Re-living a great day

Jay Gershman |

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable,” said the late actor Christopher Reeve.

This month marks the one year anniversary of the victory by my 13-14 year old girls team in the West Hartford recreation league.  For a little background, my friend John Kaufman and I coached these young women who included our daughters to an unlikely victory in the final game when John’s daughter hit a 30+ foot shot with 2.1 seconds remaining.  Going into the game, we were the lowest seed at 6-5 going up against a team of far superior talent at 11-0.  During the regular season, they had put away most teams with ease winning many games by more than 20 points.  Our victory was to say the least, not quite as surprising to me as the US Hockey victory over Russia in 1980.  Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating.

As I revisited the gym this past week, I was greeted by four of my players with exuberant hugs and  joyous remarks about how much they missed me as their coach.  Sitting down, I felt so good about the obvious difference I had made in leading them to victory and the effect it had on them one year later.  I was even more proud to see that the many little details that I had stressed leading up to our game last year were still being applied during this game.  I guess what I had taught them had stuck!

Since Sunday I have been giving that remarkable game a lot of thought.  I too have to admit that I am equally excited when I think back to that game and realize that none of us will ever forget that day as long as we live.  But why?  It was after all, only a town game.  I am hardly Geno  Auriemma. They were and are just kids not WNBA champions.

After much thought, I came up with some conclusions.  For one, even though I have lived now 50 years, married the best woman I could ever have dreamed of, had two beautiful daughters and experienced many incredible joys- that day somehow will remain forever as a very special one.  For me, it proved that all things are possible.  I think back to the week leading up to the game.  Realizing that we did not have the talent to actually beat a far superior team, I decided to speak to each player about their role and how much I believed in them.  As a coach it is far easier to see a player’s talent than it is to convince them of the potential you see.

On game day, I focused my energies on my four younger, taller front line players.  The very same four that would greet me this past week. I had to find a way to make four very sweet young girls into Charles Barkley.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time pre-game festivities had already begun and fans were beginning to fill the seats just through the doors.  It was then that I I stared into each of their eyes and asked them to believe that if they focused on doing their job and give it all they had,  that we could win this game.  I still remember another player standing behind me saying “sure coach, do you realize how good they are”?  “Don’t worry about the, worry about yourself”, I barked.

The game started with incredible energy by my team that allowed us to stay close.  Unfortunately, during the third quarter the opposing teams press rattled us and before long we were trailing by more than six points.  The lead remained until the middle of the fourth quarter until we slowly fought our way back.  We found ourselves 3 points down with 9 seconds to go.  They could run out the clock and we couldn’t do anything about it..  Luckily, they crossed mid-court and magically the ball rolled off their player’s leg right in front of me. 2.1 seconds to go.  I called time out!

During the timeout, I huddled everyone together and set up a play.  In bounds from half court, to John’s daughter, Caroline, who I instructed to turn and fire from more than 30 feet.  She looked me right in the eye and laughed.  “Let me get this straight”, she said, “you want me to take that shot that you have been yelling at me for taking in practice all season”?  Yes, I said “but I need you to make it”.

The ball was thrown inbounds, Caroline turned and fired.  Swish!!  I fell to the ground, the crowd was in hysterics.  I am misty eyed right now re-living the moment.  The game was tied.  We won in overtimeby two points.

So what did it all mean?  For me, I realize that each of those girls learned a life’s lesson.  No matter how insurmountable the odds, all things are possible if you believe in yourself and those around you.  Hopefully, none of these girls have experienced long odds in their young lives.  As parents we have learned that life is never easy and there are many occasions when we have to dig deep into a place within our selves that we never knew existed.  While this experience was simply fun, It is my hope that each of my twelve players will find the true meaning of the day.  I hope that instead of just looking back to a magical day in their life and looking at it as just a game, they will realize how much they can accomplish and overcome if they believe.

This past Sunday, I realized what a true blessing it was to have been part of this seemingly fun experience.