All The Marbles
It was the spring of 1980.
The St. Thomas Tigers have just completed a perfect regular Season 10-0 and had won the first two games in the County City CYC basketball tournament.
This team had come a long way since the fifth grade. How things changed in four short years.
Mr. Dustman was put in charge of the B team with castoffs – some athletic kids that were not from the top tier “in crowd” at the parish. The A team had all the top athletes from the Soccer and Baseball team. Mr. Dustman worked with the boys teaching them fundamentals and how to play as a team.
The first year was rough with the fact that the team did not win a game, while the A team had won all of theirs. The next year, Coach was pleased that all of the boys came back out for basketball, even with the ribbing they took from the A team at school. The Coach of the A team was a, know-it-all who looked down on the B team saying we should give them some of our practice time, so the A team could use the school gym floor.
Mr. Dustman being a kind man obliged the A team coach saying you can use the school gym. Mr. Dustman had already made arrangements for another gym, that was in better shape than the schools. The team started to work together and follow the system and above all learned to play together. This resulted in a much better season but sadly not as good as the A team, who again won their games and were treated special at school. The B team was just shadows in the back ground.
The Coach of the A team was not pleased that the B Team did so well. The B Team was being moved up to the same Division as the A team. This was going to cause problems. He did not want to be challenged in his own back yard, especially not by this band of mutts that it seemed even the school did not want to recognize.
The Coach went so far as to try to have the school only support one team instead of two. They were going to have tryouts for one team. We need not bother trying out. He would not take any of us, claiming he had seen us play and we would not fit into his team.
This was hurtful. The sting of what they said and their Coach said could not be white washed away. The A team coach came across with a plan to prove that we do not belong. He had a practice game called just to show the big disparity between the talent of this team and the lowly upstart B team.
Mr. Dustman worked the team for two weeks before the game, he had the boys working hard on the system we play and all of the normal drills. We heard at school from the boys and even the girls how the A team was going to murder us. We should do the honorable thing and not play the game. The game was going to be played at a high school on a Thursday night.
We had a practice on that Wednesday like normal. Nothing was out of the ordinary except we were given our uniforms early so we could play this game. We were told to go home to get some rest and be ready for the game.
The next day at school we were taunted, given looks, and we could hear the snickers behind, all around us. After school we went home, did our homework, and put our white uniforms on, instead of the red. We were the visiting team of course we could never be the home team not as a Tiger.
The high school brought in the parents, cheerleaders and the head of the Parish Athletic department as well as students who wanted to watch the beating that was going to take place. Mr. Dustman took us and did what he always did; gave us our assignments and what he expects us to do. Mr. Jarvis the Assistant coach went over our roles and what the other team likes to do. This was situation normal just go out do our jobs have fun and just play basketball.
The A team was announced with Cheerleaders cheering and parents and classmates clapping. The B team was announced to the claps of their parents and siblings. We knew that the A team has good athletes and that the coaches son was their shooting guard who was their big time point getter and likes to go right. They play man to man with a bit of zone and they like to fast break. We were told they were going to run us into the ground.
Our starting five worked well together and we had a good idea of what each other was thinking. The nice part is the bench players when they come in fill their role well and work well with in the unit. Mr. Dustman and Mr. Jarvis gave us our last minute instructions before we went out for the tip. The A team was chomping at the bit and worked up, while we just walked out to the court called out our numbers on who we have and we were ready.
Their center was taller and could jump and won the ball. They pushed the ball up court with their star cutting in and scoring quickly. Then they stole the ball on the inbound and scored again. Four quick points and things looked to be going south in a hurry.
The B team was not fazed by what was going on, we had a long game to play. We moved into our offense against their man to man pressure with quick movement and precession passing. We broke the A team down again and again scoring at will. The star of the A team was pushed and doubled forcing to pass or take wild shots. We would box out and leap for rebounds and push it up court. Before they had a clue of what was going on it was 20 to 4… B team.
The A team is starting to point fingers at each other, while the B team subs where coming in off the bench. The A team makes a move and scores a few but the B team subs even keep out playing them. The A team is stunned at half time 36 to 8.
We went into the locker room all business. No showboating or saying look at that but saying we were sorry about our sloppy play in the beginning and letting them get a quick four point lead. We, the starters, were also pleased that our bench was able to score 16 points.
Mr. D and Mr. J pulled us together and informed us that the score was 0-0 again. We should play the second half like the first and wanted to see us play with passion.
The second half started well. They were able to hit a few shots against the B team reserves. Mr. J informs us that we are going to play our pressure when we go in and do not plan on taking the, foot off the gas peddle, until the game is over. After a few more minutes a time out was called, the score is 38 to 16. The Cheerleaders are back into it. The Coach of the A team if fired up. The game was never close after that. It was run-and-gun-and-fun the final score was a laughable 65 to 20, B team.
The Coach of the A team would not even shake hands with Mr. Dustman and their star player just sulked on the bench. We were looking forward to playing the A team again in League play but that was never going to happen.
Our seventh grade year was played with only our team representing the School. We played hard and won all of our games accept one and lost in the second round in the playoffs.
The next year, the eighth grade year. We started out the same has every year doing the same drills and going over the system. The one thing that was different is Mr. Dustman had a tube that looked like a Candy Cane that was see through. In the bottom of the tube as a blue marble. He did not say anything about it and we asked Steven his son what was it about. Steven did not have any idea.
After each game that we won Brian’s sister, Kelly would come to practice open the tube and place a white marble into the tube. As the year went on there was more and more white marbles until there was a blue one at the bottom and 10 white marbles. The season was magical. Every night we had a new hero and every one pitched in to make sure we won every game.
We were unselfish but we had a player, Truman that did not score much. In one game we kept giving him the ball, even if we had a close shot we gave him the ball, and kept telling him to shoot. In the end Truman had 29 points. He was the highest scorer in the game for us. We were proud of him and the smile he had was priceless. The smile remains even today after all the years.
Going into the playoffs the Tube was at practice but the white marbles were gone. There where two blue marbles. We had to win three games to be the champions and it was not going to be easy. The first game was hard fought in the end we won by two.
One down two to go.
This second round was the game that knocked us out the year before. We were playing the same team that beat us then. It was an ugly game with fouls and pushing and shoving but in the end we won by five and we were alive, advancing to the championship game.
The B team had come along way. The Cheerleaders treated the former B team players with reverence and liked the fact that we invited them the DQ after our last win and paid for their treats. They thought that was sweet. The School and Parish went out of their way to recognize the fact we were going to be playing in the Championship game. We should be supported for we were the first team in boys basketball to make it to the championship game from our parish. Even the former A team boys were impressed and told us good luck. It was a far cry from calling us losers just a few years ago.
It was a cool Saturday. We all had our pre-game rituals. I would go out and pet my dog. He would lick each hand and my face. I was ready to go. Pretty strange but it had performed well in my role and I scored 19 in the last game to get us to the Championship.
The neat part of the team is no one showed up saying look at me, I am the star. We were all stars from the starters to the last person on the bench.
Joe Reeves the starting Center was 5 foot 9 lanky and could run. Sean Finneran 5 foot 8 small forward could run and shoot at will from about any where. Paul Erffmeyer 5 foot 8, I know I am 5 foot 7, but dam it is my story so I am 5 foot 8. I am the power forward, I am the trash man, I play the defense from Hell and rebound better then most people who are taller then me. Steven Dustman all 5 foot 4, (funny story his father is 6 foot 7 and big Brother was 6 foot 10 he never grows until College he becomes 6 foot 6) he could shoot and knew how to get open. Brian Jarvis 5 foot 5 point guard. We called him crash with his knee pads and falling all over but willing to drive the lane to dish the ball or score, ( I liked his little sister I thought Kelly was cute but she was a 6th grader). This starting five worked so well together over the years. If you got us back on the ball court we could run the offense and defense in our sleep. Yes we would be a lot slower. Bob Tierney 5 foot 9 strong and could guard and rebound and score from the inside. John Lammers 5 foot 10, strong and could play tough D. Truman Solverrud 6 foot 1, he was team comic, not the greatest player but we made sure he was in the record book with his 29 point game. We wanted him to get 30 but he remembered the next person listed had not scored yet. He made him shoot the last shot to make sure we all scored. Phil Delarco 5 foot 1, someone who will try and never give up. Phil had the highest IQ on the team but Sean might have been smarter. That was always a good debate. Jim Gweyer 5 foot 5 a player who liked to be physical.Way different than his normal nature but on the court it was fun to watch. Jim Belcher 5 foot 4 and the only member of the A team that came and played with us. He was a good guard who could play either the 1 or 2 guards and was willing to fit in with us.
Mr. Dustman and Mr. Jarvis brought us to the gym a game early. They wanted us to watch the game and the court to see how it played we had never played on this gym before. It was the SLU High School gym. Our parents were proud of us and the cheerleaders all week have been building our confidence up. In the end Mr. Dustman and Jarvis had us thinking it is just another game. The real problem was dealing with a new building. The wood floor had a nice shine to it with the Billiken in the middle and the SLU. It was kind of like playing on a college floor. Phil informs us for the millionth time that his brothers go here and that he will be going to High School here as well.
We are playing St Johns. Their front court is a sight to behold. They had a Center who was 6 foot 4. The two forwards are twins and they are 6 foot 2. The rest of the team seemed normal height but they were all good players from what we have been told.
This was not our first rodeo where we had no chance. The important thing to remember is our coaches practiced with us. I, the trash man, had to deal with Mr. D, all 6 foot 6 of him and Steven’s brother, the jolly green giant, 6 foot 10. So six foot four or six foot two… I got this.
Mr. D’s only change on Defense was Joe and I swapped on the D, but the other end we swap back. I got to guard the tall dude in the middle. Joe was happy about this. I told Joe I do not care about his smile. He would still have to jump center. I was not going to look like a dork for every ones amusement. I think I ruined Truman’s one liner he had planned for me.
When the first game was over, we went into our locker room. We are going to play for the championship and represent our school. This time we were going to wear our red home colors. The cheerleaders will be cheering for us.
In warm ups we could see that the other team was making outside and inside shots. Plus they had some guys that could rebound. It was great to see Ethan and Nathan. I played Junior Football with them so I knew they were great at sports, I just hoped the 6 foot four center did not have hops.
The crowd was much larger then we expected with the other games going on. The game before was a nail biter. Like the score card out front shows all the games have been good. Here we were looking at a size and ability miss match. Remember we were still that B team masquerading as an A team. The PA system was alive with music. Their lights were brighter then most gyms. They even had the High School radio station broadcasting the games. I guess it is neat that the School had a radio station.
This was wow time.
The teams were announced like it would be if we were in college. It was so cool to be a starter. To go onto the court, shake the hands of the other team, and be called a starter in a championship game.
The game did not start well for us. The size and ability of the St Johns was apparent. They could go inside with size and they could strike from down town. The lead seemed to grow like wild weeds with super miracle grow. Our mistakes where mounting and the other team could not miss. Even our subs seemed to be out of sink and it was getting critical. It is only the first half but we were down 40 to 15.
We limped into half time on life support. Mr. Dustman and Mr. Jarvis for the first time did not seem to have a plan. We were not executing, all seemed lost. The coaches left the locker room and I stood up.
I said, “This is bull shit! Like hell I will roll over and die.”
Phil said, “Look the twins each have 3 fouls and so does their Center. Our tough rebounding and defense has made their fab three get into foul trouble so lets see if we can knock them out and then mount a come back to make it respectable.”
Truman then steps up and does his best Mr. D and Mr. J impersonation. Even the coach’s sons admit it can be scary… Truman does that way to well. Everyone has played but nothing had gone right. We all agreed the game is zero to zero. We must win the second half and let’s see if we can knock the fab three out of the game.
We came out for the second half warm up.
Our coaches where on the bench.
We already decided who was going to start the second half and had our battle plan. I was on the center we had Truman and John in there on the twins to antagonize the crap out of them. They were still scoring but our plan was working. The Center and one of the twins has four fouls. When they called a time out it was 46-20.
We were doing the talking and saying who was going in and out. We were rotating every few min and pushing up the tempo when ever we could. The other twin picks up a foul and is on the bench. It is heading into the last quarter 48-30.
It looked bad for the good us. With our rotation we are rested and went into the, run and gun, even though we prefer the half-court game.
It was now or never.
This will be our last game, let’s make it memorable.
It is getting intense. Players are getting close to the magic number of 5 fouls.
The score was 50 to 38.
They bring in their big three with the hopes of putting us away. The sweet is running off our bodies the floor seems to have puddles. The crowd is getting into the game. Our cheerleaders are urging us on not to give up. It seems time is against us as I scan the crowd my parents are there cheering and next to my mom is little Kelly Jarvis. She gives me a smile. I am turning red not hearing the last couple of things that we are saying. They have the ball and work it in to the right wing and dump it down to the center. I am on him as he turns. I fall down like I have been hit by a mack truck. The Ref blows the whistle and the Center slams the Ball down. The Ref blows the whistle again. We got the center to foul out and he just got a technical fouls called. It is now 50-41
They come back, miss the shot. I go up and get the rebound with one of the twins draped on my back. Another whistle. Another foul out. Every foul meant shots for both teams. Joe fouls out even Bob Fouls out. Score is 54-47 only a few minutes left to play. They have the ball and the pass to the last twin. He hooks Sean and moves around him, a whistle. An offensive foul is called. The big three are gone and Sean is shooting free throws 54-49. The inbound pass is deflected to Steve who pumps, gets bumped in the air, shoots, hits… and is fouled it is 54-52.
Things look bleak as Steve fouls out, 56-52. Time is ticking away. With all the foul shots this second half is taking forever. We come down court, Brian drives, kicks it to me. I hit a 15 foot jumper… 56-54. They break our press but it is off a player’s foot out of bounds we get the ball and they foul John. He hits the fist but misses the second, 56-55. With about 10 seconds to play there is a scramble for the ball. They get the ball and pass it down court. There is a race to the ball. Brain is the first to get there and he puts a bullet onto my hands. It helps being a catcher in baseball able to catch the ball with ease. There is but a few ticks left on the clock. I do not have a shot. Brian is back down court Sean is covered, that only left Jim open. I passed it to Jim there was two seconds left, he shoots it hits the backboard and slides through the net.
St Johns and its fans are stunned, the bench and Cheerleaders mob Jim I am pretty sure we all had tears in our eyes. We had won the City County basketball Tournament, in a great comeback and everyone on the team scored.
Mr. Dustman and Mr. Jarvis were so proud of us. After all the years we practiced together, we had come together and became a team. We moved from being boys to being men. After the game, Kelly came down and opened the tube and placed a third blue ball in tube.
The next week was jersey turn in. We had a pizza party, funded by the Parish. After our victory, for the rest of the School Year, we were the top dogs. Nice to be a champion.
At the Pizza party we turned in our Jersey’s. I miss my old 42, my favorite number. My oldest Daughter wares that number when she plays basketball.
We were given a typical trophy with a man shooting a Basketball saying we are CYC City County Champs. What is different was on the base glued in were 3 blue marbles that matched the ones Kelly placed in Coaches tube.
Mr. Dustman said something special about each player. Then he explained that it was hard to watch us work hard in the beginning and be treated so poorly but never complained. We did what was asked of us. The team winning all the marbles stuck home with him since his Grandfather played marbles and it was a term that he understood.
The First Marble we had earned was by beating the A team at their own game and doing it with class,
The Second marble was for winning all the games in the A division.
The Third was for not only winning the Championship but it was fitting that a former member of the A team made the winning shot and was happy to be part of his team.
The party was coming to a close. Everyone was saying our good byes. There was a tug on my arm as the rest of the players and Cheerleaders are milling about. I turn and Kelly places a small marble in my hand closes my hand I look into the blue eyes of a little blonde girl behind her glasses and she leans in and gives me a kiss. She says I like you and giggles and then runs off. I am stunned.
I was very happy to have won all the marbles, but most of all the last marble is the most special. The only sad part is that the Jarvis family had to move away for a job and we never saw the Jarvis family again. Every time I see a blue marble I think about the three marbles we earned in basketball and more importantly I think of that special marble that I had won that is sealed in my memory by that simple kiss.