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. 


On hope, and four or five moments





"The game can kill you with hope."  - Kevin Baker

Well, they've done it. 

Yesterday, while battling to maintain a lead against the No. 3 ranked team in the state, the Okay Mustangs were suddenly up 20 points, and I'm still not entirely sure how it happened. 

I mean, yeah, 70 points from Caleb and Darius Riggs probably did it, but still. 

Remember yesterday when I said I wanted Goliath vs. Goliath? Well, I watched Fort Cobb's game with Seiling yesterday thinking that I was an idiot for writing it. 

But I'm not. The whole season has been leading up to this point. Two teams, both Mustangs, across the state from each other, and each doing the kind of work it takes to be successful in this glorious game of basketball. 

And now we're in the finals. School history has been made. We all got to see it. We all get to see it. 

This small group of boys from a town no one has ever heard of have given hope to thousands of people. 

hope

noun — the feeling that what is wanted can be had.

It's such a simple word. One syllable and four letters with an ocean in between each one, and a gold ball waiting just after the "e." 

You know, you're going to laugh, but I finally went to see Deadpool last night, and I think I can actually use part of a scene from that movie to teach something here. 

Colossus, a member of the X-Men, stops Deadpool from shooting someone by saying:

"Wade! Four or five moments."

"What?" 

"Four or five moments — That's all it takes to become a hero. Everyone thinks it's a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true. Over a lifetime there are only four or five moments that really matter. Moments when you're offered a choice to make a sacrifice, conquer a flaw, save a friend..." 

Now if you've seen the movie you know that quote immediately loses relevance not long after, but I think it maintains its relevance here today. 

Okay Mustangs, go be a hero today. Live in the four or five moments of this game where you'll make a choice, play harder than you thought you could, or sacrifice a shot for a better one. Live in the moments where you'll be a hero. 

Something I struggled with as a player and now as a coach is being told/telling kids to "leave it all on the floor." I understand the sentiment, but if you leave it all on the floor, where's "it" going to be for the next game?

Today, there is no next game. Today is the one day I agree with "leave it all on the floor." 

I'll be in the stands hoping. I'll be in the stands believing. Thousands of us will. 

In the moment of hope, there is no doubt. There is no room for doubt. So hope breeds confidence, and confidence breeds happiness. You've made the town of Okay and your families very happy. You've already accomplished something enormous that will never be forgotten.

Thank you for that. 

Now finish the job. 

"hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all." 
- Emily Dickinson

Friday, March 4, 2016

You tell them we're coming...and we're bringing Okay with us


It's just after 7 a.m.

Light is slowly filtering through the blinds of our hotel room—a hotel room that Hayden booked 400 miles away from the stadium—and I've already been down to have breakfast, which was crap.

I woke up excited.

My roommates, Hayden and Nathan, are still snoring softly in the bed behind me, which they are sharing because I told them I'm a cuddler.

I woke up excited because the Okay Mustangs made school history yesterday.

Yesterday wasn't a great day for our state or our nation. You see, schools took yet another budget cut. A budget cut that will mean the end for some. There's some small school in Oklahoma that will have to close its doors thanks to the idiocy we're seeing at the state level.

Hundreds of thousands of people were taken off Medicaid, something I don't quite understand, but expect to soon.

Last night during the presidential debate, politics were eschewed for penis measuring, which, I suppose, is really the basis of all politics anyway.

Yesterday wasn't a great day for our state or our nation.

But it was a great day to be a Mustang.

I wish I had a cool action shot to post here, a picture worth more than a thousand words, showing the hustle and effort our boys put forth into bringing home the first Okay State Playoff win in school history. I wish I had a picture of Darius shooting three pointers from the parking lot, or Paul Taylor checking into the game and in the first five seconds driving in for a layup. I wish I had a shot of Caleb or Austin shooting jump shots with the confidence that Donald Trump has in his hair, but I don't. I was busy in the stands updating my Facebook every three seconds for the folks back home.

I'm told the boys' bus ride back to the hotel yesterday was silent. They weren't celebrating their win. They realized that although they made school history, all they really won was the chance to fight another day.

Today. This day.

Most probably haven't even woken up yet. They probably haven't gone downstairs to gorge themselves on homemade omelettes and all-you-can-eat bacon (I'm looking at you, Hayden). Some of them might be up though, thinking about the game, doing the mental preparation that is oh so important in this game, yet so often overlooked.

Our opponent opposite the bracket found themselves in a close one yesterday. Everyone talked about how they hoped there would be an upset, and I joined in that conversation. But truthfully, I don't want an upset. I want 1 vs. 2 out there tomorrow. I don't want to see David and Goliath, because we all know how that goes, and sometimes Goliath wins anyway. I want to see Goliath vs. Goliath.

But they aren't there yet. They have to win today.

And you know what? Even if they don't, even if they lose today, one day they'll look back and say, "Remember that time we won a game at state? That hasn't been done since, has it? Remember how many points I scored? Remember how proud the town was?"

You're damn right I'm proud. This town, this Okay town, is my life. I will empty all I am into it until it shines or until I die, and I'm even prouder to say that I don't stand alone in that objective.

So go fight today, boys. Go win the chance to take on that other Goliath. You'll hear us in the stands, and if you don't, feel free to come over and remind us that we're not Okay.

We're freaking great.