High school hoops

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(Host) Commentator John Morton says that from UVM’s trip to Salt Lake for the NCAA tournament to your local high school gym, basketball in Vermont has been exciting this year.

(Morton) My brother-in-law referees high school basketball games. He drives throughout Vermont most of the winter, usually after dark. He endures screaming fans, sweating athletes, and occasionally, abusive remarks about his judgment or his eyesight. He does it for the love of the game.

Recently, he officiated a game near our home, so we went. Having been forewarned that the rivalry between neighboring towns would draw a crowd, we arrived early. The school has a small gymnasium, typical of many Vermont towns, so seating is limited. Even a half an hour before the tip off, we were lucky to find seats.

Promptly at 7:00 p.m., a member of the school’s Athletic Booster Club reached for a microphone and began introducing the teams. There was polite applause for the visiting athletes, but wild yelling and stomping of boots for the home team. Then four local barber shop singers performed the national anthem, as everyone stood facing the Stars and Stripes. It might be my imagination, but I’ve noticed a deeper respect for the flag in the past year or so.

As the crowd reclaimed their seats, a deafening buzzer sounded and the two teams circled into psych up huddles. There was pushing and shouting, high fives and tousling of heads. Anyone who worries that young men in our society are emotionally damaged by a lack of physical touching, hasn’t seen a high school basketball game lately.

With the start of the game, I was immediately impressed by the speed and intensity of the players, as well as their consistent ability to hit long, three-point shots. Having seen several college games, and one NBA battle recently, I had expected rural high school hoops to be clumsy and perhaps even boring. Boy, was I wrong.

And that wasn’t all. I was afraid the high school coaches would be frustrated, former athletes, living out their competitive fantasies through their players. But the only time a coach raised his voice in frustration was when one of his own players performed a little victory dance following a dramatic dunk. It was great to see rival coaches shaking hands and congratulating the opposing team’s players after the game.

I was also concerned that the three officials would dominate the game. But I was proud of my brother-in-law. He and his two colleagues kept the game moving by letting the kids play. My final concern was the crowd. I had been warned about poor sportsmanship by the fans at high school athletic events. Happily, I was wrong again. There was lots of cheering and clapping for successful efforts, but no booing or shouts of “AIR BALL,” when a shot went astray.

I can’t say I’ve become a full fledged basketball fan quite yet, but small town, high school hoops is certainly the purest form of the game. And for an admission price of three bucks, how can you go wrong!

This is John Morton in Thetford, Vermont.

John Morton designs trails and writes about sports.

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