The Invaluable Scrimmage
The Invaluable Scrimmage by Nicholas C
Basketball is one of my life’s passions.
It has challenged me as an athlete, taught me the essential value of respect, nurtured me during tough times, and fortified me into a competitive yet humble person.
Weeks before the start of my Junior season, I was fortunate to have taken part in a multiple-team, preseason scrimmage inside the walls of Detroit Southwestern High School, a once viable and always proud basketball powerhouse located within site of the iconic Ambassador Bridge to Canada. At the time, the Prospectors, coached by the legendary Perry Watson, were entering a season in which they were ranked #2 in the country and primed for their first of two back-to-back Michigan state championships. It was this season, and the one after, that culminated Coach Watson’s stellar coaching career and introduced the basketball world to future NBA players Voshon Leonard, Howard Eisley, and Jalen Rose (one of the famous “Fab Five” at the University of Michigan).I vividly remember entering the school, it’s hallways, locker room, and dated gym took me back to a time when, as a boy raised primarily in the city neighborhoods of Toledo, Ohio, I played organized ball in old urban churches and schools. Back then, I had often prepared for games in dank basements or even custodial closets, and played on courts that occasionally lacked varnish or appropriate lighting.As I laced up my high tops in front of a dented locker, I listened to my teammates perceive their surroundings in a way that was completely foreign to mine. Stepping away from the comforts of their suburban bubble had distracted them from the opportunity at hand. Instead of concentrating on the goals of the scrimmage, many of them complained about the toilets being too dirty, the water pressure too inconsistent, the court too slippery, the odor too unpleasant, and the air too cold. Their naiveté and the ridiculous banter left me longing for the diversity I experienced when I played alongside teammates from mixed backgrounds and perspectives. I missed the innate passion of sharing the game with people who would hit practice, games, and even driveway pick-up sessions with an unyielding degree of effort because, in many ways, the powerful bonds forged by basketball were all they had at the time.I don’t remember much about physically playing that day at Southwestern, but I do know that I didn’t get run off the court. I wasn’t scared or intimidated by the opponent’s superior athleticism or the small vocal crowd that was on hand to watch what was essentially an early morning practice. What I do remember, and what has stuck with me over time, is how my teammates didn’t seize the opportunity to play hard against some of the best basketball talent of our generation.
Call it insecurity.
Call it entitlement.
Call it intimidation.
Call it unfamiliarity.
Call it realization.
As we exited the school grounds, the van billowed with smirked comments directed towards the bygone houses that lined the neighborhoods where the very kids we played against resided. I remember being mired by trite verbal observations as we ate our minimum wage lunch at a nearby McDonald’s, one of the few nutritional and vocational options available to local patrons.Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the experience of that day prompted me to approach the game and interpersonal relationships in new ways. In this instance, the game of basketball served as the vehicle to instill core values that I carry with me to this day.
I pursue my life’s passions not only for what they can offer me, but how they can genuinely impact the people who share my interests. The fulfillment that I experience while watching an intricately woven net dance to the rhythm of my best efforts is just as beautiful as witnessing a student or mentor expel their own form of magic soon after an accomplishment has been realized. Congratulating a teammate or opponent for a job well done is just as rewarding on a casual playground setting as it is under more formal goal-oriented circumstances.Detroit Southwestern would never recapture the success it had during the Coach Watson era. Eventually, like many schools in financially depleted American city school systems, a declining student body and budget cuts terminated the building as an operational institution all together.