Two weeks from now, my long, animated four-year commitment to the best recreational basketball league ever, will come to a conclusion. After all of the amusing and wacky, yet sometimes dreaded memories that have unfolded throughout this journey, I’m proud to have participated in all of them.
As it turns out, next week will be the final time I’ll be able to don the same sweaty, netted jersey that’s occupied my time for an hour every Saturday afternoon. These jerseys can only be purchased at one store, Center Sports, which is located amidst a congested strip mall across from Dairy Queen in Lenexa. The jerseys are nothing special, but they bring out the original style that the organization has kept for three decades. White and red reversibles, with numbers that range from 00 to 99, and with every purchase comes a pair of black mesh shorts. Adorned on the bottom left corner carries the Christian Youth Organization emblem “CYO” in all white.
A side note about the strict rules of CYO basketball is that it’s mandatory to have that white inscription on there, because without it no one can play. If anyone dares to feel the necessity of rebelling against the norm and play anyway, then a $200 fine enforced by CYO themselves occurs. Of course, there is a way past it and that’s to change shorts with another player who has the emblem on the shorts. This was a precaution I experienced regularly during a game at Saint Ann’s church in the regular season.
Before I go further, during the games, no one on the same team can have the same jersey number. One example of this phenomenon was a game last Saturday – the team that played before us contained two number 2’s. Of course this can’t happen under the godly rules of CYO, so to fix everything a referee plastered a sliver of tape on the left side of the 2, which somehow outlined the number 12.
Spontaneous events like this are what makes CYO basketball unique. Rarely will you ever see an entire team consisted of players from the same high school. For instance, most teams that I come across consist of “super teams,”or teams that contain kids who all previously got cut from their varsity high school team at some point. As a result, they form an alliance of 9-10 players, almost how a “platoon system” works in college basketball. We get our inspiration of this platoon system, from the infamous John Calipari.
Normally, the kids that combine to form a team at the high school level are a mixture of Catholic or public schools. My team is half Rockhurst and half SM East students. The gymnasiums that I play my games at are an event in itself. In most cases, the games in the preseason are held in Catholic gyms, which always casts an unforgettable experience.
A certain moment that will always stick with me while playing occurred in the first game of the preseason this year, in a game that was at Bishop Miege. As soon as I walked in, I encountered quite the turn off – the stench of moldy foods and beverages will emerge from underneath the wooden bleachers, where old candy bar wrappers have been lying for god knows when appear. Next to the rest of the rummage lies some empty paint cans. To cap off the musty scenery in which the gymnasium presents, the sketch lighting and tiles on the roofs that are in dire need of replacement.
The games always start off with a minute full of prayers at half-court. Players linked hand-in-hand as a unit, and for a brief moment everything stands silent. Our team has only won three games throughout almost four years of playing on the court. As bad as we are, just the fun of competing and getting a break from the daily life is what makes it worth it. Days before the games, I try to recruit kids to play. Everyone either is a friend I’ve known from East or another school. Personally, it doesn’t matter who shows up, because really it’s all for fun. Whether we have five kids, or even nine to play at the start, there’s always at least one player who shows up late to the game.
With no one on our team above the height of 6’1,” it’s challenging to navigate around teams that pose 6’4’’ guards and 6’7’’ forwards. Despite frequent futility, typically the first thing that holds serve for us early is chucking up three-point shots without bail – times like this I wish I can stroke it like Steph Curry. But alas I don’t have that type of range, and it doesn’t appear, to provide us any sort of a morale victory. Then, we’ll implement that intimidating 2-3 zone, or I guess something that resembles it. With arms flailing around like maniacs, this is our best hope to try to defend those giants on the other side of the court the best we can.
In the course of most games, this approach only takes us so far before the bigger, more coordinated kids wear us down in the second half. Common results are 30-40 point beat downs, twice has the opponent put up 100 points – in a 32 minute game.
Even in regard to these blowout losses every week, sometimes in humiliating fashion, these are all moments that myself and others can cherish for the rest of time. There’s no guarantee of how many athletic activities I’ll partake in after I graduate in May, so absorbing everything I can now will be better for me later on.
CYO basketball is indeed just a simple recreational league that captures the thrill of competition and fun all in one setting. For years now, I’ve been far too accustomed to the colorful events that take place. In a lot of ways, I bid this as my weekly entertainment, because there is nothing else to do on those cloudy, morose weekends.
I can get my ass kicked every weekend, but the joy of competing and being able to meet new people keeps reeling me in for one more season, one more game and one more adventure. Because I know after it’s all said in done, these are memories that no one can take away.
Photos by Katie Lamar