4th grade basketball in Cle Elum, Washington

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by Sandra Coleman

Last week we flew to Washington State to visit my son, Rick, and his family, Allison and three daughters, Cara, Molly, and Ellie Rae.
Rick has always been a risk taker, racing 4 wheelers in Waynoka sand dunes, snowmobiling down Washington mountain peaks, but the challenge my husband and I found him attempting was beyond the scope of mortal man: coaching 4th grade girls, including his daughter, with the prime objective of teaching them to play team ball.
The week we arrived just happened to be recreational tournament week, so in a land of majestic mountains and breathtaking beauty, we spent most of our time in the Cle Elum Grade School gym, where the high drama would rival any NBA tournament. We sat in the bleachers among the parents and immediately felt that familiar intense, maniacal absorption that assaults the neurons as you watch your child on the court. Rick, to encourage team play, had made the rule that an assist counted as a point. One girl ran, beaming from ear to ear, to report to her mom the new rule. The game began, and immediately a mother chattered a volley of instructions as her daughter tore down the court, “ Dribble faster, set a screen, block out,” until the exasperated little girl stepped off the court, walked up to her mom, and cried,
“I’m doing it, Mom.” At one point, a girl shouted to her mom, “ Cara won’t pass me the ball.” Then Cara was fouled and fell down. Another mother yelled, “You didn’t foul Cara, she just fell down.” Well, Grandma was getting a little miffed, but then another mother said, “That Cara is a little honey bear, just steals the ball from even the tall girls.” Now that was an astute observation, I thought.
“Why are they just throwing the ball up there?” said I, who at 5ft. 8 in. could not make a basket if I stood alone on the court. Then I heartily agreed when my husband mused, “They need to get open so they can pass the ball.’’—again oblivious to the dexterity and court savvy such a skill would require of a growing child.
One girl, when told to go in, preferred to stay on the bench because “Her daddy was yelling at her too much.” Another, who did not get to play, ran crying to her dad after the game. It took the three reasonably intelligent coaches two days to conclude that perhaps, at this level, letting everyone play is more important than winning.
At the end of the game, the girls formed a circle and chanted, “We are the warriers, the mighty, mighty warriors,” with all the gusto of a Viking war cry.
On the way home Cara said to her dad, “I don’t like Nellie.” Rick replied, “Could that be because she starred in the game?’’ “Oh no, she’s rude and a bad, bad person.”
The next day they were best friends again.
Molly got to play, too, in a kindergarten game. Their main focus appeared to be hitting the right basketball goal, and you wouldn’t believe the traveling that went uncalled.

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