Let me begin by saying that, at one time, I was the star centre of the Paterson Memorial boys’ basketball team. Of course, it must also be said I was the only centre on that team.
It wasn’t that I could leap high. I couldn’t. My other hobbies were Saturday double features at the Park Theatre and carbohydrates.
But I was tall for my age. And I did possess two indisputable talents – tipping jump balls and swishing underhanded between-the-knees foul shots. Alas, neither of these rather specialized and dated skills readily transferred to other walks of life.
My teammates had their own individual gifts. One of them, DR, could really dribble. Couldn’t score. I don’t remember him ever scoring. But dribble, yes.
Another one, LC, could stand at centre court, back to the basket, throw the ball behind him over his head, and sink it.
I remember them and a few of the others, but mainly I remember our coach, Mr. M.
As we knelt around him with our roughhouse laughing energy, he would launch every practice session with: “Boys, this is a basketball.”
From the greenhorns to the veterans, from the shaky to the smug, from the undeveloped to the proficient, his introduction was all-inclusive. He looked for what was unique and best in each of us and left no one behind.
The truth is, we weren’t a very good basketball team. A couple of times we played a squad from Port Huron and got clobbered. But we were never humiliated because Mr. M. never let that happen.
I don’t remember leaving the team. I think I just kind of drifted away, without a goodbye or a thank you.
Looking back, I wonder, ‘Why would Mr. M. or anyone give up two hours every Monday night to teach a team of marginally talented boys?”
I couldn’t then and can’t now get inside his head. But I do know he was a good coach.
Later, when my job included helping groups and companies learn new skills, I often thought of Mr. M and would start off each session with the corporate equivalent of “This is a basketball,” so we all started together.
Mr. M. taught me that, to some extent at least, we are here for each other, even in this most competitive of worlds. Two lines from an old poem written by a Mr. or Ms. Unknown, expressed it this way:
Rivers don’t drink their own water …
Sun doesn’t give heat for itself
So, here finally and too late for him to hear, is something he never asked for: “Thank you Mr. M.”
And if anyone wants to know, even now, how to throw an underhanded between-the-knees foul shot, I’m your man.
Bob Boulton is a Sarnia writer and the creator of a blog for new and renewing writers, bobswritefromthestart.blogspot.com