Because of a family situation beyond my control — I fell for a sexy, omelet-making ingenue whose son is quite athletic — I have reconnected this academic year with the delights of high school basketball.
(True Story: So I was being seduced by Toni, a.k.a. She Is The One, and after it became clear we were going to be Slouch & Wife, one night following another fabulous home-cooked meal, she opens the linen closet and two young kids — Isaiah and Mia — pop their heads out. I mean, she had never even mentioned children! In poker, when you take a long time before showing your winning hand — thus making your opponent think he’s got the best of it — it’s called “slow-rolling.” Well, Toni slow-rolled her kids; the dame got me hook, line and sinker. Wow.*)
(* The aforementioned “true story” is not entirely true, but it’s the way I remember it.)
My 15-year-old, 6-foot-4 stepson Isaiah is a sophomore reserve forward at Springbrook High in Silver Spring. The Blue Devils are pretty good. Best I can tell, Isaiah will only play in two situations this season: If Springbrook has an insurmountable lead, or if I get a court order.
Naturally, in the 30 years since I last frequented high school arenas, the culture has changed. Before every Springbrook football and basketball game I’ve attended — Isaiah also is a starting wide receiver — there is some type of announcement about crowd behavior. Prior to the Springbrook-at-Blake basketball game, the P.A. guy declared, “Here at Blake, we have a zero tolerance policy. Have a good time, root for your team but — please! — don’t be a jerk.”
This seems rather obvious, but apparently we now have to remind ourselves to be decent to one another; wasn’t it George Costanza who intoned, “You know, we’re living in a society!” Next thing you know, there will be a blaring announcement every time you walk into a bank reminding you not to rob it.
But beyond the civility issues, the games are largely pleasurable.
The entire atmosphere feels purer than, say, AT&T Center or United Center: Bandbox gyms, a sense of community, bubbly cheerleaders, $5 tickets, reasonable concessions and free parking. You’re in and out in less than two hours, which means you can get home in time to spend another hour watching the last eight minutes of a college basketball game.
Best of all, most of the kids appear to be playing for the love of the game, the sheer joy of it. And at Springbrook, it’s a treat to watch 6-7 senior center Demetric Austin, whose low-post moves, outlet passes and shot-blocking skills put most Washington Wizards to shame.
The Blue Devils, 8-2 this season, are largely a reflection of Coach Tom Crowell, a hard-nosed high school lifer who has spent nearly four decades coaching football and basketball.
Crowell sometimes asks his players to do things they don’t want to do, but he led Springbrook to an unprecedented three consecutive Maryland Class 4A state championships from 2008 to 2010, so they might want to listen a bit more than they do.
Besides, his voice demands attention. If Crowell tells you to walk barefoot into the desert, take a sip of water and walk back, you’d better be halfway to the desert before he’s even done speaking.
Crowell is an old-school, old-world, old-fashioned disciplinarian: Take a bad shot and he’ll pull you out to let you think about it for a while.
He’ll bend over in anguish when his team screws up. He’ll wave disgustedly at a referee after a tough call. He’ll even stomp the floor with both feet.
But, hey, as a (step)parent, I’m not scared of the old coot. I don’t care if his career record at Springbrook is 144-18, all I know is this:
I’m tired of driving through traffic to watch my beloved’s first-born, Isaiah Eisendorf, riding the pine every game. PLAY HIM. He’s hard to miss — he’s the tall one near the end of the bench wearing No. 25. And need I remind Coach Crowell, I’m pretty well-connected. If he plays his cards right with me, I could have him coaching at the University of Maryland, or, more realistically, get him a comped buffet at Caesars Palace.
(Incidentally, the next time I get married, I’m going to ask about kids before my wedding night.)
Q. Will Tom Coughlin be the first NFL coach to throw consecutive challenge flags on the same call? (John McKeown; Sussex, Wis.)
A. Actually, when he was in Jacksonville, I think he did just that on the Bush-Gore presidential election.
Q. If there was a contest between you and Tony Kornheiser based on writing ability, sports knowledge and good looks, who would win? (Bill Lehky; Strongsville, Ohio)
A. I’d lose decisively on all three counts, but I believe I might beat him on human intangibles.
Q. Do you ever “take a knee” in bowling? (Ray Bohannon; Katy, Tex.)
A. Yes, when I drop my beer.
Q. In ascending order, NFL injury reports go from “probable” to “questionable” to “doubtful” to “out.” How scary similar is that to your marital and poker-playing life? (John Swope; Irwin, Pa.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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