Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bright lights, heartbreak, and it's really not that bad


maybe, maybe, maybe
you'll find something that's enough to keep you
but if the bright lights don't receive you,
then turn yourself around and come on home.
-
 Matchbox Twenty

Sixty hours ago I was throwing my backpack into my truck and headed to go get Nate. 

As we made the trip to the State Fairgrounds, I kept checking Facebook and seeing all the statuses about heading to Oklahoma City and how excited everyone was. 

I was excited too. 

The State Tournament. The Big House. And the Okay Mustangs. 

Those words aren't used together every year. Volleyball, maybe, but not basketball. 

Since no one bothered to tell us about the massive construction project on I-40 (shoutout to all you chumps), we got to the game just a few minutes before it started. Okay vs. Velma-Alma, two schools that, had you conducted a poll anywhere but there, no one would have heard of. 

Our boys made it look easy. 

That's not slighting the Comets, that's simply a testament to the shooting performance our boys gave. Shots were dropping like gas prices during an election year, and it was fun. After a certain point, it didn't even seem real anymore. 

I'll be perfectly honest with you and tell you I wasn't sure how they'd handle the big stage. 

Turns out they didn't need me to believe in them. 

A twenty-point win and a drive back to the hotel, where I swam in the pool and thought about the game. Where I thought about Chad, and how he was back where it started for him in 1998. About that time I played thirty seconds in a state tournament game and had one rebound and one turnover. 

I seriously think I told that story to whoever would listen. I was pulling hotel maids into the room and reenacting the rebound, making Hayden and Nate play defense every time I told it. 

Enter day two. 

A 10:30 a.m. game against the number three team in the state. A team that had also been up by twenty points in their first game. 

I was, yet again, worried, because that's what I do. 

Turns out they didn't need me to believe in them. 

The shooting performance they put on Friday made Thursday's show look like me trying to dip two McNuggets into a painfully small hot mustard packet. 

I honestly think at one point I made a three. And if I live long enough I'm sure that's how the story will go one day. Three-pointers were flying through the nets like a...well, listen, I've watched my two favorite teams lose today, so I'm at a loss for a simile. 

They got hot. 

They won by ten, but it was really by twenty. 

In the meantime, Fort Cobb-Broxton was busily winding their way through the bracket, making it look as though the OSSAA had mistakenly assigned a 5A team to the A tourney. 

And then today happened. Day three. The championship game. 

A Facebook post informed me earlier that Okay has been a school district for 97 years. In 97 years we've never once had a basketball team in a state championship game. 

But by God we did today. 

I was worried. I watched Fort Cobb play both nights and I was worried. I tried to contain what I felt but my celebrations were muted, my conversations heavy with the weight of my pessimism. 

Turns out, they didn't need me to believe in them. 

Our boys—Our Okay Mustangs—went out onto that floor and from the very first tip worked their butts off to bring home a gold ball for our town. They ran off screens, they dealt with bumps, they hustled for loose balls—all for us. All for Okay. 

Those shots that fell the first two games didn't fall today. And you know what? That's okay, and here's why. 

My children teach me things all the time. Just when I think I'm the smartest person in the family, one of them will innocently say something so full of wisdom that I know The Lord is trying to knock me over the head with a lesson. 

I pulled into the driveway this evening, emotionally exhausted, upset, and proud all at the same time. 

Aven, my eight-year-old, was playing in the yard and came up to the truck as I got out. 

"How was basketball?" he asked. 

"It was a lot of fun," I replied. 

"Did you win it all?" 

"No, son, we lost in the championship game." 

"Oh...well, that's really that bad though, right?" 

I looked up, and saw my beautiful wife, who I'd missed very much, coming outside to kiss me hello. 

In that moment, the entire weekend sped through my mind like a highlight reel on fast forward. The jump shots. The three-pointers. The conversations with people I'd grown up with. The celebrations. The hustle. The silver ball. The first second-place state tournament ever for our basketball program. The beautiful game of basketball that I love, played by young men that I love, coached by two men I admire and respect, administrated by a principal and superintendent that I think the world of. It all came over me, baptizing me in the sheer fun of the weekend. 

And I realized that my son is wiser than I am. 

"No, Aven, it's really not that bad." 

Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We'll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball. 

Thank you, boys. Thank you, Chad and Steve. Thank you to the fans, to the town that raised me, and the town that is letting me help raise their students. 

November can't get here quick enough.