Sunday, December 02, 2007


I just got back from the Fortuna Junior Varsity Basketball Tournament.

I make it a point to go to one basketball tournament every year that requires us to be housed with players from other schools. I've been doing this for 6 years now and I've had only positive experiences with students staying with other students. I took freshmen to Arcata for 4 years, and now Fortuna with JV players for the last two. The worst that has happened (knock on wood) was when a group of players showed up 20 minutes late to an assigned check in. According to the players, it was the family that they were staying with that made them late. I give students my cell phone to make sure that "the family excuse" doesn't happen again. The positives are numerous. Kids are responsible, respectful, and represent the community very well. They visit other schools and realize that they actually have it better than many people in some cases, or in others that students from a different socio-economic group, or races, are pretty cool.

How about a review on a basketball weekend:

-Our game is at 7:30 on Thursday evening. I wanted to leave at 2:15 for the two-and-a-half hour trip up Highway 101 to Fortuna. This way, students would have time to drive up, eat dinner, and check out the gym before the game.
-I go to Enterprise at 1:30 for the van. The person at the car rental agency says that the car was delivered to the school, something that has never happened before. I sigh, but go back to the school to find that the car hasn't arrived yet. It arrives late and I get out 15 minutes late. I caravan with two other parents.
-The road trip is like most with students. They talk a little at first, then within 30 minutes everyone is laughing and goofing off. The conversation is light and enjoyable, which makes for good chances to develop relationships with students. With realize that we have XM Radio in the car and listen to ESPN News while we drive. Within 20 minutes of Fortuna, most of the students are asleep. The drive is beautiful,with about 45 minutes of it going through the Avenue of the Giants Redwood Forest.
-Fortuna is a former logging town that now exists pretty much on Eureka's industry and the service industry. Eureka is about 15 miles north and has all the nice shopping. Our arrival was at the local shopping center, where players divided up into going to Subway or Roundtable Pizza (I chose the later).
-We get to the high school ahead of schedule and wait for our game. Fortuna's gym is actually quite nice and the people that work there are extremely polite. This was 180 degrees against my first experience with people from Fortuna, which was at the freshmen Arcata tournament. Fortuna parents were known to be a bit nasty, and a couple were downright verbally abusive a couple of times. Not so with the staff of the school. The only problem was that the temperature was about 35 degrees, and students kept leaving doors open to the gym. Brrrrrrr.
-We played McKinleyville. We played crappy at first, then ended the game on a 25 point high note. The difference was the man press that we jump into during the second half.
-I wait to make sure that all the kids are with their families, then check into my hotel, the Best Western. The room is actually very nice. I have lots of trouble winding down from games (and the Scotch stays home on school trips) so I head to the Denny's to read The Economist and grab a bite to eat. I run into some of my kid's parents and we talk about a couple of items and I read about the impact of religion on the world today. I walk back to my hotel room and talk to the Varsity coach on the phone as we talk about our respective games. I get back to the room, update the score on the website, and plan out how to beat Fortuna on Friday. I get to bed around 1 a.m.
-I wake up to a ringing cell phone on Friday about 8 a.m. A parent has been kind enough to report all scores to the local fish wrap (the Ukiah Daily Journal) and wants some comments. I'm groggy and I'm having trouble talking. I'm getting sick. I trudge to breakfast and then dress to head to Eureka to shop.
-Since my game is at 8:30 this evening, I have a lot of time to kill. I usually travel to Eureka to do Christmas shopping at the mall and Costco. I first hit the Starbucks (which is very cozy) and then walk downtown to some of the used bookstores. One is quite nice, the other (a 'rare' book store) has a grumpy old women running the helm. I'm feeling worse and worse so I don't stay much. I go to the local Natural Foods store and buy tea and throat lozenges, then head to the mall. I hate the mall. I walk the length of the damn thing and then realize that I just feel like shit and would rather be back at the hotel.
-I'm back in my room by 2. I spend the next few hours grading work, updating online grades, and calling people at the school.
-I'm at the gym by 5:30. The previous games weren't much to look at, but I'm interested in Cardinal Newman and Arcata.
-The students start commenting on the families (all of which were good) and the school (most of which describe classrooms that are out of control). Student attitudes were of shock at what students got away with.
-Arcata plays Newman and pretty much blows them off the court. Arcata is fast, big, and they can shoot. I heard some parents handing them the tourney championship already.
-We play Fortuna. Students experience the drama of playing against the same guys that are housing you. What they find out is that, like any other game, nobody likes to lose. The game is intensely physical. Every lay-up is contested and a whole lot of players are very beat up. After being down five at half, we win by ten. This time, we ran the Hurricane match-up zone that I learned from Jim Moore and Jack Danielson from Paradise High School. It worked like a charm and the kids ran it very well. Before I walk out of the gym, I've already planned to run it against Arcata tomorrow in the championship. If we go man, we'll get drilled.
-Once again I head to Denny's to wind down, and this time more parents are there and some kids. We have light-hearted conversation that needs to take place to prove that teachers are human too. Instead of the reading, the good nature of the environment takes the mind off of basketball, and I go to bed around one again.
-I wake up around 9 on Saturday morning, this time to the noise of people in the room above me. I hate bottom floors.
-I have breakfast, dress and check out, and I'm at the gym by 11:30. All the reports are that the kids and Fortuna families got along great, except that one family had their pipes burst overnight leaving some without showers (25 degrees in Fortuna overnight).
-Parents from Ukiah have drove up just to see this game. It's nice to see that they consider the championship game a big deal.
-Cardinal Newman plays Fortuna in the third place game and loses. The kids seemed pretty jazzed and pumped up over that. Eventually, you really do root for the team that houses you.
-The Arcata game is good. We play even for most of the first half and are down nine at halftime. They extend to 14 in the third before we go on a run in the fourth and cut it to six. Unfortunately, they are just too big and kill us on the boards. We lose by nine. I'm not disappointed in the slightest. They were a very good team and we fought and clawed the entire time until the very end. Excellent tournament for us.
-I find out after the game that nobody had given us a chance. One person told me that the "line was 18-20". With about 13 seconds left in the game, one of my players walked over to me and said, "Coach, we could have beaten these guys". Yep.
-We thank the Fortuna staff, pile into the cars, and start the trek home. Most players sleep on the way home after an exhausting weekend of hoops. We stop in Garberville for Aztec Grill and so I can top off the gas tank. After dropping the car off at the school, I begin to pack my car for the drive home. It is freezing cold at 8 p.m. in Ukiah (almost, it is about 35 degrees) and I'm constantly reflecting on the weekend. Thankfully, the results make me happy about the future. Good kids played good basketball, which makes for a lot to look forward to.
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