When I was in 7th grade and playing basketball, an incident arose that slapped me with a nickname that stuck for a while. This is my defense of that incident.
We were playing at Salem. Back in the time before McCook Central when their games were played in the Armory gym. It was a fairly decent gym to play in. All the bleachers were on one side of the gymnasium so they went up further than we were used to seeing at the little gyms of most schools. The teams' benches were across from the crowd and as the crowd looked at the court, Garretson's bench was the one on the left.
I wasn't sure in my memory banks if this incident happened when we were in 7th grade or in 8th grade. I was pretty sure it was 8th grade, but then I remembered that there was a cheerleader from Salem that we all thought was cute. I distinctly remember that she was older than me and that I wanted to impress her. This was a recurring theme in my thought process in my formative years of 7th grade through college and beyond.
We had a pretty good team. We always seemed to put a pretty good team on the field in any sport. We had a very athletic team and if we had worked at it a bit harder, we probably could've gone to state but we were always just on the cusp of qualifying. We always ran into tough competition in a very difficult region and in our class of basketball, only one team from each region made it to state. I'll save other stories of those challenges for another time. This was our formative years in junior high. Our shooting skills were developing, our ball-handling skills were developing, our communication skills were developing.... our basic basketball rules were developing. This last point is important.
The 7th grade game was always played before the 8th grade game. Coach Sylliaasen was the coach for both the 7th and the 8th grade teams. How he kept us all in line, I'll never know. Both teams and the cheerleaders bussed to all the games at the same time and I don't remember another teacher or chaperone coming along, but MAYBE Mrs. Garry did for the cheerleaders. I'm not sure. Maybe somebody can verify that to me... either way, Coach had his hands full with a couple dozen 12-14 year-old boys.
We suited up immediately upon arrival. The eighth grade boys went and sat on the bleacher and flirted with the cheerleaders and acted like they were watching our game. The 7th graders came out and warmed up... layup drills, shoot around and free throws. Then finally we'd start. Back in 7th grade our starting 5 was usually made up of Loren Vandeberg, Craig Albers, Craig Hillestad, Bruce Vollan and myself. Rodney Kasma would be in there from time to time as well, if I remember correctly.
We were a team that won most of our games at this level and this game was no different. By the end of the first half we were winning and feeling pretty good about our performance as we trotted into the locker room for a pep talk and quick rest. My life was still normal up to this point. I put in my solid few points (as usual) and I was feeling confident that I'd put in a few more in the second half (as usual).
This is where the events get sketchy. We came out of the locker room and warmed up much like we did in the first half. The details of this phase of the story are important. We came out at warmed up on the same basket that we used for the first half. We're supposed to switch baskets. But we didn't we used the same basket. I remember thinking that this was odd, but not impossible. What did I know... I was a fricking 7th grader... there MUST be a reason for the adults to make us do this. Whatever. I'm going with it.
So at the end of warmups I'm thinking, "ok, same basket. Got it." Then we come out for the second half jump-ball and the person making the jump faces THEIR own basket. Bruce came out and the refs had them face their baskets. But now Bruce is facing the OTHER basket, not the one we warmed up on. So now I'm confused a bit. But I'm going with it mentally... in my head, I'm like 'ok, I guess it's now THIS basket... the one behind me'.
The referee throws the ball up and Bruce skies for the ball and easily tips it right back to me. In my view, he's hitting the ball directly towards OUR basket and I'm the only one back here. It's my lucky moment.... if I could slam dunk in my life (ever) THIS would've been a great moment for the most kick ass slam dunk ever. That 8th grade cheerleader would've been like "who's THAT guy?"... I saw this all happening in my next few seconds. What did happen was I made the easiest layup I'd ever made. I was still proud of myself. Our lead went up by two points. I added to my stats. Rock on. Then I turned around after making the layup.
My entire team was sulking, their heads either held with chins up in frustration or hanging in embarressment. Both benches were laughing... their players clapping for me. One player patted me on my back. Coach had his hands tangled in his hair as he tussled it and stared at the ground. I tried to briefly plead my case to the ref then to the guys on the team but the points were added to the home score and not ours. I had to throw the ball in right away to one of the Craigs to bring the ball up. I continued to apologize and plead my case. They just shrugged me off and said "I got this... let's go". Play continued. But I know I was right.
I dreaded the first time-out after that. I knew what Coach was going say, what he was going to do, how he'd look at me. And I was right. I also got plenty of attitude from my fellow teammates including the bench players that continued to giggle at me and what I had done. Coach first coined the nickname for me at this time and said to the Craigs, "You guys bring it up, Wrongway, you go down and post up".
So "Wrongway" it would be, at least for a while. A few more games... a couple of years probably. We won this game. I learned to thicken my skin. I was probably blushing for a few days. That 8th grade cheerleader must not have been impressed with my layup... or my blush. I got over it. I never did it again... I made sure of that. I do remember that through all my games through all of my years of playing basketball, at the start of the second half, I always clarified with Craig Albers or Bruce or Loren which basket was our's as play started again. I'd point to the basket that I was sure was our's and then wait for the reaffirming nod. It was half joking and half serious as I know to this day that I was right, but I learned that I better check... just in case everybody else once again decided to play the wrong baskets.
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I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.