Tales of a third-string donkey basketball player
Ryan Summerlin April 29, 2014
Growing up a Hoosier, whenever anyone asked me if I could play basketball, I secretly hoped they would disappear in a puff of smoke like on “Bewitched.”
Now that was a cool trick.
It’s not like I had a lot of offers to play basketball, thankfully. I was statistically shorter than my classmates. My softball teammates even called me Half-pint. Partially because I wore my hair in two braids and had a striking similarity to Laura Ingalls Wilder from “Little House on the Prairie.” I also had a funky dental situation going on most certainly requiring orthodontics a few years later.
But I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it.
When I was in the third grade, I remember my P.E. teacher handing me a basketball and telling me to run down to the other end of the gym and make a basket. First, this was of extreme importance to me because my P.E. teacher was the wife of one of the Indiana Pacers. And to any kid in Indiana in the early ’80s, this was one degree of separation from stardom.
Still the case.
At 8, I was literal as to what adults told me. I recall being fairly good at following the rules. I most certainly recall not understanding the concept of dribbling. I don’t think I got it that for the ball to be in play, the player must both run and dribble the ball down the court toward the destination of a basket. I just ran at the basket. No dribbling. Just a full-on sprint to the basket.
Yes, kids laughed.
Once to the other end of the court, near the free-throw line I bent my knees, lowered the battered orange basketball between them, and launched it granny-style into the air. The word air is operative here as it was one of the worst air balls to go down in Indiana basketball history.
That’s really saying something.
The teacher was all like, “That’s traveling!”
I was all like, “What’s traveling?”
The kids laughed. I didn’t. I turned redder than the Nike stripe on my white leather tennis shoes. I vowed never to like basketball again. I bent the rules a bit when Damon Bailey came into my life. I never even met the guy, but we were the same age, and we were from Indiana. He made playing high school basketball look like saving the world.
I just can’t play it.
I can kind of play volleyball. I can definitely play tennis. I can play some softball. I know without question that I can’t play basketball. The only exception is if I’m randomly near a basketball hoop and I start playing HORSE and sheer luck beckons me to at least make O.
It could happen.
More often than not, there’s a missing of baskets. Actually, that never fails. I wish I had the mental accuracy to make a basket from the free-throw line. This inability to play Indiana’s most cherished sport — next to racing — is hurtful. It’s hard to accept. But living in Colorado has helped. Here, I’ve been able to switch the focus from basketball to skiing. I can at least make my turns.
That’s the equivalent of correctly dribbling without traveling.
The chances of happening upon a basketball hoop in Colorado are certainly in my favor. It’s sporadic, like a man that opens the car door for a woman. I felt like I was pretty much in the clear. That’s until the other day when I was asked if I wanted to play donkey basketball.
It was hard for me to say no.
Mostly, I remember wearing this burnt gold T-shirt as a kid that had a cartoon image of a guy riding a donkey and playing basketball. I loved that shirt. I don’t even remember if I saw the donkey basketball game. I do remember that shirt. I wore it until holes formed in the armpits and it fit so awkwardly I looked like I was a small, freckly female version of the Hulk.
So I said yes to the donkey basketball.
And I started to wonder if I would hurt myself. That’s been known to happen. I didn’t know if the donkeys ran fast. I knew I wouldn’t make a basket to save my life. The beauty of the sport, I later learned, is that the donkey basketball players are positioned closer to the basket. That’s a plus. I also discovered donkeys don’t move very fast.
They seem to be all like, “meh.”
Here’s the catch to my glorious donkey-basketball-playing triumph — I envisioned being lifted on to my teammates’ shoulders after making the winning 10th basket. Donkey basketball can be a low-scoring game. I never played it. I arrived to find out I was the third-string donkey basketball player. I was a little dejected. I had that feeling I’d get when I was one of the last to be picked for dodgeball because I really am terrible at it.
I’m a baby, and I really don’t like being pelted really hard with stuff.
So I had to ride the pines, as they say in Indiana, and watch as the donkeys and their players took the court. I felt a tinge of envy but was mostly thankful that I wasn’t hanging upside-down off a donkey. I could see that happening.
Because that’s the kind of basketball player I am.
— April E. Clark is envisioning her Derby hat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.