Church Ball: An Essay by My 12-Year-Old Self

april middle school photo smallNow that I am an adult with a public health degree and a passion for women’s rights, I have developed a heartfelt appreciation for competitive sports opportunities for girls.

That doesn’t change the fact that when I was a young girl myself, I was exceptionally small for my age, clumsy and bookwormish, so competitive sports were pretty much torture to me. (As an adult, I am still a small, clumsy bookworm, but competitive sports no longer torment me because no one makes me play them any more.)

Since I was so completely devoid of athletic talent, I did not participate in school or community sports teams as a kid, so my only experiences with competitive sports were in gym class and at church. My stake had annual Young Women’s softball, volleyball and basketball competitions and my ward members successfully peer-pressured me into participating, not because I was any good (I wasn’t) but because the Young Women in my ward had an intense fear of forfeiting.

I recently found this essay I wrote about church basketball when I was twelve years old. I have invited twelve-year-old me to share the essay as a guest post. The writing is rather immature because the author was immature. (Sometimes, I still am.)  But I see this essay as evidence that my time spent playing church ball (or watching it from the bench) was worthwhile. I never developed any athletic skills but I did develop early signs of a talent for snark, which has served me well ever since.

Church Ball

by April Young, age 12

Basketball. Don’t we all just love it? Basketball is one of those wonderful sports in which you have the opportunity to scratch, claw, bite, pull, push, obliterate and all that other fun stuff as long as the ref (who is usually blind) doesn’t see you.

I especially enjoy the sport. Before any game, we spend a certain amount of time warming up. Or at least, everyone else does. Have you ever noticed how everyone but me gets one of the few balls in the bin? Anyway, after warm-up time comes time to listen to Coach as she tells us who plays what position.

“Okay. You’re center, you’re forwards, you’re guards. Understand? All right. Go get ‘em.”

“Um, excuse me,” I interrupt. “What do I do?”

Coach looks at me. “Oh,” she says as if she shocked that I had the nerve to want to play. “You, um… What do you play?” They always remember what everyone plays but me.

“Forward or guard, I guess.”

“What do you like better?”

“Uh, guard?”

“Okay. Maybe you can come in for her as a forward later on,” and then, as an afterthought, “you don’t mind sitting out a while, do you?”

“Actual—“

“I didn’t think so.”

Let the games begin.

By about third-quarter that chair is getting awfully hot. So, working up all my nerve, I squeak out, “Coach?”

“Not yet,” she says without even moving an eye.

I try again. “But—“

“You haven’t been out that long.”

“I haven’t been in at all.”

Finally Coach turns, donning an I’m-so-amazed-I-just-completely-forgot look that could win an Oscar. And I am in that game.

As my teammates see me coming, they quickly telepath their strategy.

A. Someone should stand directly in front of me at all times.
B. They will allow themselves to be tackled by ball-hungry competitors before they will ever pass to me.
C. If I manage to get a hold of the ball in spite of all this, they can and should physically injure me to get that ball.

Our team has lots of team unity. Can’t you tell?

Anyway, back to the subject. I enter the court and that is when I notice something. Everyone out there is 12’7″ tall. That is, everyone but me. However, I just happen to be that brave, courageous, willing-to-be-trampled-to-death-for-the-sake-of-competition kind of person so I’m okay.Before too long, I begin to see my teammates’ strategies being put into effect. When that great big teammate of mine who is completely blocking my view doesn’t move when I politely say, “Excuse me, but I believe you were positioned over there,” I have my first clue. When I am wide open and directly beside the basket with a perfect shot and my teammate passes to someone with four people on them and who is even farther away from the basket than they are and could never dribble or pass or shoot the ball if they were paid a million bucks, I have my second clue. And finally, when I steal the ball and I’m ready to go down the court and one of my so-called friends grabs that thing from me, pushing me to the floor and leaving me to die there, I’ve had enough.

It’s time to reveal my secret identity… Super Basketball Player! No matter how big and threatening that other team may be, no matter how big and threatening my own team may be, no matter how big and threatening the ball may be, none of them are as incredible as I am. I am faster than a speeding chest pass, more powerful than a foul shot, able to sleep whole teams in a single bound.

And I will get that ball.

I see it. Like a round, orange scoop of ice cream I want it. With wings of fire I fly and I’ve got it.

I stand in shock.

But then I move. None of these ball hogs can stop me this time. I won’t pass until I have to. I won’t shoot until I’ve found that perfect shot.

I am Queen.

But then I realize something. Those people aren’t just 12-foot-seven. They are 12-foot-eight, nine even. And somehow (they must have or how else could it be?) They’ve snuck in 15 or 20 of them, not just five, and everyone is around me. I close my eyes, jump and shoot.

I open them just in time to see the ball circle the ring, once, twice, three times, four, five, six. How long can this go on? And then, finally, the ball gives up and falls down, not through the net but out to the side.

The buzzer sounds. The game is over. The other team has won, 3,462 to 0. Everyone gets their jackets and leaves but not without tactfully pointing out to me that it’s my fault they lost.

I go home and can’t wait until next week. Isn’t basketball at blast?

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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3 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    Ha! I love the snarkiness from the 12-year-old you! It’s painful to read about the exclusion, though, how you were kind of playing against everyone on both teams. I enjoyed basketball as a teenager, but there were definitely other sports I didn’t enjoy where I felt this pain, so I kind of know what you’re talking about. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. pbj says:

    Ah yes. Church ball in YW. I was too short to play so I warmed the bench until our good player was winded and needed a drink. I think I played 2 whole minutes one game.

  3. Jenny says:

    Love this. So fun to hear the voice of a young April fighting against all odds! Church ball sounds a little like fighting the patriarchy.

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