“That’s a foul,” he yelled during what seemed like every offensive possession. “THANK YOU,” was his response when the game officials appeared to agree.
As the game got out of hand he got more vocal. “Way to keep it classy,” he roared late in the 4th quarter when the Hector Garcia 8th grade girls basketball team scored a basket to put the game safely out of reach. He was sitting to my right a few rows back so I could hear every snicker and snide comment. His actions in the moment were completely out of line, as were mine immediately following the game’s conclusion when I’d had enough and turned to tell him to shut his mouth.
He was yelling more loudly than before at our team for daring to pose for a picture at mid-court following the game. “GET OFF THE COURT,” he screamed over and over before I interjected. Not surprisingly, he furiously refused to take my advice and in fact had his own advice that he shared with me, completely free of charge. It wasn’t a pretty scene under any circumstance, but it was particularly ugly in a middle school gym on a Friday evening surrounded by kids. And considering next year we’ll all be on the same side since the two schools feed into Brandeis High School, the confrontation was an utter waste of time.
When cooler heads prevailed all departed for the parking lot and we went our separate ways. I took my son, Cade, to the grocery store for a gallon of milk while Kristin, my wife took our daughter Claire and baby boy Cash to meet the rest of the team and their parents at Chick-fil-A. While there baby Cash needed help navigating the slide in the indoor playground, so several of the girls from the team gladly sat on benches in the area while he decided between the blue slide (the fast one) and the yellow slide (the slow one).
A group of ladies were at the playground as well with a young child, presumably belonging to one of the three. I wasn’t there but in a flurry of stories and incredulous disbelief my daughter and wife later explained to me all that transpired. Apparently, according to one of the furious moms, “the one with braids smiled,” which set her off in a fury of f-bombs and obscene hand gestures. I’m certain there were misunderstandings on both sides but in a conversation that my wife initiated with the three moms after everyone left, it appears that the entire incident boiled down to that. A smile was taken as some sort of slight, which somehow strangely warranted yelling obscenities at a group of 13-year old girls. “I’m just very protective of my children,” she explained to my wife. “Yes, I understand,” my wife said. “Because even though our kids are older, we’re protective too.”
This isn’t meant as indictment of any of the parents involved. In the end we all just want to protect our kids, regardless of how we go about doing it. But it is a ridiculously painful reminder of how we get caught up in the smallness of insignificant moments, only to be forcefully shaken back to consider our true priorities when tragedy strikes.
Allie is one of those kids that gets in trouble for smiling too much. She’s an exceptional athlete, a whirling blur of pig-tails and elbows, perpetually moving faster than almost everyone else around. She was one of the girls facing an angry fans ire last night, and one of the girls that so offended others at a fast-food chicken joint with nothing other than her smile. And this morning Allie’s dad Mike unexpectedly passed away, hours before the Garcia girls took the court again. He was 44 years old.
I didn’t know Mike very well but we always greeted each other with a handshake and smile at the gyms all over South Texas where our daughters play. We enjoyed small-talk and a couple of beers last summer in Corpus Christi while the girls played soccer on the beach. And we mumbled under our breaths as the girls posed for just one more picture after their End-Of-Summer tournament last September. “We’ll all see each other again tomorrow,” we lamented and laughed. Painfully, days like today are a reminder that perhaps that’s not always the case.
When we got home after the last game, Claire collapsed into my arms and sobbed, her bony shoulders quivering as we hugged in our cold garage. We hug often, usually at least twice a day, but this hug was different. This was an embrace riddled with fear and the way she held onto me conveyed her realization that it could’ve easily been me that was lost. It could’ve been any of us.
I held on to her for as long as I could and I would encourage everyone else to do the same. The meaningless moments can’t define us, can’t consume our thoughts. The senseless moments of wasteful confrontation or meaningless interactions have a tendency to suffocate the memories that matter. It’s the embraces, the love, the smiles that matter. It’s those moments that matter.
Perhaps in an attempt to hang onto anything normal for as long as she could before the pain of losing her father engulfed her, Allie chose to play in Garcia’s game this morning. The girls lost to Stevenson 44-25, but Allie started the game. As the first quarter drew to a close she dove into the stands to try and save a loose ball, and when she got up that familiar smile was there to comfort us all. Her coach sent in a sub, and Allie jogged to the sideline.
She hugged her coach and teammates and sat down on the wooden bench. She took a sip of water, pulled the top of her jersey over her face and she cried.