Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Water Boy Says: "How About the Fence?"

It was the Hoosier era in our school and by that I meant that the movie Hoosiers was still fresh in our impressionable minds. Our school had grades 6th through 12th and as a 8th grader, I was too young to play on the high school basketball team. So I joined as the water boy simply for the perk of traveling with the big kids to distant schools and staying out late on a school night. It was the easiest job that I ever had to do. All I had to do was fill a half dozen water bottles up before the game to pass out during timeouts and half times. Otherwise, I silently sat at the end of the bench keeping stats or standing in the corner of the locker room counting how many cigarettes the assistant coach could smoke in the space of ten minutes while the head coach yelled at the players.

Mostly it was boring but on one particular evening things got really exciting. We were playing the neighboring school district that was much bigger than our school and in an entire different conference and class. Our school played this team once a season for the practice of playing a better team. We always got beaten and most of the time we were beaten badly. This game started out like that and at halftime in the locker room the coach was yelling so loud that the veins were standing out on his forehead. The assistant coach was over by the bathroom stall lighting up his fifth cigarette in about eight minutes. From my position in the corner, I was estimating that he was going to set a record when the door opened and in walked the father of one of the players. He only said a few words before he set to swinging his fists at the coach and chaos ensued for a few minutes as the players all jumped in to part the two. By the time the coach and the parent were separated and the parent escorted out, halftime was up and we were out on the floor warming up. The players were warming their muscles and I was warming the chair.

I don't know if the fight in the locker room had anything to do with it but a spark had been lit among my team. They started playing basketball like I had never seen them and were gradually pulling themselves out of the points hole they had dug in the first half. With five seconds to go, we were in a timeout and only two points behind with possession of the ball. We had all just huddled together when the coach asked the players if they wanted to go for the tie or try for a three-pointer to win the game. Everyone agreed that we had to go for it but we didn't have any plays for making three pointers. The coach told everyone to let him think a second when for some fool reason, I blurted out, "How about the fence?"

Everyone knew in a second that I was referring to the last play of the championship game in the movie Hoosiers in which the team used that particular play to win in a situation just like ours. The coach snorted in contempt but all the players enthusiastically agreed even though they had never practiced anything like it before. So the coach agreed to give it a shot and started laying it all out for the players. The timeout ended, the ball was in-bounded and the play worked just like it did in the movies except it hit the rim a couple of times before dribbling in just as the buzzer sounded.

Pandemonium erupted as the players leapt for joy and the people in the bleachers stood up and just kind of slid onto the floor like spilled water, all the while cheering and jumping with elation. But the one thing that burned deeper into my brain than anything else was the principal who was leading the charge. He was the most strict, straight-laced man you ever knew and here he was running with his arms wide out across the floor. He homed in on the coach and when he reached him, the principle jumped onto the coach wrapping his arms around the coach's neck and his legs around the coach's waist. Still holding on he raised one arm in the air in triumph and gave a blood-curdling yell. That one action, finally spurred me to action and I jumped up on my chair and started waving the towel around over my head while yelling.

It's been almost twenty years since that night as the water boy but it will always remain in my memories. We might have been the smallest school in Iowa but we were Hoosiers and we had won our own personal championship against the big boys. And privately I like to think that it all came down to one water boy who opened his mouth when he shouldn't have to ask, "How about the fence?"

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