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Irons in the fire: Just because you can

Paul Marchant Published on 01 January 2015

Like many small towns and communities in rural America, my hometown plays host to a raucous and reverent celebration every summer in honor of its earliest settlers and pioneer heritage.

The events are jointly sponsored by the local church and the town’s service organization, aptly named the Vigilantes. Hence, the delicate balance between rowdy and reverent is generally maintained.

The church is in charge of the parade, the entertainment in the park and the program honoring local heroes and pioneers. The Vigilantes run the rodeos, the team branding and sorting, and the “bump and rub” car races, which are as wild as you might imagine.

Nearly everyone in and around town is fully invested in the celebration, either as a participant or administrator in some form or another.

The school’s sports teams take advantage of the influx of visitors to hold various fund-raising activities. One of the most popular of these events is the three-on-three basketball tournament. Up until just a couple of years ago, I never missed the tournament.

When I was a coach, I had to help run the thing, and I always got a team together with a couple of my buddies, regardless of how old and out of shape we were. It’s quite often a pretty rough event.

On more than one occasion, I’ve barely been able to make it to church on Sunday morning because of the various sprains and wounds incurred in the events of the celebrations. Lest you question my piety, the Mrs. has never bought into my excuses to avoid church, though. But it’s always worth a try.

One year, I had a bruised and swollen face from a wreck in the team branding to go along with a strained left knee and a sprained right ankle from the basketball tournament.

This past summer, my three sons decided that we needed to field a team in the three-on-three tournament. The rationale being that it may well be the only chance we’d ever have to all play together, on the same team, in the Oakley tournament. My oldest son was planning on making the three-hour drive from Rexburg with his wife and baby.

My 6-foot-4-inch middle son had just graduated and finished a mildly successful high school basketball career, and my youngest son was between his junior and senior years in high school. As for me … I was teetering on the brink of the half-century mark. The proverbial window of opportunity was nigh on its way to being closed.

The gym was hot that day, my friend, just as you’d expect a 60-year- old small town high school gym with no air conditioning to be in the middle of July. As I analyzed the 20 or so other teams that were warming up, I quickly came to a couple of conclusions: I was pretty sure we could hang with the all-girl team, and I was the oldest guy there.

The teams were randomly divided into pools, each consisting of four teams. Every team would play each team in its respective pool, after which, the teams would be seeded for a round-robin tournament.

We were in a pool with three other teams, none of which I reckoned we could beat. One of the teams consisted of a trio of tall, ball-hawking cousins in their early 20s, from one of the big local family ranches, and one of their Peruvian sheepherders.

I had coached a couple of the cousins years before on the JV high school team, so they knew what they were up against in terms of the level of competition I would provide. I matched them jab for jab in the good-natured trash-talking and smack talk, but they, for good reason, weren’t too concerned about what I could do on the court.

Halfway into the first game, my sons subbed me into the game. After a couple of air balls, I kind of settled into it. Since we only played half-court, my level of exhaustion was kept to a minimum (much like my defense), and we ended up winning the first game. Number one son got hot in the second game, and we somehow cruised to an easy win.

We were now set to play the little shepherd boy and the cousins. They were big, they could shoot, and the herder was a flurry of hands and defense. I think he was a ringer they brought in from the Peruvian national team. He probably knew nothing about sheep. You know how, sometimes, things just seem to click?

Well, after my first air ball to get things started, I somehow caught fire. Big Cousin number one, at first, backed off and let me chuck. After I hit a couple of threes, he got up on me, and I was able to fake a shot and drive for a lay-up. It all kind of happened in slow motion, because that’s the only speed I had.

At any rate, it was starting to get fun – at least for us. Big Cousins were getting frustrated. In one of my rare appearances on defense, I was guarding Big Cousin number one in the low post.

He had me by 3 inches and three degrees of athletic ability. When he got the ball, he lowered his shoulder and forced his way to the basket. His shoulder caught me under the ribs and laid me out flat.

With my newly cracked ribs, my day was done, but we easily won the game. Somehow, we ended pool play undefeated, and although we exited the tournament after losing two out of three, I considered it a good day.

When I saw one of my old ball-playing buddies later that day, he offered his sympathies and told me that’s why he quit playing. He said he decided he was too old to risk the pain. He also offered me this advice: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

While I think that is probably sage advice worth heeding, I think the inverse may also be true. For me, it was playing ball with my sons, for perhaps the last time, when they were all finally old enough and I was still young enough. In the grander scheme, I think both adages are worth a look on life’s road map.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should – but just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.  FG