Monday, December 8, 2014

ALL IN - Alli's First Basketball Game

The older our kids get, the more I love watching them figure out what they are passionate about and pursue it.  I could care less if they are the worst person on the team or the last one finished in a race.  As long as they are giving it their all, I'll be the obnoxious parent cheering them on.

Alli is in fifth grade.  She has always been athletic.  And competitive.  And opinionated.  She does not like to be told what to do and would much prefer to come to a decision on her own terms.  I get it.  She's a chip off the old block.
photo credits to Jared Whitney

When people started telling her she'd be good at soccer or basketball or any other sport that required a lot of running and the potential for a little push and shove, she balked.  She wanted to decide what sport to play.  So she tried softball.  For three painful years.  It moved WAY too slow and couldn't hold her interest.  Every softball coach said, "Alli should play soccer.  Or basketball.  Or water polo.  I bet she'd LOVE those. "

Last fall she tried soccer for the first time.  Like we all predicted, she was a natural, intuitively understanding the game and gaining ball handling skills throughout the season.  She played indoor soccer that winter with girls two years older than she is.  Eager to learn, she managed to hold her own with players who'd been playing soccer for years.  And she kept the parents entertained with her obvious emotions and her aggressive, leave it all on the field, playing style.
first ever soccer game
In the spring Alli joined the water polo team with similar results.  Even though she initially lacked basic water polo skills, she intuitively understood the game.  Alli caught up quickly on her skill set and learned to love water polo by the end of the season.  This summer she practiced with the middle school team - in the deep end - and was able to keep up.  I was impressed, especially cause I know one dunk under the water and I'd be curled up in the fetal position traumatized.
She likes scoring...
... and playing goalie.
Alli played soccer again this fall.  Halfway through the soccer season I got an email from the park district announcing basketball tryouts.  Alli wanted to try out but I didn't have the bandwidth to think about adding another sport.  We missed tryouts - kind of on purpose/kind of on accident.  We thought basketball was out for this year.
Playing goalie this year was fun for Alli.
A week or so later, I got an email from the park district.  A special tryout was being held for fifth grade girls only and Alli was invited to come.  We both were relieved that she had another opportunity to try to make the team.  When we showed up for tryouts, Alli was the only kid there.  Fifth grade basketball did not look like it was in the cards.

The coaches saw her disappointed body language (she wears her emotions on her sleeve) and invited her to join an open gym for middle and high school girls.  They could evaluate her skills at the open gym and give us some input on how to get her on a team.

Alli came home from the open gym with a HUGE smile.  Not surprising, she LOVED basketball.  The coach said her skills were basic, but Alli understood the game and played aggressive defense.  If Alli and two other fifth graders who tried out earlier were willing to play on a 6th grade team, the district would be able to field an extra team.  It was a no brainer.  That is how Alli found herself on a 6th grade basketball team.

The Newberg Tigers have been practicing since early November.  Every practice Alli learns more about the game, her coaches and her teammates.  She comes home excited about the game and ready to learn more.  She even got a basketball as an early Christmas present.

Alli's first basketball game was Saturday.  Her goal for the first game was to "score one basket and play good defense."

Alli tried on her uniform and we died laughing.  It was at least a size or two too big. She put a tank top and shorts on underneath it to add some bulk and a level of comfort in case her uniform shorts fell off while she was running down the court.

Our family found our seats in the gym right at tipoff.  Alli waved excitedly from the bench, waiting for her turn to play.  She cheered her teammates on and about half-way through the first quarter got her first chance to play.  When the coach tagged her to go in, she jumped up and started to go out onto the court, not knowing you had to wait to be buzzed in.   It was immediately obvious it was her first game!

Alli was clearly excited but also nervous and a little unsure of what to do. But the more she played, the more relaxed she got.  It was so fun to watch her figure out the game.  She noticeably improved and understood  more with each minute that she played.  By the third quarter she was stealing the ball, stopping fast breaks, and playing a lot.

Alli got fouled on her first attempt at a basket.  The ref had to tell her to go shoot free throws.  This was her chance to make a basket.

Alli excitedly took her place at the free throw line and looked at us in the stands.  We gave her a big thumbs up.  She grabbed the ball, bounced it a few times, and spun it.  Then took a deep breath, bent her knees WAY down and launched the ball.

SWOOSH!  Nothing but net!

She didn't even try to curb her enthusiasm.  She looked right at us with an "OH MY GOSH DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST DID?" look of massive excitement.  It was priceless.

Alli missed the next free throw but made two layups later in the game for a total of five points.  She also netted several steals and a few rebounds, so I'd say she met her first game goal.

This stare down and subsequent defense made me laugh.  These two were equally intense and equally matched.
Watching Alli play her first basketball game was a highlight of my weekend.  She clearly loved it and we got such joy out of seeing her embrace something new.  She was ALL IN - body, mind and spirit - and that's contagious.

I think the Stilp Family might be watching a lot of basketball in the years to come and I'm pretty excited about it. Nice job Alli Girl!  We're proud of you.

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