowded. Tyler’s team, the Hornets, was playing the Magic. I saw the happy look in my son’s eyes when he saw his dad sitting in the stands a few yards down from me.

There was a look of determination on Tyler’s face as he joined his teammates. As I watched the other kids running up and down the court, I saw my son sitting on the bench. By the fourth quarter, Tyler hadn’t even touched the ball, and his team had won the game.

The games that followed were pretty much the same. The team kept winning, but Tyler barely touched the ball. He ran so hard when he was on the court, but when he got the ball, he would quickly throw it to a teammate. I would sit there with my heart pounding out of my chest.

On the way home from one of his games, I asked, “Tyler, do you still enjoy basketball?”

He replied, “I like basketball a lot. But I know that some of the kids play better than me, so when I get the ball, I just throw it to them.”

The next day, I ran into an old friend of mine who used to play basketball when we were younger. I shared with him how I thought that Tyler played somewhat cautiously.

“Does he have good shoes?” he asked. I remembered how earlier in the season, Tyler had mentioned that he thought he needed better shoes. My friend must have noticed the look on my face as I thought about Tyler’s worn-out shoes. Before I knew it, we were shoe shopping. He insisted on buying Tyler a pair of beautiful, high-quality basketball shoes. It was the kind of gesture that inspires deep gratitude for any single mom, especially the mother of a son.

As I put Tyler to bed, he told me that he had wanted new basketball shoes for a long time. He loved them. They were awesome. He hoped that his new shoes would help him with his game.

Weeks of Tyler’s unending enthusiasm and devotion to basketball flew by. Once more, Tyler told me that he knew he wasn’t the best player on his team but that it was okay because he liked basketball so much. He played hard and kept practicing. I watched him improve. He never became discouraged. He said that he felt more comfortable in his new shoes and once more thanked me for them. He gave me detailed descriptions of new plays he had thought of. He told me how he was proud to be on such a good team. So far, they were undefeated.

The team made it to the play-offs. In front of a standing-room-only crowd, Tyler scored eight points at the end of a very close and exciting game.

The season came to a close, and the time for the awards ceremony was coming up. Tyler was guessing which kids would be getting awards for Most Valuable Player, Best Defense, Most Improved and Best All-Around Player. Tyler’s team had come in second place, and each player received a trophy. Toward the end of the ceremony, the director got up and thanked everybody. Then he said, “We aren’t finished yet. We have one last, special award for a very special player. He shows up for every game with a positive attitude. He has never argued with a referee or another player, never been late and never missed a practice or a game. He knows his place while playing, and his teammates speak highly of him. He plays because he obviously loves the game, and he always runs hard and tries his best. The Sportsmanship Award goes to Tyler Marsden!”

Suddenly, all the attention was on Tyler. His teammates and friends were giving him high-fives and slaps on the back. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I looked a few yards down into the stands and saw his father with the same tears in his eyes. We actually smiled at one another.

The other kids were still congratulating him when Tyler walked over and picked up his second trophy. I overheard other parents saying, “He got the most impressive award of the evening.”

Tyler proudly said, “Now I have a trophy for my mom’s house and a trophy for my dad’s house!”

J. J. V.

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