When our son was born, my husband sent out this announcement via email:
“Eric Robert entered the world tipping the scales at 10 pounds 1 ounce. He was a lengthy 22 inches long. Well positioned for the power forward spot on the Detroit Pistons. Nick Saban has left two messages on the voicemail.”
He was a big baby and visions of his professional sports career danced in our heads. Our hopes of raising a sports legend were dashed when at 4, our son had a grand mal seizure. He continued to experience a variety of different types of seizures for another 2 years. Balance, depth perception, fine motor skills, gross motor skills and higher order thinking all became casualties of his seizure disorder.
He was 10 before he learned to successfully ride a bike (after attending a specialized bike camp for kids with disabilities). He has played ROSYA soccer for seven years and has scored two goals. The first goal had his parents and coaches shedding tears and jumping for joy on the sidelines. His hopes and his own “hoop dreams” are not dejected, however. He continues to try and strive to find a sport in which he can excel. Every summer he attends a variety of sports camps, trying to find his niche and is never deterred by athletes with more aptitude and talent.
Wednesday night was the basketball banquet after a fun recreational basketball season at The Salvation Army (The SAL) in Royal Oak. They run a fantastic program and have a couple hundred kids participate. He loves basketball, both watching and playing. “March Madness” is a competitive event in our house, where everyone fills out brackets and holds bragging rights early and often. He dreams of being a basketball star, but we know he’ll be lucky if he makes an organized team. The SAL was great program for him, a mediocre player willing to work hard and improve his skills. Under the guidance of a patient, kind and knowledgeable coach, he learned basic skills, some tricky plays and improved greatly as the season went on. At the end of the season when I thanked her for her time and dedication she said that he was “very tenacious and has a great sense of humor."
At The SAL everyone was awarded a medal for participation. And instead of “Most Valuable Player” or “Highest Scorer” or “Most Free Throws,” each team awarded a “Sportsmanship” award. Where young people were recognized for their positive contributions to their team, but not necessarily because they were the top scorer or the best basketball player. Our son thought for sure he would win; he told me “I’m always a good sport.” The young man who did win the award for his team was very deserving and our son was happy for him.
As we exited the banquet a young man was walking behind us. He commented that when he got home he was going to throw his medal in his room because it meant nothing to him. He said, “I have a case full of trophies, this is nothing. I have trophies 3 feet tall. Sportsmanship?! What a joke.” He went on to say that if he passed a slot machine he would put the medal in the machine because it’s worth more as a slot token than a trophy.
He is a gifted and talented athlete. An exceptional basketball player and a star on his middle school team. He will most likely go on to play in high school and maybe even college. He could and should probably play AAU Basketball (think Lebron James). As I overheard his comments, I glanced at my son, who was grasping the medal hanging around his neck. I don’t know if he heard the comments from his peer, I wanted to walk quicker and wanted to so badly not have heard this exchange. I wanted to turn around and tell this young man “do you know how lucky you are? You don’t struggle to run up and down the court. You are a naturally talented athlete! You have no idea how far someone like our son has come! NOW SHUT UP about your trophies!” I didn’t, of course. He is just a kid. He has no idea how his words hurt my mother’s heart.
Does it make me a bad person to admit that when my son’s team beat this young man’s team, I was a wee bit overzealous with joy? Probably, but, it also makes me honest. Teddy Roosevelt once said that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And while this is very true, it becomes incredibly difficult to not compare your child’s victories to those of his peers.
When we got home from the banquet, our son hung his SAL medal on his bulletin board along with his field day ribbon from Starr School, his battle of the books certificate and his ROYSA medals. He doesn’t have a trophy case. You do not receive a 3 foot trophy when you learn to ride a bike at age 10 (you do have a family cheering wildly as you circle around and around a church parking lot). Tenacity and humor are not rewarded on the battles of the basketball court. However, we can only hope that humility, integrity, resilience, character and compassion will get him further in life than a case full of trophies. Fortunately, his seizure disorder did not rob him of those qualities. I could be wrong about the trophies, but for his sake and ours, I hope I am not.