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Friday, November 6, 2015

Hoop Dreams

“HEY, YO WHITE CHRISTIAN” - the day my oldest son made the Newburgh Panthers Basketball B Team was literally one of the happiest days of my life.  I was jumping up and down screaming “We made the team, we made the team,” and to an outsider, you might have thought my son had just been drafted into the NBA.  But for us, it was almost like going to the NBA, or at least a Cinderella story.

Christian was a late bloomer when it came to basketball.  He started playing in 8th grade, right after his football season ended, in late November.  Which was OK because he started at his Catholic school where the level of talent varied widely.  Then he started going to the Skills and Drills Clinic run by the Newburgh Panthers at the Armory.  And in time, he decided to try out for THE Newburgh Panthers.

Let me explain a little something about the Newburgh Panthers.  First of all, in Newburgh, basketball is King.  Almost every kid in Newburgh plays Ball.  I didn’t say everybody plays well, but a LOT of kids play really well.  And most kids have been playing since they were toddlers.  By 8th grade, kids can really play and they understand basketball at an intuitive level.  Newburgh Basketball is physical.  That year we went to the ER for fractured ribs, broken ribs, broken fingers and a broken nose (not the FACE!!).  Only half of those trips were for football, the other half were for basketball.

So here comes my kid, who’s been playing Ball for all of 3 months.  But what he lacked in skills he made up for in heart (thanks to the Goldback Youth Football League for that one).  He learned a lot in those 3 months, but he was trying out for the Panthers, the travel basketball AAU team out of the Newburgh Boys and Girls Club.  It would be like me trying to get my own show on HGTV.  Sure, I can design on a dime but I am up there with Sabrina Soto?  Yea, not even close.  But there’s no harm in trying, right?!

There were several tryouts.  Then they chose the A team.  Then the cuts came.  The first round of cuts was posted.  Not on that list.  The second round of cuts were posted.  We fully expected to see our kid’s name on that list.  But it wasn’t there.  I wasn’t sure what that meant.  So (being That Kind of Mom), I called the Coach.

“Your son is Christian?”, said the coach.  “Of course, you made the team.  Oh wait, which Christian is your son, we have three Christians on the team.”  Seriously?  “My son is Christian LoBiondo.”

“Which one is that?” said the coach.  What could I say?  My son is the one who clearly just started playing?  The skinny one?  The intense one?  
“Oh, wait, is your kid the Catholic school player?”  
“Yes, that’s the one,” I said cautiously, bracing for the worst.
“Yes, he made it, congratulations, welcome to the Newburgh Panthers.”
What??!!  Did the coach just say my kid made the team?  It was like  music to my ears, you might as well have told me my kid got a Rhodes Scholarship.  That’s when I started jumping up and down.

Then I started thinking, how are they going to differentiate amongst the three Christians on the team, it’s such an unusual name, I hope they don’t shorten it to Chris.
Let me explain one last thing about the Panthers.  If you ever one to have your essence boiled down into one word, come and play ball with the Newburgh Panthers.  They only have time for one syllable to describe you.

And so it was that I was sitting at a Panthers practice, and they were trying to pass the ball to my son, when I first heard it, “Hey, Yo, White Christian!”  He turned and got the ball.  I guess they found a way to differentiate.

The Newburgh Panthers was a tremendous experience.  My son got to “play up”, bonded with some GREAT kids, learned all the basics and then some, and eventually earned the respect of his teammates and coaches as a good defender.  We traveled all over and no parents ever complained about the hotel or the food or the thread count of the sheets.  It was all about playing Ball.  And teamwork.  And wearing the Jersey was an honor. I sure do miss my Panthers.  There was Big Christian.  Black Christian (we are still buddies).  And White Christian.  And nobody thought twice about it because when the ball moves that fast, all you get is One Syllable.
<3 Mrs. Lo, Proud Mom of "Hey, Yo, White Christian" (Photo of some of the Newburgh AAU Panthers Basketball players 2014)