To my dear daughter:
I am so proud of you today.
You finished your last basketball game of the season with pride in your effort and joy all over your face.
You were born tiny - 5 pounds, 1.8 ounces. You have hovered between the 5th and 10th percentile for height your whole life.
You are the smallest girl on your team, and your team (the only team of 6th graders in a league of teams that have a few 6th and 7th graders and lots of 8th graders) is the smallest team in the league. There were games in which you were the smallest girl on the court, and the tallest girl towered over you by two feet or more. There were games in which the tallest girl on your team was about the same height as the smallest girl on the other team. Anyone would have predicted it and, indeed, it happened. Your team lost 11 games, and won only one.
And yet, I don't consider the season a disaster. There could have been tears, and frustration, and a "loser" attitude. You could have vowed never to play again.
Instead -- wow, what you learned this basketball season!
I'll never forget that first game. The girls on the other team ranged from 5'8" to 6'2". And they weren't twigs, either. Not a soul on your team is over 5'8". Your entire team looked wide-eyed and lost. You didn't know what to do, or how to do it. This was nothing like your team practices! You stood and chewed your fingernails and watched helplessly as the other team (Amazon women, I tell you - just huge!) shot basket after basket. One of your teammates saved you from a scoreless first game by making a free throw. I think the final score was 44 - 1.
But none of you gave up. You came back for the next game, and the next game, and the one after that....
And at each successive game, you all looked a little less lost, a little more confident, a little more capable, a little more competitive.
The heartbreaker of the season was the game that you lost in the final seconds, by one point. It was a close game all the way, but your team was leading throughout most of it. This particular team had only 5 girls - I'm sure they must have been tired by the end of the game, with no subs! - so even though they were bigger than your team, it was a lot more evenly matched. It was a fun game, but oh-so-painful to watch as the other team scored the winning basket just as the clock ticked down to zero.
But when you played that team later in the season, you won! It was your team's only victory, and oh it was sweet.
Another highlight, for me: You scored one of the only baskets for your team in last week's game against a bunch of 7th and 8th graders. I was so proud of you! How you managed to throw the ball high enough to get over that gal's arms, and still make the ball go into the basket, I'll never know. But you did, and it was amazing!
And your defense!! At that first game, the girls on the other team could easily walk up to you or your teammates and simply take the ball away, run down the court, and score.
Today, a girl on the other team tried that with you. She was at least a foot taller than you, and outweighed you by at least 30 pounds, but you weren't about to let her get that ball. No way, no how!! You held onto it as if your life depended on it. She grabbed the ball and pulled upward. You held on. She nearly picked you up off your feet. That would have been a sight, huh? Her holding the ball and you hanging onto it, with feet dangling in the breeze? In the end, the referee called a jump-ball, and your team got the possession!
Several times today, I saw you guarding the tallest girl on their team, and actually doing such a great job of getting in her way that she had to pass the ball and couldn't take a shot. Wow. You've really come a long way from the shy girl in the first game of the season. No more fingernail-chewing for you. Oh, no - now it's pure hustle and effort for the entire 24 minute game! Perhaps in recognition of your effort, your teammates even elected you team co-captain. How very cool.
There were some bumps along the way. You played one team - I'll just call them "team B" - that apparently thought they were a hockey team. They pushed and shoved and poked at you every time the ref's turned their backs. They body slammed your players, knocking them down. They called you all names and made mean comments and cursed throughout the game. It was so hard to watch as they literally caused three injuries to your teammates. Despite it all, your team continued to play by the rules, and persevered, and played as well as you could. You lost, as usual, but you won the moral victory. You didn't stoop to their level. And compared with the usual 6-50 or 4-47 losses, the 8-16 loss to Team B didn't seem so bad, really. I kept thinking if they would focus on playing basketball instead of trash-talking and sucker-punching, they might have beat your team as soundly as most of the other teams in the league did!
Your coaches, with the support of your team, decided to concede the second game against that team rather than subject you all to that again. But in the end, the league president called them to the mat. The Team B girls wrote letters of apology, and you all agreed to play them again. Sadly, you were sick and missed that game, but I heard that Team B actually played by the rules and were polite and kind throughout. Your team still lost, but at least it was a fair and fun game! And maybe Team B learned something along the way, too - they didn't have to cheat and trash talk to win a game.
All in all, it was a good season. The 1-11 record your team amassed says absolutely nothing about what you all learned, how hard you all played, the level of talent and hustle you displayed, and what you all accomplished this season.
Every game, you all gave it 100%. You improved steadily throughout the season. You learned the rules and strategies of the game. You learned to play good defense. You learned to take shots when you can. But most of all, you enjoyed it. Every game, you said you had fun. You never whined about losing, or about all the practices. You had fun with your friends. You supported each other. You cheered each other from the sidelines. You smiled a lot. You were a joy to watch.
I am so proud of you.
P.S. Watch out, league. When these girls hit 8th grade, they will be unstoppable!