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Basketball Free-for-All

Sports come and go, but stubbornness is forever

By Vanessa GonzalesPublished 2 years ago Updated 4 months ago 3 min read
Basketball Free-for-All
Photo by Damon Lam on Unsplash

As a middle-schooler, I was terrible at sports.

It wasn't because I was clumsy or unfit. I could ride bikes and climb trees and zip right up those metal poles they make you scale in PE class. The problem was that at 12 and 13, I was still on the wrong side of puberty and looked more like a nine-year-old, putting me at a huge disadvantage against girls who were already the size of adults. But I was also stubborn as hell, and no one was going to tell me what I couldn't do, so I tried out for every sport as its season came around anyway.

Volleyball: rejected.

Softball: rejected.

Cross-country: accepted, but only because they let anyone join who was either crazy or motivated enough to put on the school jersey and run up and down muddy hills in the local park.

This went on until eighth grade, when I made my second attempt at trying out for the girls’ basketball team. It was late autumn in California in 1984, which meant not only unseasonable heat, but also terrible air quality, with a fine brownish haze hanging over everything. Still, there I was on the playground basketball court under the blazing afternoon sun, like I thought I was Muggsy Bogues and was going to be the school's first 4'6" point guard.

We shot free throws and played one on one and ran through drills, and then the PE teacher, who coached the team and was in charge of this show, said: "OK. You girls all stand over here on the sidelines. I'm going to throw the ball onto the court, and the first one who gets it and returns it to me wins."

We all lined up. He tossed the basketball underhand, and we took off after it with a thunder of sneakers on concrete--New Balance and Reeboks for the fortunate, probably cheap no-name kicks from Payless for me. But shoe quality aside, for once being close to the ground worked in my favor. I was so small that I managed to get in underneath everyone else and snatch the ball before they could.

I stood up with it clutched to my chest and found myself not only surrounded by the rest of the group, but face to face with one of the biggest, meanest girls in my year. She grabbed for the ball and tried to take it away, but I hung on.

"Give it to me," she ordered, and through gritted teeth I said "No!"

This seemed to surprise her. She commanded me to give her the ball again, and I held onto it tighter, offended that she thought I should just hand it over because she said so. All four of our hands were white-knuckled on different parts of the ball now. It was hot and rubbery and worn smooth in places from other people touching it. I decided I would be the one to return it or die trying.

"Just give it to me," she said, and I said "No" again and wrested it away from her with a massive effort. Propelled backwards by my own momentum, I stumbled out of the pack, nearly fell, and then on the other side of all those gangly teenage legs, I saw the PE teacher and half passed, half bowled the ball back to him.


I didn't end up making the team, of course. I'd bombed every other part of the tryout, and I was still at least six inches shorter than everyone else, so it was never going to happen. (What did happen: The PE teacher told my mother that it was too bad I had no athletic ability, because he'd never seen anyone who tried harder or more consistently.) But I think this incident neatly illustrates what I was like as a kid, and decades later as an adult. I may not be strong or fast or naturally talented, but goddammit, I don't give up.

Not even when I'm told.


About the Creator

Vanessa Gonzales

“Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.” - Neil Gaiman

When I'm not writing, I take photos. You can see them here.

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