A few notes, anecdotes, and thoughts from my travels across central Indiana covering high school sports.
Morning update. The team I cover that always loses? They won by 24 last night. No, I did not attend the game. I’m definitely a jinx.
This began with the idea of being a short review of a couple stories. But I guess all the tight writing I have to do for the paper – my stories normally run between 300-400 words – means I have to go crazy here. So prepare yourself.
I’m pleased to say I think I’ve got the stats thing down now. It took me 15 minutes tops to do my box score this Tuesday. Of course, it helps when one team only takes 25 shots in a game. And then the story came pretty quickly as well. I walked out of the gym at 8:45 following a 6:30 game. A month ago I imagine it would have taken me another 30 minutes to wrap things up. So that’s good.
I’ve covered one girls basketball team four times this year. They’ve lost all four of those games, three of them by more than 30 points. I was not able to cover one of their games that my editor offered me last week, and then they played over the weekend in a game I did not cover. Naturally, they won both games. I half expected the coach to run me out of the gym when he saw me walk in Tuesday night. As expected, they dropped a nail-biter by 32. I’ve yet to talk to any of his players because I’m at a loss for what to ask a bunch of 15-17 year old girls who just got trounced.
I had an interesting encounter at one of their games before Thanksgiving. I was seated in one of the press tables. This gym has two. The top one has bleacher seats while the lower one requires a folding chair. That night there were no chairs out, so the guy keeping stats for one team and I were seated in the upper row. Shortly before tip-off, a guy who looked like he was about 40, wearing a sports jacket, walked over and tried to sit in the lower level. He looked around for chairs, couldn’t find them, and started muttering to himself. I said something like, “I think they forgot about us,” and he gave me a strange look, like he was surprised that I would talk to him.
He took a seat in the upper row a couple spaces from me, busted out a notebook, and started writing in the names of the starters for both teams. Midway through the first quarter, when I started to get a rhythm for keeping my stats, I noticed that he was talking to himself. As the game went on, and I was able to listen closer, I realized he was doing a play-by-play of the game. To no one. Well to himself I guess. It started to make sense why he gave me the weird look: I’m pretty sure the guy was autistic or had some kind of mental impairment. My wild guess is that he had a sister that played for the visiting team back in the day, and this is his little Rain Man obsession.* He was awesome, though. He knew the last time the visitors had won in that gym, which was back in February of 1986. And he knew the score of that game. It’s not like he was toting around a media guide or something, either. Homeboy knew his history.
I assumed sister because he did not keep stats during the boys game that followed.
The visitors were up most of the game comfortable, but in the fourth the home team made a come-back. With about four minutes to play, they cut it to a four-point game. My neighbor was getting excited. “Look out, folks, we got ourselves a tight one!” he exclaimed. On the next possession, his team knocked down a three that effectively ended things, and he shouted, “Boom baby!” which is the three-point call for Pacers’ announcer Slick Leonard.
He sat with the rest of the fans for the boys game, but I saw him after the game walking out with some of the boys reserve players. He was saying something like, “You better learn how to play defense or you’re going to get your butts beat.” Behind his back, the freshmen and sophomores who sat at the end of the bench were making fun of him. It was sad to watch, but I realized A) I probably would have done the same thing when I was that age and B) he had no idea they were making fun of him and was probably thrilled he was hanging out with the players. Sitting by him made my night.
Last Friday I covered a boys game. The two schools aren’t terribly close to each other, but are in the same conference and apparently there is a bit of history between them. I got to the gym early, so was able to watch the second half of the girls game that was before the boys. Parents from the visiting school were behind me and a couple of dads were unloading on the refs. One ref missed a fairly obvious push-off and they lit into this guy for the next ten minutes. It’s worth noting that their team was up by about 20 as this was going on, so it’s not like he cost them the game or something. At one point, still up 20, a mom yelled at a ref asking him which daughter on the home team was his. The home coach looked back with a pained, annoyed look on his face and muttered, “All of them,” sarcastically. A couple of the parents seemed offended that he would dare say something in response to them while their daughters were kicking his team’s ass. “Did you hear what he said?” they shrieked in disbelief.
Anyway, when the boys game started, things got even more interesting. Both teams had some big guys and in three loose ball scrambles in the first quarter, they were diving all over each other, rolling around, throwing elbows, and having to be pulled away after the whistle. After the third scuffle, which was about two seconds away from turning into a full-blown fight, the refs stopped the game and warned both teams to knock it off. From my vantage point, the visiting team started things as their guard, who hit a three and got fouled on the game’s opening possession, threw an elbow and knocked a guy over during the first scramble. Yet the parents behind me were screaming at the refs for letting things get out of hand. “You should have stopped it the first time, before it got out of hand,” one yelled. He was directly behind me and it was hard not to turn around and say, “You know it was your player that started it, right?” I figured it best to remain impartial and silent.
The game was tight for awhile but the home team won by about ten. In the game’s closing minutes, a reserve for the home team got fouled rather hard and then said something to the guy who fouled him. A ref jumped in to keep things cool and the kid then smarted off to the ref. I was blocked so couldn’t tell exactly what was going on, but it seemed more like a carry-over from the earlier events than something new. As the game ended, there was lots of muttering from the parents behind me as the home students across the court chanted, “Just like football,” and “Maybe next year.”
After the buzzer sounded, I did a quick check of my scoring to make sure I had everything before I went to interview the home coach. As I was totaling things up, I noticed a guy was having an animated conversation with the PA announcer. They were about three feet away from me, but turned from me so I couldn’t pick out the entire conversation. I’m not sure what the PA announcer said, but I gather something he said as time ran out pissed some of the visiting fans off. He seemed normal and inoffensive all night, so I can’t imagine what it was that annoyed the visiting parents so much. When he got rid of that guy, a mother came over and asked him if he was the person who read the sportsmanship spiel before the game. He responded rather curtly, which got things going with her. I actually headed towards the locker room, but came back to “check something” in my notes just so I could be there if someone came down and started swinging on the PA guy. Talk about a scoop!
When I did head to the locker room, I noticed there were five police officers standing at the edge of the court, watching everyone who filed out. Terrific drama for an early December basketball game. They still take things seriously some places in Indiana, apparently.
After I returned from the locker room, I heard the PA guy and the athletic director talking about what had happened. The AD made it sound like problems with the visiting school’s parents go way back and their behavior and complaints were par for the course. It would be fun, of course, to see the same teams play at the other gym to see how things were handled over there.