Christian Love & 8th Grade Girls Catholic League Basketball

I love whimsical contrasts. The Diocese of Chicago Parochial School System is huge, I am told something like the 5th largest school system in the country, public or private: 78,000 students in 217 schools, 183 elementary schools, 34 high schools. Sports rivalries within the system can be intense. When we arrived in Chicago 35 years ago I amused myself, as I always have, by checking sports scores in the newspaper. Occasionally, in championship games near the end of the season there would be an article on the sports page and a headline: Mother McAuley Bests St. Barbara in Tight Battle. It inspired me to create my own fictional headlines: St. Francis Hammers St. Mel: St. Mary of the Angels Destroys St. Ignatius: Holy Trinity Clobbers St. Joseph. I thought it was quite hilarious.

This past basketball season I have watched, once or twice a week, an 8th grade granddaughter, Lilly, playing for her school, St. Matthias, and witnessed first-hand the intensity of several intra-school rivalries. The St. Mathis Mustangs turned in a very nice season. Lilly started at point guard, played hard, scored several times each game. She had a great time and learned a lot. Years ago, coaching Little League baseball and basketball and helping with football, I experienced personally sometimes out-of-control parental fervor and came to dread some parents’ full-throated anger at referees, umpires and occasionally, me. But I have to say, the intensity at some of Lilly’s games was breathtaking and troubling.

One elementary school had its claque of over-heated, fevered mothers and fathers who screamed at referees, their own and opposing players. At one game at St. Matthias’s home court this group of adults was so obnoxious the referees stopped the game and told parents and coach to take it easy and lower the volume, that we were all watching 8th grade girls play a game.

We arrived early for Lilly’s final game of the season last night, in the middle of the game preceding hers. Sure enough that team and parental cheering section were there again. This time, however, the opposing team had its own crowd of loud, boisterous parent fans. And, once again, the referees had to stop the game and warn the parents to dial it back and remind them they were watching a game not life-and-death combat.

It occurred to me that the fans’ loud, aggressive yelling was surely having an impact on how the girls were playing the game. Players on both teams were pushing, elbowing, shoving. Sue and I counted one fierce little girl slamming so hard into her opponent that she fell flat on the floor five times.

I have always loved sports, playing, watching, discussing, cheering. I love competition. One of my favorite books is the late Bart Giamatti’s Take Time for Paradise: Americans and their Games. Giamatti was a distinguished Classics scholar, President of Yale University and Commissioner of Major League Baseball. But I came home from the game last night wondering about the effect the almost violent, aggressive parental shouting was having on adolescent girls.

Lilly’s game, by contrast, was a model of decorum. Parents and grandparents of both teams’ players sat together amicably, applauded and cheered occasionally but no one became red in the face and shouted at the referees. The Mustangs lost and their season ended. There were tears but also smiles.

I couldn’t help but muse at the whimsical contrast between the love for one another that Jesus taught and what transpired on the basketball court. Before every league game the two teams line up at center court and together recite a prayer that appears on the wall of every gym, thanking God for the privilege of playing the game, asking God to help them be the best athletes they could be, to give them the strength and courage to play fairly and to respect their opponents and themselves. It was particularly poignant because Lilly’s final game was in the evening of Ash Wednesday and some of the girls still had remnants of ashes on their foreheads as they fought it out in the game…a lovely contrast.

 

 

Comments

  1. Susan Rankert says:

    Going through our parents’ things, John found-and kept- the laminated “half dollar” in Mom’s purse.
    It was the standing bet you and Babe had over the outcome of Pirates-Cubs games.
    She was rather gleeful when after your move to Chicago, you saw the error of your previous ways.
    So many fond memories from my youth in the Bethany family.

    • John Buchanan commented on Christian Love & 8th Grade Girls Catholic League Basketball

      I love whimsical contrasts. The Diocese of Chicago Parochial School System is huge, I am told something like the 5th largest …

      Susan – this is John Buchanan’s son responding. I told my Dad about your comment – which he loved – and his response is below. I have also cc’d him on this email. ——————-

      Susan:

      Thank for the reminder. Sue and I loved your parents. Babe and Bill, Pauline and Don Wallick, Evah Belle and Doyle Newton, Thelma and Dave Biery. Among our dearest friends.

      We had a “Gourmet Club,” monthly dinner in one of our homes, great food, too much drinking and loads of laughter. Very precious memories.

      All the best to you.

      John Buchanan

    • Susan – this is John Buchanan’s son responding. I told my Dad about your comment – which he loved – and his response is below.

      Susan:

      Thank for the reminder. Sue and I loved your parents. Babe and Bill, Pauline and Don Wallick, Evah Belle and Doyle Newton, Thelma and Dave Biery. Among our dearest friends.

      We had a “Gourmet Club,” monthly dinner in one of our homes, great food, too much drinking and loads of laughter. Very precious memories.

      All the best to you.

      John Buchanan

  2. Michael Warwick says:

    Great article. Having raised 5 girls I have seen more than my share of athletic competitions over the last 40+ years. Basketball, soccer, softball, swimming, track & field and golf, from grade school to college. I was a shouter in my early days, but was cured by a year of keeping the book for my oldest’s basketball team while she was in 8th grade. I was instructed by the coach to keep my mouth shut while sitting on the bench. I learned a little self control and also grew to enjoy the games more. Two years ago I witnessed a soccer coach pull his team off the pitch and forfeit the game because, in his view, the parents were acting inappropriately after being warned to calm down. Now, as an elderly grandpa I watch the games in peace and quiet except for the occasional yell of encouragement.

  3. Now that touched me – I can just ‘’see’’ coming home from the game and not being ready to sleep. Until I wrote something down. This was beautiful.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  4. timjweaver says:

    I love it! Go kids! Go Cubbies!

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