Love on display at basketball game

Valentine’s Day is upon us again. It is what I consider a fairly useless holiday, filled as it often is with the vestiges of naive love.

Enduring love has little to do with heart-shaped candies and red-inked greeting cards. The type of love that lasts, that matters, doesn’t lend itself well to poetry or song lyrics.

Love, at least by my way of thinking, is understanding faults and working to better them. Love is seeing and knowing it all — moments of selfishness, flashes of insecurity, flights of boastfulness — and believing life would be less without the shortcomings.

Such thoughts have been on my mind throughout the week as I considered what might fill this column. But on Tuesday, a particularly frustrating day, I set them aside. My daughter was cheering at the last basketball game of the season.

I perched at the top of bleachers that night, my back against the wall, notebook across my lap. The freshman game was underway, and the cheerleaders wouldn’t be on the sidelines until junior varsity game began.

Love - Marion High School cheerleaders and spectators watch as the Junior Varsity team took on the Center Point Urbana boys in the final game of the 2014-15 season on Feb. 10.
Marion High School cheerleaders and spectators watch as the Junior Varsity team took on the Center Point Urbana boys in the final game of the 2014-15 season on Feb. 10. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Although it was the last game of the season, there was nothing otherwise extraordinary about it. Varsity players lined the bleachers behind the basket. Spectators milled about or sat and visited. Every so often a young child would “whoop” his or her excitement, or gasp at the sound of the buzzer. Gymnasium white noise was punctuated by the shrill squeak of tennis shoes.

It was the same scene that played out in my high school gym decades ago. I breathed deep and let the familiarity wash over me and turned back to my notebook.

I almost missed the moment when everything changed.

It was the varsity boys, suddenly rising to their feet and screaming in triumph that refocused me on the freshman game. A young man had his arms up, team mates were applauding. The noise level in the gym rose considerably as everyone stood in awe of the player who swooshed the ball for a three-point shot.

The excitement was such that I glanced to the scoreboard, thinking the game must have ended, but there was still time on the clock.

It was hours later, after more games had been played, that my daughter explained the uproar.

“It was so great, Mom,” she said with dancing eyes.

“Your last game?” I asked. She shook her head before explaining that one of the players on the freshman team was a special needs student. He had sunk a three-point basket, his first in regulation play.

“It was the best — so sweet — the absolute best.”

My daughter doesn’t attend an overly large school. Most of the students in her class have been a constant in her life for the past 10 years. As such, they long ago identified each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Yet, most of the time, they work together, even if they don’t always win. As pretty much any teacher will attest, it isn’t always easy. But good or bad, they are all in and ripe for those moments when one of them overcomes and does something spectacular.

The basket was, of course, a wonderful moment for the player — one that the entire student body earned a right to share and make even brighter.

Understanding, determination and just sticking through good and bad … that’s love.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Feb. 14, 2015.