by Michael T. Powers
Saturday night you will play for a State Championship in girl's basketball, and it is the culmination of four months of hard work. Millions of girl's basketball players never get the opportunity to play for a state championship in their high school careers. You get that chance. You get that chance because you have earned it; you get that chance because you have worked your behinds off all year, and now you play to prove something to yourselves, to your teammates, and to the opposition
Four months ago 128 teams started out with a dream to become State Champions... and now it comes down to two teams. Four months of five-woman weave, Wisconsin Drills, sprints, ball handling, more sprints, scrimmaging, three-on-two-two-on-one, box out games, shooting drills, and lifting weights. Four months of playing your hearts out in games and practices and now that dream comes down to thirty-two minutes.
Make every second count. Make every touch of the ball the most important of the game. Every time a shot goes up, box out the opposition and rip down the rebound. When you see a loose ball, dive head first, arms and hands extended, without even thinking of what may happen to the skin on your knees. If you think you have played hard on defense this year, think again! Oh yes, we have played stellar defense, but it is nowhere near how hard we are going to play this next game! Tell yourself to play defense with your feet, and with the most important muscle in the game of basketball --YOUR HEART! When you throw your heart into the game, your body will follow.
When you step to the free throw line, the crowd noise fades away and you visualize the two swishes that will be taking place. You say to yourself, "What were they thinking when they fouled me?! Don't they know that I never miss!?" And then you see the swish in your mind. You feel the smoothness of the ball as you release the most perfect shot, with the most beautiful back-spin. It rises ever so slowly to the peak of its arc, and then drops smoothly through the net and all of this happens in your head before you even receive the ball from the ref.
I can feel the energy building within you already. Each and every pasta party has contributed the carbohydrates, and somewhere, deep down inside your reserves, there is a ball of flame that is just waiting to explode. All it will take is just one of you, just one player who decides to set herself on fire. When the rest of you brush up against that player, you burst into flame also! This flame will be so bright that our legions of fans will have to look away for a moment or go blind. The student section will pull out their sunglasses as they sit in the stands and bask in the glow that is the Lady Cougars
You know what is going to make the difference? Confidence! Confidence is the cement that binds a team together. Confidence is contagious. Confidence is intimidating. From the time we step foot into the Kohl Center, they will see the look of confidence on our faces, and the other team will know the game is over before it even starts. The Lady Cougars have years and years of tradition behind them. We are winners. It is what we do.
However, being a winner is much, much more than just outscoring another team. You ladies are winners because you love and respect your teammates and coaches. You are winners because you have come together as a family, through the good times and the bad, through the wins and the losses, the pasta parties and the team talks, through the easy games and the games where we sent players to the emergency room. You are winners because you beat teams by playing tough basketball and not by playing dirty. You say "thank you" to the refs each time they hand you the ball and you look the other team in the eyes, shake their hands, and mean it when you tell them they played a good game. When the other team elbows you in the ribs, or shoves you to the floor, you don't fight back. Instead you calmly walk to the line, sink both free throws, and then slyly look at the scoreboard where you have just inflicted "your" damage. You are winners because you study hard in school and realize that playing basketball is a privilege that can be taken away at any time. You are winners because you have made a commitment to each other, and to the coaches, to spend four months of your young life stuck in a smelly gym, sweating like an animal, when you have hundreds of other things that are calling for your time.
You are winners because you are Lady Cougars: Amanda, Ami, Aundrea, Brittany, Chrissy, Diedra, Hannah, Kim, Jacqueline, Kayla, Kelsey, Nancy, Sam, Sarah, Stacey, and Tina. Powerful names by themselves, but a monumental force to be reckoned with when you join hands and come together as a team.
May all of you know how much we love being your coaches and how much we love being a part of the incredible Lady Cougar tradition. Walk off the floor Saturday night knowing that you played your hearts out, and that you left every ounce of hustle and every drop of sweat on the court behind you. Hold nothing back. Walk off the court with your heads held high, as "The Champions" we know you are, no matter what the scoreboard says. In basketball, and more importantly in life, all of you are winners in our books.
I love ya!
P.S. I leave you with a song that my sister Christina wrote for the Lady Cougars:
We are friends and we'll stick to the end. We are friends for all time. We are friends and we'll stick to the end. 'Cause there's something we all share inside.
It's a common bond and it runs through our souls. A common bond that helps us to grow. It's a common bond that I hope you will see A common bond always flowing through me.
No matter what we do, we do it with strength. No matter where we go, we go with power. No matter how we play, we play with thanks To the common bond that gives us strength.
There's a magic in our fingers and power in our stride, There's a confidence that only comes from the common bond inside. When the sky is at our feet and the globe is in our hands, I'll remember the common bond that has made me who I am.
It's a common bond and it runs through our souls. A common bond that helps us to grow. It's a common bond that I hope you will see He's always flowing through me. He's always flowing through me.
Michael T. Powers, Copyright © 2003
Write Michael and let him know your thoughts on this story!
Michael T. Powers, the founder of HeartTouchers.com and Heart4Teens.com, is the youth pastor at Faith Community Church in Janesville, WI. He is happily married to his high school sweetheart Kristi and proud father of two rambunctious boys: Caleb & Connor. In his spare time he loves coaching the JV Lady Cougars basketball team in Clinton, Wisconsin.
He is also an author with stories in 15 inspirational books including many in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. To preview his book or to join the thousands of world wide readers on his inspirational e-mail list, visit: http://www.HeartTouchers.com
Most importantly, Michael believes that life is not about religion, but about a relationship -- a relationship with Jesus Christ.