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JULY 26, 2009 4:16AM

Hardwood Autism

Rate: 8 Flag

David was lanky, acned, and autistic; and The Bulls were manufactured to win the 1998 district basketball championship for Zumwalt South Middle School.  And so David got put on The Bulls, my team. 

The move made things less unfair to the other South Middle School teams during the Regular Season, when we routinely destroyed our competition by 60-80 points.  This was expected, as we'd done the same in 7th grade with David on our team.  He'd wander around at half-court shouting unintelligibly until we were winning by an obscene margin.  Then we'd toss him the ball and temporarily ignore when he traveled or went out of bounds.  Jubilantly and with intense focus, David threw the ball at the basket, usually several times, until it either went in or the opposition's feigned defense bordered embarrassment and we had to give up and try again the next time down the court.

Every so often, a hardwood hero would steal the ball from David or blocked David's shot.  And our team would protest, "The-fuck, (surname)!?!?"  And the culprit would be heavily persecuted on defense for the rest of the season. 

But 8th grade was no 7th grade.  In 7th grade, the championship game was a public flogging of South Middle's second-place team in the gym during 5th and 6th hour.  The 7th grade got out of class to spectate.  One side of the South Middle School gym would be packed, assembly-style.  And on the other side, custodians quietly chewed their tooth picks and muttered observations.

The 8th grade championship event, on the other hand, filled both sides of North Middle School's gymnasium, and the championship was a Tournament Championship pitting the best team from South Middle (us) against the best team from North Middle and the best team from Dubray Middle.  All three crowds left standing room only.

The atmosphere was tense, as basketball was the only intramural sport all year with a district-wide championship.  Thus, on championship night 1998, The Bulls were elevated to represent all of us as South Middle School.  Jerseys were assigned.  David's helper helped him put his on over his black, oversized School Spirit Day t-shirt.

We crushed North Middle in our first game, as we knew we would.  But when Dubray Middle crushed them too, I began to worry.  Could we beat these guys playing four on five with David on the court?  I approached the referee about letting us play with six, including David, when David was on the court. 

"Why?  He's you're teammate," said the ref, Mr. Wilbrand, a social studies teacher at South Middle.

"Yeah, but..." I started, only to be interrupted.

"Now no buts about it, Pablo.  It's 5-on-5 and everyone gets to play at least once-a-half.  It's the rules."

"But Mr. Wilbrand, we could lose!"

Tough shit, he shrugged.  It's the rules. 

The-fuck, Mr. Willbrand!?!? I thought to myself (and probably bitched under my breath), as I walked a way.  Charity was fine during the Regular Season, when there were no real consequences.  But this was the championship.  And besides, we didn't even pick David for our team.  We got stuck with him.  And all Season long, we'd graciously humored his ego's "special education" needs.  We even let him score a basket against North Middle (when we were up by 25).  Didn't Mr. Willbrand want South Middle to win? 

I took my case to Mr. Clemens, South Middle School's principal, who was sitting up in the stands in blue jeans and a blue denim South Middle School Mustangs button-up shirt, his usual Casual Friday attire.  I laid it out to him as diplomatically as I could, illustrating the potential catastrophe of a close game where David hasn't played yet.

"If we have to put him in, we could lose..." I told him, implying that The Bulls--or rather, South Middle School-- requested the option to leave David on the bench IFF it was a close game.  

"Look, I hear what you're saying; and my answer is Absolutely Not.  The rules say that everyone gets to play at least once-a-half."  

"But Mr, Clemens, we could lose the championship!  Don't you want us to win!?!" I said as direly as I could without getting in trouble.

Mr. Clemens calmly replied, "You know, Pablo...I do want us to win.  But some things are more-important than winning district championships."

Ultimately, my concerns proved to be moot, as we mopped the floor with Dubray Middle, and David shot 100% from the field, scoring two points.  He scored again, at the free throw line, after getting fouled stepping through a half-court trap and hurling the ball at the basket.  All three crowds went wild when David touched the ball.

Later, we got a letter from David's parents.  In essence, it said-- 

Thank you.  David won't shut up being a champion.  And neither will we, ever.  Thank you.
 

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Comments

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Some things *are* more inportant. Thanks for posting this - it made me smile.
I am glad that they made you keep him in the game. I remember when a boy with autism that I helped prepare for a test (but that took the test on his own) got the only 100 in the class. It meant more than many of my own 'good' grades.
Hey, this is great. Having known many autistic kids, this post hits me right where it counts. Nothin' but net...a three-pointer...straight to the heart.

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