2017-09-13 / Sports

THE PRESSBOX

The love of local high school sports

I t was a May evening, but in my mind, a summer’s afternoon. I was maybe seven years old and laying on my dad’s stomach, who was on the couch. A breeze and the setting sun made way through the sliding screen-door of our living room, making it difficult to see the game on our box television. The Philadelphia 76ers were playing the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Neither my father nor I had any skin in the game. He was partially pulling for the Bucks for our relatives in Milwaukee. But me? I was infatuated with a barely-sixfoot guard on the Sixers: Allen Iverson.

But like a scorned lover seeking a carbon copy of his ex, I looked at Iverson and saw someone else. I saw Rashad Phillips, Iverson’s spitting image and point guard at University of Detroit Mercy. Rashad, or “Shad” as I called him, was a gunner with infinite range, who I’d imitate in my backyard and draw pictures of at school. When UDM lost in the Final Four of the N.I.T., I was heartbroken. When Shad went undrafted in the 2001 NBA draft, I felt betrayed. I had seen Shad’s mysticism on the basketball court hundreds of times! What was I seeing that these scouts were not?! For a good two years, he consumed an unhealthy majority of my thoughts. Now I’d probably never see him play basketball again.

I’d be lying if I said Rashad Phillips made me fall in love with sports, but without him, I’d love them a bit less. As I’ve grown further away from that seven-yearold boy, my relationship with sports has taken a back seat. Sure, I still wanted to throw up after particular Michigan football losses involving blocked kicks. But now, I’ve developed a healthier relationship with these games, which are meaningless at the end of the day. I distanced myself.

A couple years ago, I received a phone call. At this point, I had been involved in basketball for a majority of my life. I was burnt out and jaded. On the phone was a parent from Guardian Angels grade school in the Metro Detroit area. He heard I was interested in coaching their eighth-grade boys’ team. I laughed at this and had no idea where he got my name. I was hesitant, but still took the job. I fell in love with that team. They awoke something inside of me that had been asleep for many years. It was a transcendent purity, a grace. Now, I always make a point to say that CYO basketball is the purest form of any sport, at any level.

That same transcendence crept up at my first football game for the County Press. It was a late August night, but it felt like a summer afternoon. The sun was setting. I felt the breeze brush my cheek and flip my hair. I heard the band strike a note, the student section roared and a bunch of helmeted, high schoolers took the field. I felt it; I found it again. I found that grace, along with the second purest form of athletics in the entire world: small-town, high school sports.

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