What a group of 8-year-olds taught me about compassion, sportsmanship, and courage.
A few weeks ago, we were preparing for our normal Saturday routine. It was game day, so of course both boys got up way earlier than normal. They bounded down the stairs, fully clothed, without threats of no TV time or impending punishment, fixed their own breakfast, and were quickly asking how long it was until we left. All of this BEFORE 7:30am. Granted, this was the Saturday following the Snow-Pocalypse 2018 event and we were all itching to get out of the house. We actually went back to school that week on Thursday; short weeks always give them extra energy to burn off.
Tip off for both boys was 12:00pm, at two different facilities, across town from each other, of course. Since my husband is the head coach for the 4th grade team, I had my 2nd grader and little-sis in tow. We decided to head in to the gym for his game a little early and watch the other teams playing ahead of us. As time ticked on, other parents showed up and we visited with each other in the lobby of the gym. The coach waited on all the players to arrive before we held a quick player devotional.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen the opposing team arrive. They weren’t anywhere to be found. Earlier, I noticed a couple with 2 small children standing off to the side. The children, one boy and one girl, were standing against the wall in the corner of the gym, still wrapped in their coats. The youngest was still dressed in his karate uniform. As this was the Saturday after a long snow week, the gym was cleared out quickly and we were to be the last game of the day.
All of our kids ran off to the locker room for the pre-game meeting and we stood around assuming that it was a forfeit. The other team just wasn’t there. I was convinced that we’d probably be leaving soon and maybe, just maybe, I could make my other son’s game. To my surprise, my son’s team emerged from the locker room ready to play and looking pumped.
The team that played before us was another second grade team from our school, and when they found out that our opponent had not shown up for the game, the coach asked his players if they wanted to stay behind and scrimmage with us. I mean we were already there, dressed and ready to play. Right? Well, here is where the story takes a sharp turn.
That little boy standing back against the wall was the only one that showed up for his team that day. Honestly, he was about the same size as my 4 year old. I found out after the game that his name was Mario. Apparently, the coaches got together at the pre-game meeting and 5 of the players from the earlier game decided to stay behind and fill out the roster for our opponent so that Mario could play his game as scheduled.
Y’all this is Mario. The only player to show up for his team. He had his oversized shorts rolled up to keep from dragging the floor. All the other boys towered over him, but he got out there and hustled on that court. He didn’t know any of the plays, he didn’t know any names, and he clearly was not their “star player.” During the game, they all made sure that Mario got the ball and also made sure he scored a few points.
What can we learn from Mario?
- Mario showed up. Better yet, Mario showed up to play and stayed. He could have very easily left and gone home but when the olive branch was extended, and they offered to fill out his roster with him, he meekly nodded okay.
- Mario gave his all out there. Despite not knowing anyone’s name. Despite not knowing the plays. Despite being the smallest on the court. Mario played the best game he could play.
- Mario reminded us that learning about sportsmanship is the reason we do this. He helped us remember that, at the end of the day, these are just 8 year olds playing a game with their classmates. For the most part, only a few of these kids will go on to the Jr. High or Sr. High Level. Recreational league is called that for a reason.
For a brief moment, on one cold and rainy Saturday morning, a group of boys got together to play a basketball game. A basketball game that almost didn’t even happen. They offered to stay behind and play a scrimmage game and ended up helping out a stranger from another team. For our record, it was a win due to forfit. To our boys, it was a uniform scrimmage. To the parents, it was a reminder that these kids just want to play and have fun. Bragging rights in the lunchroom are one thing but none of them are the next Stephen Curry. To Mario it might have been a great day, maybe even one of the greatest. He came, he played, he scored, and the entire gym cheered for him.
I want to be like Mario.