Sunday, April 29, 2018

Jr. Jazz

Today, please enjoy the recording of my most recent Strangerville Live story, told on stage last month, about what should be the most embarrassing experience from my childhood. And for the hearing impaired and those who hate the sound of my voice, I've included a written version and some pictures below.

I was enrolled in T-ball at age five. My parents were going to make a sportsman out of me.
I didn’t understand the sport, and to be honest, I was only there for the donuts. At the end of our last game of the season we were each handed a participation trophy, the only way I was ever going to be rewarded for the sports. My parents still have in their possession a picture of me holding two donuts. My participation trophy is on the ground.

Eventually I upgraded to machine pitch, despite having never successfully hit the ball off of the tee. My only memory of my time in the fast-paced world of machine pitch is when I was sitting somewhere in the outfield and I saw something out of the corner of my eye move past me.
Everyone on the field began screaming my name as I stared at them, wondering why they wanted my attention. Eventually another boy ran toward me, picked up the ball that had landed a few feet from me, and threw it to someone else.
I didn’t stand up once during this entire event.
My friends and I joined a soccer team in the sixth grade. We called ourselves the Jolly Green Giants, because of our green jerseys. And we lost every game.
The Children of the Neighborhood were not very good at the sports, although we tried desperately to get better at them.
At the end of my street there was a cul de sac and we spent nearly every afternoon in that culdesac playing baseball. We played until our game was interrupted by Betty, a woman in her late 120s who sat on her front porch knitting all day, every single day.
Betty had a practice of throwing her yarn out into the yard and then screaming at us to come and help her get it.
We were all deathly afraid of Betty for reasons I’ll soon get to, and so we had a neighborhood pact that no child would ever have to go retrieve the yarn alone. We would all go together. We were the motivation behind No Child Left Behind.
And we did. Every. Single. Day.
The moment we arrived at Betty’s porch, yarn in hand, Betty would demand that we sing for her.
The singing would last well over an hour, until Betty would initiate the grand finale and send us home.
Betty was in a wheelchair. She was an amputee. Her leg had been cut off about three inches from her pelvis. And at some point she had mistakenly come to believe that we, the Children of the Neighborhood, desperately wanted to see her leg stump and play a game with her, which she called "touch the stump."
And so, she would remove her prosthetic leg, slowly, like this was a strip show at some very weird bar. And then she would direct each child, one by one, to look at and touch the stump, before sending them home.
This scenario played out every single day for months, unbeknownst to the parents of the neighborhood, until one day Betty’s daughter-in-law, who also lived at that house, drunkenly drove her car across every yard in the neighborhood before crashing into the back deck of one of the houses.
We, the Children of the Neighborhood, spent the next three afternoons after school inviting children of other neighborhoods to view the carnage on guided tours of our understanding of the path the car took.
And so, because of these series of distractions, and only because of these, I never really became very good at the sports. This was unfortunate, because later that year I enrolled in Jr. Jazz.
For those unfamiliar, Jr. Jazz is not a music group. It is a basketball league for Utah’s teenagers, named after the Utah Jazz.  For a small fee, a child could play basketball every Saturday for four months and then at the end of the season, the least-known basketball player from the Utah Jazz would come and speak to all 10,000 white Utah children about why you should try to improve your game instead of try hard in school because NBA players can make millions of dollars.
I had no business participating in Jr. Jazz. I was incapable of dribbling a basketball. I didn’t understand most of the basic rules. And, frankly, I hated playing.
But by the time I really realized that I hated playing basketball, my parents had already paid the fee and I had been issued an oversized jersey.
I treated Jr. Jazz more like a dodgeball league. I spent every minute of every practice just trying to avoid the ball as much as possible. I spent every second of every game attempting to look as busy as possible and trying desperately to make sure that I was sufficiently guarded by the other team so no one would get any crazy ideas about passing the ball to me.
Because I signed up for Jr. Jazz all on my own, I had been randomly assigned to a team of 12-year-old boys, all of whom were friends with one another outside of the sport. And just like that, I had suddenly began associating with The Children of a Different Neighborhood. One where kids didn’t lose every soccer game. One where geriatric amputees were nothing more than a far-away rumor.
During the two years that I played with this team, I didn’t learn a single person’s name. And they didn’t learn mine. Because several dads would show up to each practice and scream at us, I never was sure who, exactly, was our coach. And because I have a form of facial blindness, I often couldn’t recognize my own team when I showed up to games.
Jr. Jazz games were played on Saturdays at the local high school, which had a gym that was large enough that four games could be simultaneously played on four courts that were separated by long curtains.
Because of my inability to recognize my own teammates, on two separate occasions, I started playing in the wrong game for a wrong team, only to be kicked out once people realized that no one knew who the hell I was.
I eventually learned a trick for finding my team. After several months, I noticed that there was not one, but TWO sets of twins on my team. Two sets of very tall, distinguished-looking, red-headed twins. And so, rather than just guess and possibly huddle with a group of kids I had never met in my life, I would wander the gym until I found a team with two sets of tall, distinguished-looking, red-headed twins, and then I would know that was my team.
I was meant to be CIA operative. Not a basketball player.
I dreaded Saturday mornings more than I had ever dreaded anything in my life. I would have given anything to be playing Touch the Stump with Betty instead.
But when our season ended that first year, the coach announced that he had a sign-up sheet for anyone who wanted to play again the next year together. Noticing that my entire team had huddled around this sign-up sheet, I decided that if I didn’t also sign up, I would be a quitter. And I would let the team down.
And I didn’t want to devastate them like that.
And so, even though there was nothing in this world that I hated more than Jr. Jazz, I signed up for a second year.
The second year was identical to the first. I played dodgeball at weekly practice. I identified two sets of twins to find my team on Saturday mornings. I never once touched the basketball. And I never learned a single person’s name.
I was relieved when that second season finally came to a close, knowing that I would have at least a few months to rest before doing this whole song and dance a third time.
On our last day I turned to a child, whose name I did not know, and asked him where the sign-up sheet was. And to my utter delight, this child informed me that the team was splitting up. They decided not to play for a third year.
The reign of terror was over.
I literally skipped all the way home.
Home was one mile away.
It was the most athletic thing I had done in two years.
A few weeks later, I was contacted by one of The Children of the Neighborhood who had decided that it was time for our crew to join Jr. Jazz. He called me first because he knew I was already a veteran at the sport, having spent two years as a commissary with the Children of a Different Neighborhood. And he suggested that maybe Jr. Jazz basketball would be a better fit for us than the Jolly Green Giants had been a few years before.
Flattered that I was being recruited, and forgetting that I hated Jr. Jazz more than anyone has ever hated anything, I accepted the offer to basically be the team captain and I signed up with The Children of the Neighborhood to play Jr. Jazz basketball for a third year in a row.
Unfortunately, I was an average basketball player on my new team. And now instead of one child out of 12 playing dodgeball at practice, 12 children out of 12 played dodgeball at practice.
We fought during games about who had to sub in next.
Kids in the game would plead to be pulled out every time they ran past the coach on their way back and forth across the court.
The coach was Mikey Anderson’s father. He had agreed to coach us because no one else wanted to. He had never played a game of basketball in his life and he wasn’t really sure of the rules. Our practice consisted mostly of team-building exercises so our practices looked more like a ropes course for corporate employees than a basketball league for teenagers.
We lost every game. Usually the refs would say that we forfeited at halftime and just end it, even though none of us had told the refs that we were forfeiting. But I don’t remember a single one of us ever protesting the refs’ decision to say that we had forfeited.
One time Tim Ipson scored a basket.
We rode that high for three weeks.
There was a rumor in our neighborhood after that that Tim Ipson might make the NBA one day.
Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
We were all relieved to find out that we only had one game left of this torture. And we had all agreed that Jr. Jazz was going to be a one and done for our team. We wouldn’t sign up for another year.
Our spirits were high that Saturday when we arrived at court 2 in the Bingham High School gym for our final game.
We looked to the other side of the court to see which team would be beating us that day. We politely waved and nodded, for we were incapable of intimidation.

I scanned the opposing team. I sized them up. I admired their unity as they all huddled together.
And that’s when I noticed it.

Something I had not noticed when we first walked onto court 2.
Two sets of very tall twins.
Our competitors—the team that would be beating us that day—was my old team.

They had told me the team was splitting up. What they forgot to tell me was that the team was only splitting up from me.

One thing you need to know: the summer prior to this my sisters and I had started a very wonderful habit of watching Days of Our Lives every day. And we loved it so much that when school started in the fall we didn't want to stop finding out what Stefano was up to so we set the VCR to record Days of Our Lives every single day so we could watch it after school.

Because of this, I viewed most of my life events at this time through a Soap Opera lens. And so, as I realized that the Two-Twinned Team had betrayed me, it lit a fire in me that I didn't previously know was possible.
The treachery.
The lies.
I knew that I needed to seek vengeance for what had been done to me.
And so, in the midst of that betrayal, I decided that that day on court two in Bingham High Schoo, I was finally going to play basketball.
I was going to dribble up and down alllll over that court.
I was going to make so many baskets that they would have to start using calculators to figure out my team’s score.
I was going to make this old team sorry for ever betraying me the way they had.
I strutted out to the center of the court and began stretching so they would know I meant business.
I occasionally gave menacing glares in their direction so they would know I wasn’t there to play; I was there to win.
The game started and four minutes later we were losing 20 to zero.
I knew I would need to change my plans a bit. I wasn’t going to be able to win this game by myself. And I was aware that were going to be deemed forfeiters at halftime. So I adjusted my goals. I wouldn’t try to win this game. But I would try to score one basket. Then the two-twinned team would see that I was the best player on my new team and they would see my potential and how I was just being held down by a bunch of no-good players—besides Tim Ipson Tim Ipson was exceptional because of that one time he scored a basket—and they would be sorry that they ditched me.
For the first time in three years I had to completely change strategies. Instead of running away from the ball like a game of dodgeball, I had to try to run toward it so that I could have a chance of scoring a basket.
I spent the next seven minutes doing just that. This required a lot of effort. And before too long, I was sweating. It made me wonder if this was why the Two-Twinned Team was also so wet after every practice and game.

The score was now 40 to zero, and we only had a few minutes left. Until halftime. But for all intents and purposes, we had a minute left.
And that's when, suddenly, miraculously, the ball fell into my hands. I didn’t know if it had been passed to me or if it had bounced off of the backboard and come my way or if angels had intercepted it and reverently placed it in front of me so I could show the world what I was made of.
I was standing behind the three point line. I normally wouldn’t have attempted something so ambitious the first time I ever touched a basketball, but I was certain I couldn’t dribble it or hold onto it long enough to get to safer territory.
This was my chance. I would probably never have an opportunity to hold a basketball again.
And so, with a prayer on my lips, and with all of the strength I had in me, I launched that ball upward and forward.
Spectators later told me that it looked like I was having a seizure when I threw it.
But that didn’t matter. All that mattered was whether the ball would go through the hoop.
All that mattered was that I was about to prove everyone wrong.
The ball floated through air for an eternity. It floated through the air in slow motion. It floated through the air long enough that I could hear the entire intro to Days of Our Lives in my mind. It floated through the air for so long that in my memory I can see the looks of horror on my teammates’ faces. I can vividly recall the shock of my parents’ who had come to every game for three years and had never seen me do anything. I can remember the surprise of the two-twinned team who had never known me to attempt to score a basket in my life.
The ball floated through the air, finally curving downward toward the basket, and then, without further ado, it went straight through the hoop.
I did it.
I scored a basket.
There was a new Tim Ipson in town.
I didn’t wait for the ball to hit the floor before I started celebrating.
I took a victory lap around the entire court, screaming and pumping my fists in the air like I had won the whole game.
I ran toward the children of the neighborhood, fully expecting them to raise me in triumph.
Sure, we hadn’t won the game, but what we did was going to be talked about like the Miracle on Ice. They would make a movie about it one day.

Making this basket taught me that maybe I could do anything I put my mind to. Making this basket taught me that maybe basketball could be fun. It taught me that maybe I wasn't as bad as I thought I was. It also taught me that just like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

I finished my victory lap and approached my team, holding out my hands so they could give me high fives.
And that's when Tim Ipson yelled to me: “You scored for the wrong team.”
I scored for the wrong team.
In all of the commotion, I had failed to notice that when the ball landed in my hands, we were on the other team’s side of the court.
The buzzer rang for halftime. And the refs announced that we had forfeited.
The score was 43 to zero.
After three years I finally scored a point for the two-twinned team. The only problem was that I was no longer of a member of that team when I did it.
We were directed to the center of the court to walk in a line and tell the opposing team “good game.”
When I got to the last person, one of the twins, he shook my hand and said “good job today. Is this your first year playing Jr. Jazz?”

Eli McCann, sportsman.

And just because I found this and it made me happy. With my best friend, Mandy, circa probably 1987.
~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. No Jr. Jazz picture??

    This story was beautifully told.

    1. I couldn’t locate any at my house. My parents have money so I will try to track them down and share them later.

    2. I’ve been pondering this all day. Is “money” what you meant to type? Was it supposed to be “many” as in they have many pictures of Jr. Jazz Eli?

      Because having money IS an acceptable reason to track someone down . . .

    3. Haha. That should have said "many." My mother just texted me and asked me to clarify so she doesn't get robbed.

    4. I spent some time wondering about this same thing. Thanks for the clarification!

  2. I play the sports in a very similar way. When I was on the track team in high school my dad would practically break out in hives as he watched me congratulate each runner on her hard work as she passed me in the race.

    1. I loved gaming the sports with you.

    2. Considering you were basically the only reason i gamed any sports, i obviously enjoyed doing it with you too, all star. Amy Rose

    3. I joined track in 8th grade because it was a no-cut sport and all my friends were playing. I figured I could be a thrower, because I HATE running.

      Turns out I was no good at throwing though, and they needed runners so the team wouldn’t be disqualified in certain races at meets.

      The only times I didn’t come in dead late were when we were so short-handed my friend also had to run. But despite this being middle school, my teammates would circle back on the sidelines and run with me, encouraging me all the way to the finish line. It’s a funny but wonderful memory for me.

  3. This was your best. I really think this is one of the best told stories I’ve ever heard. You really have a gift. Thanks for sharing it with strangers.

  4. I don't have the Twitter, but I can see yours on your blog sidebar. I just read this one: "so a sock fell out of my pant leg as I was walking out of my boss’s office and I didn’t notice so he had to call me back in to get it but how are you doing?" And it made me laugh thinking of back when my kids were babies, and I was breastfeeding and thus had a lot of cloth breast pads in the wash. One day my husband asked me if I had washed our clothes together, because he had found a breast pad in the sleeve of his dress shirt at work. teehee

    1. Wait, you wash your husbands clothes separately than your own? Now I’m curious how people do this. I just grab whatever clothes I can find to fill the washer. Chime in please, this is important.

    2. We have our own hampers, so it’s usually separate. Then if he’s almost out of underwear, I wash his. And if I’m almost out of underwear, I wash mine. Early on in our marriage, I used one hamper for whites and one for colors, but I like having ours separate better.

    3. Years ago, a friend of mine had a pair of undies slip out of her pant leg at the KMart.

    4. Omigosh, "Anonymous"... I had the same thing happen as I walked INTO A WORK MEETING one time!! I had to try to be nonchalant as I reached down and grabbed them, and then had to find a way to discreetly tuck them into my pocket.
      I now give all pants a shakedown before wearing.

  5. I feel like I am going to need some closure with the stump lady.

  6. I just listen to this for the second time. Absolutely hilarious! You are such a talented son. Love you. Dad

  7. My 16 year old daughter came with me to Strangerville Live. Her father is a double amputee, and she's played bball-starting with Jr Jazz since 3rd grade. She laughed harder than I've seen her laugh since she became a teenager that night. Cheesecake Factory afterward and it would have been the perfect night. If only Taylor Swift would have performed.....

    1. Thanks for coming! Glad to hear we didn't alienate amputee families that night. And I'm really sorry about Taylor Swift canceling last minute. We were all disappointed.

  8. Outgunned

  9. My little brother had a shirt made out of the exact same sailing boat fabric when he was a toddler, but I don't remember it having matching shorts. Do you know if Cathy made that oufit or if it came from a store?

  10. You are hiLaRiOuS! All true. Sadly. :) ;) lolol
    XoxoxoXo Mom

  11. I was on a coed soccer team when I was probably about 7. I was arguably the best player on the team, if that tells you something. Once, in practice, they give me the ball and asked me to try to get the ball through the entire rest of the team. I made a goal. Now, that doesn't tell you anything about my skill, it just shows you how terrible our team was. We didn't win a single game and the only goal we scored throughout the season was when the coach's son kicked the ball in our own goal. The coach's son. It was bad. I still wish I would have stuck with soccer though.

  12. You are me in every childhood sport I was signed up for. Trying to avoid the ball at all costs, trying to stay guarded so I couldn't get the ball passed to me. I got ok at softball, but I wasn't sad when I missed a playoff game because of some other commitment and they never told me when the next game was.

    My moment of glory in YW basketball was one time I caught the rebound when the other team missed a basket. We played half-court press, so the other team couldn't guard you until you crossed the half-court line into your team's half. I caught the ball and waited for everyone to leave so I could dribble the ball unimpeded to our half, where I would then attempt to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. However, one girl from the other ward was standing right over me guarding me. Um, this was not allowed! I was not going to try to dribble the ball while she tried to steal it from me when I shouldn't have to. So I shooed her away with my hand and waited until she left before I started dribbling. The young men in our ward that came to support us died laughing that I did that and gave me many high fives after the game was over. I don't even remember if we won or not.

  13. This is legit the funniest story I have ever heard. Days of our Lives had me in actual tears. So jealous of people who live close enough to go to these shows.

    I'm the writing teacher who has asked you before if I can use your writing in my class as creative writing examples. I hope you don't mind if I play this recording in our creative storytelling section. I like to give written and told examples of good storytelling to the class.

  14. This has nothing to do with sports BUT, I found your Airbnb. Nice place you have there although the odor of essential oils came through my screen the moment I clicked on the photos.....The picture of Duncan is adorable. And there is no apostrophe in its. Second paragraph, first sentence.

  15. I’m dying!! I was on a little league team that was called “The Green Sox” (but our Forrest green T-shirt’s had “Burg’s Heating and Air” printed on them and not our name) that lost all but one game— the game the other team didn’t show up for. This team was built by my father of all the children who didn’t make one of the other teams. We were what movies were made of.