Everything ends badly. Otherwise it wouldn't end. Not sure who said that, but I've been feeling it for days. When our Corner High School basketball team lost in the area semifinals the other night, buried in a blizzard of 3s, it didn't just mean the end of another season. For my older son and his four fellow seniors, it meant the end of their high school basketball careers.
After four years of high school ball, two years of middle school ball, years and years of park ball and travel ball before that, now what? That ball has been bouncing in our family room, kitchen, bedrooms, garage, basement, driveway and backyard for so long, taking the air out of it for even a moment deflates my soul.
The final horn set loose a cascade of unpleasant, unwelcome emotions. Sadness at the cruel finality of it all. Emptiness at the thought of no more gameday and postgame Instagram and Facebook posts, no more nights on the mike introducing the starting lineups, no more family drives to hurry to the afternoon JV games to watch our younger son and his friends. At least for this season.
The only thing standing between me and a serious postseason funk has been a conflicting, welcome feeling - a sense of appreciation deeper than any I've felt before. Despite the usual injuries, illnesses and woulda coulda shouldas that contributed to the annual grind, the players, coaches and family members got to experience a season unlike any other.
They got to play. We got to watch. COVID-19 be damned.
Several members of our basketball family were touched directly by the coronavirus, me among them. Senior Night took place the third week in January - after the head coach came out of quarantine - not at the final home game in February, to make sure we had a Senior Day. The Thanksgiving and Christmas tournaments were canceled, as were other regular-season games, all because of the pandemic. Crowds were reduced to a fraction of normal capacity, blunting home-court advantage (as well as home-game ticket and concession revenue).
And still our Varsity Boys played 25 games. On 25 nights over four months, we gathered at remote locations in Jefferson, Walker, Blount, Fayette and Morgan counties to watch our kids do something that meant something - to them and to us. None of us will remember the final scores or the final record for long, but we'll all take away plenty of memories to sustain us from all four of our teams. Like stirring comebacks by the 9th Grade Boys and the Varsity Girls. And the day the JV Boys capped their season on the road by playing the last 2 ½ quarters with only four players thanks to injuries and, against all odds, winning the game.
My younger son, Kanon, was one of our Fantastic Four. Ten days later, think he's still a little gassed.
Appreciate all our players and teams, but there's a special place in my heart for the Varsity Boys, especially the five seniors, and not just because one of them is my older son, Kaiser. I coached all five of them in basketball or baseball or both through the years, watching them grow into young men who don't need a ball in their hands to do good things. But they did do some special things in uniform, giving us plenty of snapshots to frame: Skyler rocketing into the passing lane for steals; Jackson snatching a "Gimme That!" blocked shot; Mason punctuating his treys with bow and arrow, Tyler going three to the dome; Kaiser making like Sharife Cooper, speeding through traffic to the goal.
We have these moments and memories because Steve Savarese, Alvin Briggs and the Alabama High School Athletic Association found a way to make this season possible. They followed facts, not fear, establishing sound guidelines and best practices along with local and state governments, and we tried to comply. We bought tickets online, which was a challenge given the limited allotments. We wore masks and distanced ourselves, on the sideline and in the stands. No matter the obstacle or inconvenience, we dealt with it. We made a season happen, and we made it through - together.
There was misguided and uninformed speculation early on that the AHSAA would cut basketball season short once football season was complete, this being football country and all, but anyone who trafficked in that gossip didn't know Savarese or Briggs or Ron Ingram. Like Greg Sankey and company in the SEC, those gentlemen and their AHSAA colleagues are all about doing everything in their power to give young men and women in this state the opportunity to compete.
In the season of COVID, they gave the high school basketball teams in our little corner of the world and all across the state that opportunity. Even though our nets have stopped dancing as other teams chase those "blue maps" reserved for state champs, this basketball dad refuses to be mad. Our seniors got their last dance. For that, I'll forever be grateful and glad.