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Girmindl's Ghost

A diary of Shaker High School's 2005-2006 basketball season, a retelling of Shaker's fabled 1979-1980 season, and general commentary on high school hoops, updated daily...

"I like sitting in the back row. I found that sitting against the wall is just easier on your back." -Dean Smith, on the comfort of the H-gym bleachers


Confessions of a Bison addict: This is part two of my recap of the quarterfinal overtime loss to Albany that ended Shaker's season. (You can read part I - the actual game recap - here. I'll be back in a few days with a recap of the whole season.)

It's cliche to write about how much a sports team can mean to people and how much it hurts to lose the last game, and I usually hate reading such stories in magazines or newspapers. I hate them for two reasons:

1) if you aren't a true fan of the team that is being discussed, you can never really relate to what the author is saying.

2) most sports writers themselves aren't real fans of the teams they write about, so they don't actually know what it feels like for the actual fans when the team loses. Instead, they are just trying to remember what it was like the last time their team lost, and translate that feeling to the current situation. Usually fails.

So this essay is only for real fans of Shaker basketball '05-06. If you weren't at the game Sunday, or if you didn't have trouble sleeping that night, don't bother reading it. It probably won't make any sense.

Confessions of a Bison addict

Repeat after me: It's just a high school basketball game.
Repeat after me: It's just teenagers playing a game for fun.
Repeat after me: It's not important in the grand scheme of things.
Repeat after me: It's just a high school basketball game.

If only I could get myself to believe any of that.

Sometimes I wish I didn't care. That I would wake up tomorrow and not think about Shaker basketball at all. And I could go to the games and not be devastated when they lost. That I could stop wondering "what if" about this season, 1980, 1992, and all the rest of it. But I can't. I just can't.

Over the last 36 hours, I've quickly cycled through the five classic stages of grief a number of times. You can pretty much get through all of them in about 10 minutes. Then you just go back to the beginning and start again, and you do it maybe 500 times in a row and 500 more times before next fall, and that's that. So that's what I did yesterday. Judging from my email, any number of my readers did the same: some cried themselves to sleep, some didn't sleep. Some sleepwalked through work and school on Monday, some never really woke up. Some people distracted themselves with silly chores, some spent hours daydreaming about what could have been.

How sick is it that we can model our psychological response to high school basketball like we model our response to death?

Let's start from the beginning.

Stage 1: Denial. I prefer to call this one "shock." I still can't believe they lost that game. Actually, that's not true. With 1:30 to go in the 4th, down 53-48 without the ball, I was mentally preparing myself for about a 60-54 loss. So I can believe that they didn't win. What I'll never believe is how it happened. No way. It was like I was watching some sick version of Hoosiers, in which after Hickory hit the winning shot, they just forgot to end the film and instead they spliced in the finish of the Shaker-Maginn game from Christmas break. I mean, have you ever seen such a horrifying finish - up 2 with 20 seconds to go, get scored on, turn it over and give up a game winner to some kid who hasn't scored all game - happen twice in one season? Nope. Not possible. It didn't happen. I'm still dreaming it. Vernon's steal and layup actually won the game. Shaker got a stop, made their foul shots, and ran out the clock. I'll see you in Glens Falls on Saturday night. Did you hear Mark Lyons isn't playing? I think we have an excellent chance.

After game 6 the 2003 NLCS, it was observed that several dozen people never left Wrigley Field. The game ended just after midnight EST, and a number of people simply sat in their seats till the sun came up, staring at the field. I don't think I could have sat in the RACC bleachers all night, but I could have gone an hour or two. Unfortunately, I wasn't given the chance because I was already starting to feel a deep, mellow...

Stage 2: Anger. The first person I was mad at was my mom. That sounds dumb, but you weren't there when she was trying to tell me how "this is what makes high school basketball so great." That would be bad enough an hour after it ended. She was going full bore before we had gotten out of the RACC. Ugggggghhhh. Still, I've heard this all before from my mom - wasn't it just one year ago she was giving me same speech after the Troy game? - so I was very easily capable of tuning her out.

I quickly turned my anger to other, more easily hatable, targets:

#1) The referees. UGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! I cannot BELIEVE those idiots called that foul on Vernon in the overtime. Talk about deciding a game with the whistle. They hand't called a rebounding foul away from the ball all freakin' game, and then they decide to do it with 25 seconds left in overtime? Exhibit 2: the foul on Schaller in overtime. Yeah, that was probably, by the book, a foul. But they had called 6 fouls the entire 4th quarter/overtime. No way that shot was going anywhere near the hoop, and no way Schaller's "foul" made the difference on the shot. Just garbage. Either of those calls aren't made, Shaker wins. It's that simple. But I'm not done yet. I'd seriously like to know what game they were watching in the first half. Every time they did blow the whistle, it was for something silly, like a touch foul on a dribble in the halfcourt set. And then every time someone got clobbered - Griff and Duclos come to mind in the first half (not to mention a few Albany drives) - not a peep. Here's a post-game email from Joe B., sums up this aspect of things great:
That was the worst officiated game i've ever seen, on any level, in any sport, on any continent, including Antarctica. You wanna talk about gettin screwed with ur pants on well we got pretty well doinked. Absolutly rediculous. Maybe i'll send u other thoughts when i stop wishing i knew the names adresses and fears of the refs.
I mean, first off, that's high comedy. But mostly I was glad when I got that email, because it proved I wasn't delusional.

#2) Albany. I'm not going to single anyone out, partially because I don't like to bash high school kids, but mostly because I don't know their names and I don't care. What a bunch of cheap shot artists. Who the hell is their coach, John Krease? I just kept picturing Karate Kid in my head. "I don't want him beaten. Out of commimssion. Do you have a problem with that?" Bad enough that they kept trying to "sweep the leg" against Brad. But the coup de grace was when that one kid got embarressed by Brad blocking him twice in a row and decided to cold-cock Hans with an elbow. Unreal. And look, I have a lot of respect for the high-pressure style of play Albany uses - this isn't whining about pressure or intense basketball. That's great, and Shaker could learn a lot from them in that category. But some of it is just too much. There's no room in high school hoops for intentionally trying to hurt people. But, of course, if the refs aren't going to punish it, it's pretty damn hard to deter.

Stage 3: Bargaining. I've never understood this stage. It's supposedly when you bargain with God to take away the grief, like "I'll go to church every day for the next 10 years if you go back in time and have Schaller make his 1-and-1." Hmmm. Well, I guess I did say that, but that's not the point. I do my bargaining before the game. Consequently, by the time they lose, God has already failed me and Shaker basketball. Games like Sunday won't make you lose your faith that God exists, but they certainly will make you wonder if there is any justice in the world. The rules of Karma are a bit hazy, but here's one that I was pretty sure existed, until Sunday:
Those who try off the backboard alley-oops in the 4th quarter of tied games will be condemned not only to miss said alley-oop, but also to lose said game, preferably via last minute collapse.
As soon as Albany missed that razzle-dazzle dunk, I knew the Bison would win if there was any justice in the world. And then it all came together in the last minute. But apparently, there isn't any justice.

Stage 4: Depression. This is my personal favorite, if only because it allows you to do some logical second-guessing, just to twist the knife a little further. And Sunday night, there were just so many: what if Hans doesn't get hurt, what if Schaller or Vernon makes even one foul shot in overtime, what if King misses one of his free-throws, what if Jordan doesn't hit that three, what if Brad didn't hur this ankle last week, what if Duclos doesn't lose his shoe, what if Brad tips the ball backward in overtime, what if the 6th man just cheered a little louder, plus all the reffing calls we've already discussed, and so on. Basically, when you lose by two in overtime, every single play can be second-guessed. However, two of my favorites are:

1) What if the scorer's table got the number of Albany fouls correct? This one might burn me up forever. When Albany got it's 6th foul of the second half, somehow the scorer's table decided it was only their 5th. Trust me, I was keeping track and I was furious at the time, although it didn't seem like that big of a deal. Fast forward 20 minutes, and Vernon is fouled on the floor in overtime with the score tied at 60, Albany's 9th charged foul but actually their 10th. See the difference? Instead of two shots, Vernon goes to the line for 1-and-1. Just shoot me.

2) What if I hadn't pulled an enormous Karma mistake? After Brad hit to make it 62-60 and Albany missed, giving Shaker the ball back with 40 seconds to go in overtime, I screamed down the aisle to my mom to get out my camera. I wanted to have it ready to take a picture of the scoreboard when the game ended. How much of an idiot am I? See, that's Karma. I'm such a loser.

Here's a couple signs you know your depressed:

You remember things you never knew you knew: You're sitting eating dinner after the game with your wife, neither of you have said a word in 15 minutes, and all of sudden your wife quietly states, "Hooks had such a good look at that three pointer midway through the third. That might have really changed things." To which you calmly respond, "Yeah, that was a great look. He was squared up perfectly. And it's funny, because I was just thinking about that short jumper Brad missed from the baseline in the second quarter." And then you both nod your heads and continue on.

You over-fantasize the alternative outcome: By Monday evening, I had firmly decided that if they had just won on Sunday, they were probably going to win the state title, or at least make the final four and lose a close game to Mt. Vernon. Seriously, is anyone doubting that outcome at this point? Not me. That's how delusional you get about these things. CBA? We'll kill 'em. Mt. Vernon? No problem! It's the natural consequence of losing - you never wonder who you would have lost to down the road, just who you would have beaten.

Stage 5: Acceptance. The good thing is that it only takes a few days to start to come around from a loss like Sunday. Some people think that it depends when you lose - like if you lose like that in the state title game, it's worse. That's not true. It's always the same. Doesn't really matter.

And I don't mean I'm completely over it. First off, I'll never totally get over that game, just like I'll never totally get over the regional game in '92, or even the Maginn game in December. And I don't mean mostly over it, that will take a little longer, too. But a good start. Besides, it's nice to wait a few days, anyway. if Schenectady kicks the crap out of Albany Saturday night, you'll take a lot more satisfaction out of it if you're still raging mad about Sunday. In fact, I reccommend a theraputic trip up to Glens Falls for that. Some good basketball to see, as well.

Ultimately, I relearn the same simple lesson every time this happens. I don't know how I forget it, but I do. And then it all becomes clear again, like it did this morning. The lesson goes something like this:

Repeat: Only one teams wins the state title. Everybody else loses.
Repeat: You'd feel just as bad losing by 40 as you do losing by 2 in OT.
Repeat: You'll never truly feel the highs unless you also feel these lows.

Think back to the best moments of this season: maybe Brad's shot against CBA, or Duclos jamming the alley-oop pass to open senior night, or even the incredible 6th man that showed up at the RACC Sunday and blew the doors off the other student sections. And then think back to the best moments in Shaker basketball history: Perkins hitting the winning shot in overtime of the '79 sectional title game, or maybe Kanders laying the ball in to win the '92 title.

None of those moments would be remotely interesting if you don't accept that Sunday night can happen. And if you never experience a game like Sunday night, and you never lay in bed wide awake thinking about it, and you never spend an hour or two daydreaming about "what if," well then you'll never really know how good it felt when Brad's jumper went in against CBA, or when Perkins banged home his hook shot agains Catholic Central.

So today, I'm more chipper. All the great moments of the season are coming back into my mind, and I'm starting to realize again that you're better off caring than not caring. And sure as the sun rises, I'll be back in those bleachers next fall, dreaming the same daydream about the state title we're destined to get one of these years.

In the end, it all boils down to this: my mom is right. Sunday night was why people watch high school basketball. And it's why you and I watch it too. Unless we were going to win the state title, this was the way it was going to end.

Now, if I could just get myself to believe that load of crap, I could stop thinking about that foul called on Vernon Sunday night. Or the foul shots. Or the sectional title.

If only they had won. At least we could have continued to daydream for another week.
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