Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Memory: "That Place"

This is my brother, Kasey, as an 8th grade basketball player. The story I want to share today has nothing to do with him on the 8th grade, but I couldn't find a picture of him playing 7th grade basketball, so this one will have to do.
Like all of us kids, Kasey played basketball in middle school. He was probably better than both of his sisters, but mostly played because it was a small school and the team needed the bodies. Kasey was never suspended from playing because of poor grades and always worked hard and hustled, so he became a key member of his team.

I got the chance to watch him play one weekend when I came home from college for a break. His team was entered in a tournament in a town called Heppner, about an hour-and-a-half away from home. Due to grades and illness, I think Kasey's team was down to six or seven guys, so everyone was going to get to play a lot. Despite their few players, the team played well and kept advancing in the tournament.

The final game was against the hometown Heppner Ponies. I remembered from high school that Heppner had a reputation for playing dirty, and apparently this style of play began in middle school, because these boys were snakes. (Okay, so maybe they weren't actually that bad, we just thought they were sneaky snakes because they were a good team who liked to knock our guys down.)

By that point in the tournament, Kasey's team was exhausted. All the guys had played hard for multiple games, but they knew this last one would be the toughest. They just didn't know it was going to be tough due to missed calls, and flat-out wrong and fabricated calls by the officials. Our guys got hacked at the hoop repeatedly with no foul calls, and that was more than a little frustrating. But the enraging part of the poor officiating came in the second half when one of our players was called for a shooting foul and he was no where near the ball. That particular player already had a few fouls under his belt and we all knew he'd have to completely relax his level of play to stay in the game. I think at that moment, all of us sitting in the visitor's bleachers realized the officials were simply not going to let the Ponies lose this game.

Despite this, the game remained close, although the blood pressure from the visitor's side increased exponentially. At one point, there was another bad call (I think it was when Kasey got knocked down hard and he was called for the foul, not the offending Heppner player) and I stood up, shaking my fist and shouting across the gym, "That's bullsh*t, bullsh*t, bullsh*t." When I realized what I'd done. I sat down quickly and hoped no one noticed. How I didn't get thrown out of the game, I still don't know.

Heppner ended up winning the game. As we waited for Kasey to come out of the locker room, I saw one of the referees walk down the hallway, his arm around the dirtiest of the snakey Heppner players. He mentioned something to the boy about playing well, and said they'd all go out for ice cream. I couldn't believe it. The player's father was a referee, and it was crystal clear that this dad cheated and lied to make his son's team win the tournament. I wanted to call bullsh*t again.

For years after that game, we didn't talk about the town of Heppner. We referred to it as "That Place." As in, you know. "That Place" we want to blow up. Or "That Place" with the dirty cheats. My dad would even get a bit of a growl in his voice when we mentioned "That Place."

It's probably been 15 years since that basketball tournament, and I haven't been back to "That Place" since. Obviously, I've grown and matured and moved past the silliness from that day. But still I haven't been back. I have no reason to visit that dirty, rummy town, or do business with any of its lying cheaters.
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