This is how things started with Middlebury basketball.
When he was still a diapered two-year-old with very little hair, John liked the spectacle of a game, the noise, and the opportunity to run around the gym. He really liked holding the balls after the game and getting picked up high in the air by his first favorite player, Ben Rudin.
Ben graduated, and when John was three, we took him to the first home game of the season not knowing what he’d make of it. Would he be interested in Ben-free basketball? The answer: a resounding yes. Before the game started, a freshman named Jake came over and introduced himself. John was officially hooked.
Incredibly, we’re entering the final weeks of that freshman’s senior season. We’ve missed very few home games in the past four seasons and we’ve made it to a fair number of away games as well. John has gone from just wanting to run around on the court to being a true fan. He knows the rules better than I do and I’m pretty sure he follows the action on the court more closely. He knows who all the players are and what they’re good at. [Yesterday, the opposing team fouled one of Middlebury’s best free throw shooters. John’s comment: “Well, fine. Joey’s going to make these two shots and then they’ll see what they get for fouling Joey.”] He notices when someone’s having a particularly good game, or does something out of the ordinary. Like his dad, he has very strong opinions about the officiating. Unlike his dad, he doesn’t feel the need to share those opinions with the actual officials.
The players, including the seniors that John has watched so closely for the past four years, may not realize how much he’s seen out there, but he sees everything. He knows that Peter has gotten better every year. He knows that Jake never gives up. He knows Nolan is calm and cool under pressure. The team changes a little bit every year but to my (clearly untrained) eye they seem consistently fair, composed, dedicated to the game, and committed to each other, and I’m very happy for John to have a front row seat for that.
He’s six and they’re 22. He’s a kid and they’re his heroes. It isn’t a bond between equals, obviously. When these seniors graduate, and then the next class and the next, they may not remember much more than a little high five on the way out of the locker room. But I hope John remembers every bit of it.