The Doogs came to play.
From the south side of the river, this crew wouldn’t know an organic spinach leaf if it gently slapped them in the face, their parents cook with cubed rather than natural, home-rendered liquid stock, and some of them are even subjected to pasteurised rather than the more gut-friendly cold-pressed milk. In short, they were hungry, tough and high on lactose. A force to be reckoned with.
Led by their talismanic captain, number 80 with his electric mop of blonde hair, The Doogs stifled the Hellratz flow. Known down south as Funk-Yellow, number 80 was everywhere in the first half; slapping, scratching, scoring, and the Ratz had few answers. The loyal Hellratz supporters could only marvel at Funk-Yellow‘s tenacity and commitment and wonder aloud how much more dominant he could have been had his hair not obscured 80% of his vision.
The Hellratz limped to half time with no notable highlights to report. The score was tied 10-10, a fact known to nobody but this reporter because apparently keeping score in an under 10s game leads to hyper-competitive play, sideline arguments and a diminishment of the purity of the game. That’s loser talk, but to avoid developing a ‘tiger parent’ reputation I still surreptitiously keep score on a tiny notepad while pretending to check my WhatsApps. Keeping score and checking WhatsApps mid-game are both scorn-worthy activities for a sideline parent in 2022, but on balance score-keeping is the greater evil.
Regardless, as the Ratz sat on the bench at half time sipping water and talking about Minecraft they knew they were in a battle. The Boss and The Prodigy knew it too and so attempted to motivate their warriors with a stirring half-time speech. As all great coaches do when their backs are against the wall, they reverted to defence, defence, defence. And scoring slightly more than their opponents. For the first time this season The Boss produced a mini whiteboard complete with basketball court line-markings. As her marker danced this way and that with arrows and xs and swirls and loops the boys looked impressed and bamboozled, and then bored.
Early in the third quarter, motivated by the halftime Minecraft chat, the momentum shifter came from an unexpected Ratz player – Smilez.
Funk-Yellow was deep in the paint, doing his thing; jab step, dribble, small travel, pump fake, small travel, jab step. Smilez, seeing an opportunity, lunged at the ball. With surprising strength Smilez latched on and wouldn’t relent as Funk-Yellow shook and lurched like a tethered crocodile. Smilez was eventually flung out of bounds, but not before the whistle had blown for a tie-up. Smilez sprang to his feet, smiling, and received the hugs of gratitude he deserved.
Well, that singular effort turned the tide. Perhaps simply due to an increased level of effort, but also perhaps because of the low GI white bread The Doogs had enjoyed for breakfast, the Hellratz found their shape and intensity in the second half. Back and forth we went, basket for basket, and in the last minute the score was locked at 20-20.
Nobody on the court, or on either bench was aware of this of course so there was no alteration in strategy, effort or vigour. As chance might have it the Hellratz were on offence; pivot, pivot, pivot, small travel, pass, air-ball, rebound, pivot, small travel. As the clock ticked below 10 seconds I, alone, was on the edge of my seat, beyond the edge even. The Baby-faced Assassin had the ball in his hands, on the baseline about 10 feet from the basket. Any advanced metrics would tell you that for such a game situation BFA with the ball in that pocket of the court is precisely what you want. The Boss could not have drawn it up better on her little basketball court whiteboard. And yet it appeared as if The Assassin was just going to let the clock run-out. But then, pulse maxing out at 57 bpm, BFA glanced up at the hoop, squared his feet and stroked the ball into the air. Front rim, backboard, net.
As the clock ticked down to zero, I stifled a fist pump so as not to give away my contraband score card then, as the players walked languidly off the court I etched two more to the Hellratz tally: 22-20. It was then that I looked up and briefly locked eyes with another dad who was doing the same. 22-20? I mouthed to him. He nodded wisely at me and we both went to congratulate our non-plussed children.
I glanced over at Funk-Yellow who looked exhausted and still unable to see much. I am sure he was thinking… if only my mum had eaten my dried placenta in powdered form straight after I was born in order to transfer those dense nutrients to me. Imagine the player I could have been…