The Night a Basketball Team Nearly Died

As I am writing this, Radio Paradise is playing the theme song from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Why I’m thinking about the craziest basketball practice ever, I don’t know, but I am. It’s too bad that as I write, I think the haters might still be circling the gym at LHS, but I have to get this down. Maybe they have gone away, although, there were plenty of carcasses to feed them back in 1982.

As I remember it, our coach called a practice for Thanksgiving night. That’s right, THANKSGIVING NIGHT!!! We all expected a light practice after a heavy meal, but those thoughts were soon pushed right up next to that extra helping of sweet potatoes I had when the monkey drills began. Nobody said a word because each of us feared that if we opened our mouths that dinner that we were so mindful of might make an appearance.

Finally, we got around to running our offense and working on full-court presses and with the hour getting late, it looked as if it would be time to go. Not so.

“On the line.”

We all thought, “Sprints, really? Coach, it’s Thanksgiving, please have mercy.”

“4 in 24.”

No mercy was to be had. The rule was that each of us had to run a sprint (suicide) in 24-seconds. If we all made it, that counted as one. We ran until we got to four. We ran. We ran some more. We ran a lot more. All our coach said was, “On the line.” He never told us the times. Soon there was a revolt against those who were having a tough time making it in time. The future minister very nearly invoked a spiritual wrath on the umpire’s son that teetered on fire and brimstone. Somehow it ended with us making it to four and no one throwing up.

That practice was bad, ugly, and such a good memory. A year ago I got to laugh it up with some of my old teammates. We all remembered that night the same way, like a bunch of middle aged men who had suffered a little and come through okay.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Note: Since I wrote this post, I’ve started practicing with my team. We are young and not big, but I think this will be a fun bunch to work with. Thanksgiving will be a night off and I will stuff all the food in that I can. I’m going to enjoy every bite without that voice in my head going, “On the line.”


  1. I’m sorry that you took that interpretation away from my story. Our coach was/is a great dude. He helped all of us become better players, find our ways to college, and offered support and guidance as adults. The practice, while difficult, should not be judged only in the context of Thanksgiving or the intensity of the sprints. There were reasons we needed a tough practice and the most important aspect was our bonding. We became a team that night, coaches and players…one. Our success was modest, but our bonds unbreakable. When we all get together we appreciate the experience for what it was; part of becoming a team. As dark as that may seem, the gallows humor for us stills shines bright. Thank you for commenting.

  2. so sorry you had to experience that. That is a learning moment for young people that says it’s okay to be cruel. That coach was probably angry and maybe lonely so used his power of position to take out his anger and self hate on those weaker than he was. And we tend, as we get older, to excuse and accept that behavior as something that was good for us while stuffing down that feeling of being used, unworthy and deserving of cruel punishment. I hoped when you looked back on that moment with your friends you will call it for what it was. It was cruel, unnecessary, and unacceptable behavior. And that you all somewhere in yourself vowed never to do to another.

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