It was the afternoon of the county basketball tournament. We happened to stop by the local Dairy Queen while we were in town. One corner was full of boys about 10 years old, all decked out in basketball uniforms. Obviously, they had just played a game. Maybe they were enjoying a victory treat, or they lost and got a "good job anyway" snack. Either way, it’s what kids do in small towns after a game.
While we were slurping down our milkshakes, two high school guys walked in. They looked like typical teenagers, although one was very tall. They placed their orders, and while they waited, one father of the little league boys, who also looked like their coach, came over to the two older boys.
He asked the tall fella about his foot, which was covered in white tape. Then, because all of this was happening right in front of us, we heard the Dad say to him, “I’ve seen you play; you are really good.”
The teenage boy smiled slightly. It was obvious the attention made him a little uncomfortable, but you also sensed it wasn’t uncommon for him to be praised for his basketball talent.
The two older boys got their food and sat down just around the corner. That’s when all the younger boys started to gather together, whispering to one another about the obvious local basketball hero.
Then someone must have really gotten brave. One of the little boys said excitedly, “He’s going to get his autograph!” And there they were, dumbstruck, peering around the corner as one kid made his way to the table to snag his treasure.
They all wanted to see it when he returned. With mouths wide open and teeth showing, those boys acted like they had just met a superhero. The small-town celebrity just kept eating his fries with his friend, like it was no big deal. In my opinion, that made him all the more likable.
He treated those little guys with respect, and didn’t add to any of his own fanfare. I don’t even know his name, but those who follow local basketball certainly do. Later that night, in a close showdown, our team was the one with the most points on the board. I don’t know if any of those younger boys were present at that final game, but if they were, I bet they yelled till they were hoarse for a specific tall player.
We’re decades since the underdogs of Milan High School won the state championship. We’re even decades from the movie “Hoosiers,” which depicted their feat. But there’s still a love for basketball in Indiana.
There’s still a need for local kids, talented athletes, who give us someone to cheer for, but who also show humility off the courts and playing fields. Maybe one day one, of those boys wearing a little league jersey will be humbly handing out his own autograph to some star-struck kid.
Or from what I witnessed, maybe one of those young boys will be the teenager speaking to a grown man who, for a moment, needs someone to believe in just like a superhero.
McClain writes from Greenwood.