I spent my last two Saturdays in a church gym watching my eight-year-old's basketball team get absolutely destroyed.
The final score in the first game: 51-5.
You don't typically see that kind of ass-whipping in the Lord's house. But as I tell my eight-year-old all the time: Life ain't fair. Sometimes bad things happen, and you can either whine about it and make it worse or control what you can, learn from the experience, and move on.
But secretly it bothered me. Watching a bunch of third and fourth graders getting their asses handed to them in a league that constantly preaches the importance of being more Christ-like was a bit much. So what's the lesson, exactly? Your life is going to be one continuous kick in the nuts?
I didn't say anything to the eight-year-old because, well, life ain't fair. Plus, it was one game. Not only that, but our team has struggled all season. They routinely lose by 20, and their one victory came when I was out of town so for all I know it was one big con to fool me into thinking that there was another team in the league worse than them.
But that's sorta the point lost in all this; you hear all the time that "it's not about winning" when, you know, it's really about winning. That thought never once crossed my mind during the eight-year-old's first season, probably because they didn't keep score and it was more about seeing how long the ref could go without calling double-dribble in a game that consisted only of double-dribbling. But after that 46-point beatdown last week, I couldn't help but wonder if winning was more important than those halftime sermons about integrity and graciousness.
Worth mentioning: This is my thing, not my son's. He's certainly well aware of what it means to lose by 40-something points but he also cares nothing about sports. He'd rather be doing anything -- reading, LEGOs, school work -- than playing organized sports. But we insist he does it for all the usual cliches parents insist their kids do things: It'll make you a better person, losing builds characters and, of course, life ain't fair.
Fast-forward to this Saturday. New team, somehow worse result. I have no idea what the final score was because of a newly invented mercy rule, where the scoreboard operator zeroes out the scoreboard after the deficit reaches 40. Pretty sure we lost by at least 60.
Seriously, this is how lopsided both losses were: The Golden State Warriors could have played the final period of either game and not even come close to tying the score. Think about that for a second. The best basketball team on the planet was no match for the these two church-league juggernauts.
Funny story: Apparently, one of the assistant coaches on the eight-year-old's team was so frustrated by the way last week's loss went down that he said something to the church-league higher-ups. And so did several parents. So ahead of this Saturday's demolition, changes were made.
One of the changes: The aforementioned mercy rule. Except that eight- and nine-year-old's aren't idiots. They don't magically assume that the score is 0-0 midway through the second half when a few seconds before they were trailing by 38. Also not helping: The public address announcer reminding us every few minutes that the score is still being kept and if you're dying to know what it is, just come to the scorer's desk.
Another of the changes: Mixing up the halftime show. Typically, one of the church-league officials talks about ways we can be humble, principled -- Christ-like, if you will. Perhaps the irony of delivering that message in front of a scoreboard that reads 31-3 -- in a league they organized and on teams they assembled -- was even too much for them. Instead, they decided halftime should be a time for reflection on what the players love about this program.
As someone who worked in DC long enough to know I didn't want to work in DC, this was right out of the Cover Your Ass manual of last resort. Loosely translated: "We figured this might blow up in our face but we initially pretended like nothing was wrong and just hoped it would go away. But it didn't, people started complaining -- loudly -- and since we don't have an explanation or a contingency plan, we're just making stuff up as we go. Let's see if this works."
It rarely does.
But then the ref grabbed the microphone, called both teams to midcourt, and asked if any of the players wanted to talk about why they liked the program.
The eight-year-old raised his hand.
He took the mic.
His message: "When one team loses the other team isn't mean about it."
BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN.
Folks were clapping furiously, like they were trying to be the next contestant on The Price Is Right. My wife was crying (of course she was) and I'm pretty sure a few others were too. (By the way, I feel safe in saying that this is as close as we'll get to people cheering wildly for the eight-year-old on a basketball court. I'm okay with that.)
I just laughed. That's my eight-year-old. Already a way better person than his old man. Looking for a silver lining where there probably isn't one, always assuming the best of people. His words reminded me that we'll all forget the fact that his team lost by 90-something points over a two-game stretch (and yes, I laughed while typing that sentence and laughed harder when I reread it). But we'll remember that time he spoke up.
I was focused on the perceived injustice of a church league's wink-and-nod at roster stacking. Like this was House of Cards and we're talking about some grand conspiracy. But my eight-year-old was more interested in pointing out that this really isn't about winning. It's about being a good person.
Most amazing, at least for me: His sincerity, diplomacy and the implicit acknowledgement to the sheer ridiculousness of what was going on. (Related: the eight-year-old would make a terrible politician. "I'm going to go up there and tell the truth. That seems like the right thing to do.")
It gets better: The ref gave the eight-year-old a couple of church bucks redeemable at the concession stand. They were literally offering bribes!
It's weird, being a parent. We're always looking for teachable moments and then we yell at our kids when they aren't paying attention. And then something like this happens and it just reinforces that I have no idea what I'm doing. It's also telling that we've reached the tipping point on the "my dad's infallible!" fiction I was trying to pass off as reality. That ship has officially sailed, and now I'm learning things from my son.
After the impromptu halftime pep talk the game continued. The beatdown also continued, even if the scoreboard said otherwise. But credit to the winners, who couldn't have been nicer about it.
When it was over, we waited for the eight-year-old outside the locker room. The first thing he said when he emerged?
"They gave me two dollars for talking!"
He then offered one dollar to his four-year-old brother, who promptly blew it at the concession stand on something he knew he wasn't going to like. So their mother got them pizza, everyone celebrated like they had just won the lottery, and the only person who remembers those back-to-back blowouts is me.
But I've got a good feeling about next Saturday.