LSS: Better than teamwork — the real magic of high school basketball

Title IX: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…

Say what you will about the federal government, but some things it does take us in the right direction.

Folks around the world may call soccer the beautiful game, but in my opinion, that’s because they don’t know enough about high school basketball.

Even before I walked inside the gym last week to a local high school girls game, the sounds from afar took me back. Basketball, more than any other activity, defined my youth. Since neither of my daughters is interested in the sport and adulthood gets so full of so much, I haven’t been to a girls’ game in decades. I was happy to see that the magic was still there and the game could still matter the way it used to matter to me.

In its beautiful way, it’s still the same.

Squeaky tennis shoes on shiny gym floor.

Ponytails flying.

Scrappy scrambling.

Fans cheering.

Scoreboard ticking.

The rumble of feet up and down the court.

Collective ohs of despair.

Cheers of delight.

Coaches and clipboards.

Players buzzed in at the last possible second.

Critical free throws — made and missed.

Referees doing their best to feign indifference.

And, of course, Mamas hollering.

Aside from how much I loved playing basketball, maybe human nature plays a role in why I love watching it — especially the spectacle of high school girls. Watching any team put it all out there, full of passion and hustle, is a beautiful thing, but committed high school girls take that to a different level. Think about it. Try and name one section of the population who’s willing to emote more and play harder than high school girls!

Win or lose, team sports teach us so much about working together — from that incredible sense of accomplishment that comes with achieving something great to the consolation and camaraderie that comes with losing together.

All that said, cool things happen in high school boys basketball too. For example, just more than a week ago, two high school rival teams were playing in El Paso, Texas — a place I used to call home.

As the game was winding down, the home team, Coronado High, had a handy lead over Franklin. Peter Morales, Coronado’s coach says he would have put Mitchell Marcus in for the last two minutes of the game even if they would have been tied. Marcus, a senior student with special needs, had faithfully served as the teams’ manager for three years and never played in a game. When Marcus ran on the court, the whole crowd began chanting, “Mitchell. Mitchell. Mitchell.”

At every opportunity, his teammates passed him the ball. Marcus took shot after shot and the ball just wouldn’t go in the basket. With 13 seconds left in the game, the ball went out of bounds and was in Franklin’s possession. Jon Montenez from Franklin recognized what was going on — and in an incredible act of sportsmanship, the rivalry stopped mattering for a moment. Instead of tossing the ball to his teammate and the game ending, Montenez threw the ball directly to Coronado’s Mitchell.

Who took the shot.

Again.

And again.

And again.

And, finally, just as the buzzer sounded, it went in.

And the crowd went wild, rushed the court and put Mitchell on their shoulders.

Sometimes people don’t need rules or anything else to do the right thing.

Link to video:

Love and Peace in seven minutes

Early Friday morning, there was a magical looking mist just above the surface of the Vermilion. My non-early morning nature took in its beauty, as the extra minutes of quiet gave me time to consider what living by a river that flows both ways could teach me.

On that morning, the river was flowing south — like it’s supposed to in my mind. However, there are times when it’s heading in the other direction. I’ve seen the reverse flow many times, but it still discombobulates me. Like the Vermilion, my relationship with my 15-year-old daughter has its own ebb and flow that no moon chart seems to be able to predict. And like the river’s reverse flow surprises me every time even though it happens often, the continual re-recognition that my 15-year-old daughter has a right to her own opinions and ideas does the same thing. When she was young, she was always such a compliant child.

Cue laughter on the part of other moms and dads who had compliant young children who grew to be teenagers.

Too often these days, she and I can’t get on the same wavelength. Seems as though when I’m in the mood to be relaxed and have fun, she’s surly and preoccupied. This week, I finally recognized that there are moments when she approaches me and offers her own form of an olive branch — and maybe I haven’t been exactly receptive either. I vowed to do better.

So, on Thursday morning when I was rushing to get to my office and she asked me to watch not one, but two Internet videos, I stalled. I asked if how long they were.

Seven minutes total, she said.

I asked if she could email me the links.

“I really want to watch them with you,” she said.

That was the point when I thought, “What’s seven minutes when it may re-open lines of communication with my daughter?”

So, I said, “Sure.”

And, she started the first video. It turned out to be one I had already seen, but I was going to watch it anyway — and love it. She must have sensed that I’d seen it and asked. I told her I had but that I wanted to watch it again. It was, after all, Valentine’s. (The video is the one with the guy named Isaac who choreographs and films his elaborate proposal to his girlfriend. She sits in the back of a car that goes slowly down the road as all their family and friends proceed to sing and dance and perform to Bruno Mars’ “I Think I Wanna Marry You,” ending with a proposal. It’s sweet, beautiful and touches me no matter how many times I watch it.)

My daughter said, “We don’t have to watch this one. The one I really want you to see is its follow up that just came out today.”

The first was a video about love. When it finished, we smiled at each other. Then she was ready to show me the second video. It ended up touching my heart even more than the first. Rather than being about the sappy sweet, choreographed, unrealistic aspect of love, the second video was about the power, value and rewards of long-lasting love — and the difference a supportive family makes.

Maybe my daughter simply showed me the video because it was beautiful and well done. Or maybe she too has occasional flashes of realization that life is better when you’re at peace and ease with those around you — especially your mother. Maybe she too wants to ease the tension that becomes all too common between a little girl who’s growing up and her mother.

Email Jan at jan@janrisher.com.

LSS: Everybody out to Mardi Gras and here’s why:

This is a column about Mardi Gras.

But bear with me.

Nearly 20 years ago, I planned to take a trip to Africa for early February. I planned it for that time because my friend, who had lived there 12 years, assured me that was when Burkina Faso was at its best — meaning that the temperature rarely topped 100 degrees and most roads were passable because it wasn’t the rainy season.

I was living on the East Coast and was accustomed to trudging my way through snow for much of the winter. That winter, however, was different for me — the cold and dark days passed much more quickly than usual. The time seemed exciting and full of anticipation. I didn’t take long to figure out it was because I had something out-of-the-ordinary-winter-doldrums to look forward to.

Every year since then, I’ve tried to plan a trip during February. I just like the way having something to look forward to in February makes my year work out.

For years, I thought I was so clever.

Then I moved to Louisiana — and learned that Louisiana was clever long before me.

Even though Louisiana didn’t invent Mardi Gras, the state has certainly perfected it, but the harsh reality is that folks in other states just don’t get it.

Really, they don’t.

If you’re not surrounded by the hullabaloo that is Mardi Gras — it’s just Tuesday. Remember the year Bobby Jindal gave the response to the State of the Union address, which happened to fall on Mardi Gras? He started off with a big, toothy, “Happy Mardi Gras!” — and it fell terribly flat.

The rest of the country hasn’t the capacity to appreciate the balls, the pageantry, the royalty or the parades. I’m convinced that they can’t get it even if they come to visit a year or two or three. Appreciating the intricacies of Mardi Gras takes time, repetition and a degree of generational perspective.

For example, most folks across the rest of the country (I could safely include the world here, but I’ll stay domestic) would not think it perfectly natural to happen upon a lady in front of her home on a Sunday afternoon as she meticulously photographed 31 highly decorated, brightly colored, glitzy, glimmery high-heeled shoes — only to be told that she was a Muse.

That should have been explanation enough.

I was (and remain) ashamed to admit my lack of knowledge before last Sunday of New Orleans Muses and their shoes. Yes, she and the other members of her krewe are each allowed to throw 31 shoes during the course of their New Orleans parade.

When she explained the situation, it all made perfect sense to me. My first thought wasn’t, “How bizarre.” Nope, my first thought was, “I wish a Lafayette krewe would throw out something handmade and beautiful like a shiny, shimmery shoe — I’d love a shoe.” Followed by, “Perhaps they do? Maybe it’s another level of the secrets of Mardi Gras that haven’t been revealed to me yet?”

The Muse went on to explain that she took about four hours to carefully decorate each of her 31 shoes she would throw to “special people along the way.”

She pointed to one shoe that included a King Cake baby, “This one’s for a friend who’s just has a baby.” She pointed to another shoe and said, “The backless shoes are the easiest, but even still they all take a lot of time.”

If you do the math, through the course of the year — or the months leading up to Mardi Gras, she spent about 124 hours decorating her shoes. By the looks of the shoes, which were basically works of art, I’d surmise that she enjoyed every minute of the time.

And such is the fun (and point) of Mardi Gras.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

LSS: Unsolved mystery rules

Mystery ruled my week.

I keep going through the pieces like Columbo in a whodunit — inch-by-inch, slice-by-slice and moment-by-moment. I love a puzzle, but early on, I recognized that this conundrum was beyond my skill set.

So, we called in the authorities. At this writing, they too are confused even though this is a mystery with serious consequences — my dad’s health.

Ten days ago, he and my mom came to visit from their home in Mississippi. Dad had an eye infection. His doctor at home had diagnosed it and prescribed some medicine — and that’s when things began to get complicated. The very short version of a very long story is that my father’s health began going downhill, leaving him spending the better part of this week in the hospital, as a very sick fellow.

Watching a parent — who has always been so vibrant, so full of vim, vigor and readily bandying his personal version of funny at every turn — become disoriented and quite ill is a rite of passage that adults anticipate. Even so, none of us end up being prepared to handle it when it comes to pass.

As of this week, count me in that group.

In a culture that rallies around just how fast things that used to take a long time can happen — from meals to downloading files, most of us are looking for answers and looking for them fast, especially when it comes to the health of people we love.

But sometimes, no matter how hard people try or how much many people want to help or search for the solution, a clear-cut answer does not exist. That has been the case this week with my dad and the many medical personnel who have done so much to help.

Since my parents are away from their support network, I’ve used social media and tried to walk the fine line of providing enough information without going overboard. Both my parents taught school for decades in and around the town where we all grew up. As I’ve posted updates on my father’s health developments, watching the litany of prayers and wishes roll in has warmed our hearts.

Sitting in the hospital, I’ve read messages from former students and players. Messages like, “Jan, please tell Coach to hang in there. I know it is stressful on the whole family. Hopefully, there will be a diagnosis soon and a clear plan of action for the doctors. Praying for Coach from Qatar! He is loved all over the world. Literally!” Both my parents have been amazed at the outpouring of people who wished them well. There is nothing like being on the receiving end of positive thoughts and prayers to add a degree of peace to the situation.

Meanwhile, I certainly wish that someone could produce a magic pill and make it all better, that’s just not the way life works, is it?

Think of how society’s attitude toward sickness and medicine has changed from our grandparents’ generation to our own. Like our grandparents knew, sometimes we just have to wait it out. Then again, sometimes sharp, immediate and conclusive action is required. Finding the happy place between those two extremes, I suppose, is the sweet spot of modern medicine.

I’ve spent time this week being the primary mediator between my dad and his medical team. I’ve spent more time this week playing the role of primary mediator between my dad and the host of people who love him. Through it all, I’ve been reminded that the vast majority of folks are in the sharp-immediate-and-conclusive camp, rather than the waiting-it-out crew — and I’ve surely been there myself. But this week, I’ve learned to appreciate the value of waiting, rather than rushing, and ambiguity over absolute.

Sometimes accepting things as they are rather than dissecting why they are is a big step in the healing process.