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Junior high reunion spurs introspection

POSTED October 31, 2009 12:02 a.m.
This was my eighth-grade boys basketball tryout: Our coach, a slender man with a monotone voice, instructed us to make five straight free throws. He didn’t care who took the shot, but every time a ball refused to go in, we’d run sprints up and down the court.
A group of players from the previous year’s team took charge. The guys selected themselves first and then chose a beginner on the crucial fifth attempt — just to see how he handled the pressure. It rimmed out each time, and this went on for about 15 minutes. Finally, they picked me.
I wasn’t a newbie. The year before, I sat the bench. But I made it. Swish! With that, I became part of the most popular kids in school — the jocks, one with undeniable athleticism and great potential. Too bad not all of them fulfilled their promise or used their on-the-court flair for something greater.
This is a sad story. But it’s too common of a story. You know, the one with young kids showing that they can escape the grips of self-destruction by handling a round ball. I truly never imagined that the guy who taught me how to correctly execute a left-handed layup would turn into a Division I basketball bust. Or how the kid who walked home with me from basketball practice ended up roaming the city at night for a place to sleep. Or the one who used to crack jokes during blowouts suddenly became a teenage father. The tales go on.
This week, I revisited my junior high P.E. teacher who was a big part of our eighth-grade basketball team. We shared stories, and we kept on going back to that team. It was a powerhouse of a team, one with enough talent to be recognized as one of the best junior high teams in Modesto. I was grateful to be a part of the mix.
It was silly. We thought we were the best things to ever happen to the school, walking around the hallways before first period and expecting people to move out of the way. But you know what? Stuff like that doesn’t last forever.
Of course, we graduated from junior high and this was when we started to drift away.
Some of us stuck together during high school, eventually enjoying the spotlight on the varsity boys basketball stage. But it didn’t last long. We graduated from high school and this was when I started to hear the stories of my former junior high boys basketball teammates.
And I wondered how I escaped those stories and instead sneaked into the good stories (quite a few of us have families, stable jobs and such).
I mentioned this to my former P.E. coach and he said he doesn’t want to take any credit. He’s a teacher and the one thing he does is offer his students perspective — and it’s up to them to make the right choices.
“Before I go,” I said, “I want you to know you’re a big part of who I am today.”
“No, no, no,” he replied. “It wasn’t me. It was all you.”
I stared at him for a few seconds, wondering why he threw my compliment right back at me. We walked by the basketball court where I nailed that crucial free throw during basketball tryouts, and I remembered.
Yes, it was all me all along.
Every day, you’re given different opportunities and choices. It’s all about how you handle the pressure.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail csun@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.
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