|Let us not forget Lloyd’s eyeball, lost in the battle.|
“Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,You and I shall laugh together with the storm,And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,And we shall stand in the sun with a will,And we shall be dangerous.
– Kahlil Gribran
One more trip to Oklahoma City. One more trip to the Big House. One more game. One more piece of hardware for the trophy case.
You gave that to us, Mustangs. You did. You gave us one more.
When you walk into the hall, there are still streamers and small basketballs hanging from the ceiling. There is still paint on the door, telling you to go get the gold. There are still signs on your locker that say, “State Bound.”
All of these reminders of what happened on Saturday night. If I had to imagine, painful reminders. I’m here to tell you they shouldn’t be.
You gave me one more chance to go see my favorite team from my favorite school play in my favorite place: the state final.
|And let us not forget Coach Clark’s tie, which remained the entire game on Saturday.|
You gave me one more chance to hang out with friends I hadn’t seen in forever.
You gave me one more chance to tell your story.
You also gave me one more chance to spend approximately $250 on food for the weekend, but we’re not going to focus on that, believe me, my beautiful and loving and kind and forgiving (did I mention beautiful) wife has focused on it plenty.
|You can’t see it very well in this pic, but that bucket had a lid on it.|
When the final horn sounded on Saturday night, I didn’t see anyone on the floor hang their heads. I didn’t see anyone cursing, throwing a fit, or mouthing off to the other team. I saw what we all hope to see in the young men who represent our school: dedication, not defeat; pride, not self-pity; and sportsmanship, not petulance.
You gave me one more chance to be incredibly proud of my school, my town, and my students.
|Marcus literally cannot believe how high Caleb is jumping here.|
Also, can we be honest, just for a second, and say that you almost gave me one more heart attack on Friday night? No one had hopes of winning that game. I do not care what anyone tells you, no one thought you would pull that off. But you did, and you did it in such a way that gives this amazing town one more story to tell about that time in the state tournament when a miracle happened.
You also gave one more chance to someone to score a basket in a state final. You did that. You gave that to him. He will never forget it, and neither will anyone who saw it.
|“Travis, I’m sorry, I tried to take a good picture but I was crying.” – Alicia
So was I, babe. So was everyone.
As an aside, I would also like to thank the Ft. Cobb-Broxton players who helped make that happen.
So, Mustangs, if I see you in the hallway with your head down, I will address it. I will remind you that greatness is not measured in the color of your trophy, but in your character, in your work ethic, and in the way you represent our town. And for those, Mustangs, you get the gold.
For those, you are number one.
“Between the pavement and the stars,
beneath the weight of years of scars,
burns the same soul –
paint the sky blue.
you’re still you.”
– Reese Roper
Specifically, 1.9 seconds. But I’m rounding up because it’s my blog and my story. So two.
Two seconds separated the Okay Mustangs from a loss in the semi-final round, packing up and driving home.
If you were there, you know what happened. If you weren’t, you probably still know what happened. It was, in my opinion, the single greatest two seconds of basketball I’ve ever watched, and I watched Christian Laettner hit “the shot” in 1992.
I have hugged, I believe, everyone at the Big House this evening. I have done irreparable damage to my heart. I got real close to saying a bad word on Facebook.
And I sent this text before it happened.
|I know I should be ashamed. But I’m a pragmatist.|
It’s now 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. Everything above this was typed when I got home last night, on an adrenaline-laced jag that made for great Facebook posts, but not so much in the inspiration department.
So now I’m sitting here, staring at the computer, and hoping that somehow, words will appear on the screen the way the ball appeared in Caleb’s hand last night. I guess I could set a timer on my phone for 1.9 seconds and add a little pressure.
If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you know I do a lot of talking about pure moments of happiness. Hopefully, everyone reading this knows what I’m talking about; hopefully all of you have experienced one. A moment in your life which causes so much joy, it temporarily blocks out every other thing in your life. You are lost in that moment.
I believe these moments can’t be directly obtained, they have to be gifted to you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few given to me. Last night I got another one.
It had gone terribly, the end of that game. We built a lead, then lost it, and then to top it all off made a couple of bad decisions late that took some wind out of the Mustang sails.
I watched fans head for the exits. I don’t blame them, I was mentally preparing for the drive home, thinking about whether or not I wanted to spend another night in the city. I sent Alicia the above text. I checked out.
I vaguely remember Ben Smith looking over and saying, “Anything can happen.”
The stage was set for Pond Creek-Hunter. They had overcome the number two team in the state, and they were headed for the championship game. I’ve seen a news article that said Chad had told the team not to contest the pass, then changed his mind. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have a coach who won’t give up. I played for one.
I’m not sure when the moment happened for Caleb Riggs. I’m not sure if it was the walk out to the floor to finish a game he probably didn’t still want to be in, or if it was something in the PCH guy’s eyes that triggered it. Maybe he never doubted, I don’t know. I can definitively say he was not preparing himself to be on every highlight video the OSSAA makes for state tournaments from now until the end of time.
The referee blew the whistle, handed the ball to the kid from PCH, and what happened next was something the town of Okay will talk about until we’re all old and gray and wear the bottoms of our trousers rolled.
A bad decision. A deflected pass. A hopeful tip. A scoop. A jump. A release.
Time stopped. The collective intake of breath from both sides of the stadium could have vacuum sealed an entire year’s worth of saltine cracker packages. And then…
If you’d like to see it from more angles than a dodecahedron, you can click here.
As an educator, an English teacher, and a “Literary Man,” I feel it very important to maintain a firm grasp of the English language at all times, both to keep up appearances and because of some sort of inner piousness, I don’t know, don’t judge me.
But after that shot, I lost the ability to make words with my fingers.
|All caps because, well, the situation warranted all caps.|
On March 4, 2016, I typed these words: “Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We’ll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball.”
Well, Fort Cobb is in the final, just like us. Waiting. Gunning for their third title in a row, and with the chops to do it.
But we have guys who don’t give up. Gritty players and coaches who stare loss in the face and defy it, challenge it, who beat the odds and overcome.
Our little town of Okay was once known as Rex. Rex is Latin for “King.” Author F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, and I beg to differ. The Kings vs. Goliath, Act II happens tonight at 7 p.m.
Last year I closed by saying how proud we all are of you, Mustangs, and that pride is still there. We are grateful for the moments you’ve given us, and we’re standing behind you tonight.
Now finish the job.
“You may write me down in historyWith your bitter, twisted lies,You may trod me in the very dirtBut still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?Why are you beset with gloom?‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wellsPumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,With the certainty of tides,Just like hopes springing high,Still I’ll rise.”
Because I am first and foremost an English teacher, it seems only natural that I should begin this with a word you probably don’t know.
Triskaphobia. A fear of the number three.
There are superstitions about the number three: death comes in threes, if you take a picture of three people the person in the middle will die, and that it’s bad luck for three people to light a cigarette off the same match.
|Y’all look, the “S” is missing in Students.|
It would appear that for some, the number three is a bad thing, a thing to be feared. It’s portentous, malicious, and terrifying, particularly if it’s the amount of Christian Grey novels you have to read before you’re through.
The Okay Mustangs headed out on a three hour bus ride yesterday, for the third year in a row, to try to win three games in three nights. If you’ve got triskaphobia, you might want to stop reading this now.
|If you take 11 from 14 you get…well, yeah.|
In education, if you stay somewhere for three consecutive years, you get tenure. Tenure, simply explained, means your position goes from temporary to permanent. You can stop wondering if you really belong, and you are able to approach your duties with a sense of security and a newfound purpose.
The Okay Mustangs belong in the state tournament. They’re tenured.
Last night I watched our boys hit three pointers, saw our fans lift three fingers in the air proudly, and witnessed three incredible quarters of basketball (that fourth one got scary y’all). I watched a lead form by what can only be described as a dog fight, observed a blowout, and suffered heart palpitations as Cyril did exactly what good teams do: fight back.
|I honestly had no idea number three was in this pic until I decided to caption it.|
In the end though, one-third of the goal was accomplished, and the Okay Mustangs walked to the locker room with heads high, with tenure.
Pond-Creek is waiting for us today, hoping this is their year, and you can bet they were up late last night, nervously contemplating how to stop the Okay Mustang three, how to defend Okay Mustang number thirty-three, and how to saddle all our players with three fouls in the first quarter.
|33 + 3 = mad hops|
The best things in life come in threes. The Holy Trinity, The Lord of the Rings, the Musketeers, BLTs, Destiny’s Child, and the number of times that are charms.
Personally, I like the first one and the last one the most.
|There are three players in this picture. I know, I’m reaching, but Caleb looks too good here.|
Let’s go boys. Triskaphobia be damned. This third time is our charm.
And when the dust settles, when you’re hoisting the gold ball over your heads, we’ll all hold a single finger over our heads instead of three.
|maybe, maybe, maybe
you’ll find something that’s enough to keep you
but if the bright lights don’t receive you,
then turn yourself around and come on home.
– Matchbox Twenty
Sixty hours ago I was throwing my backpack into my truck and headed to go get Nate.
As we made the trip to the State Fairgrounds, I kept checking Facebook and seeing all the statuses about heading to Oklahoma City and how excited everyone was.
I was excited too.
The State Tournament. The Big House. And the Okay Mustangs.
Those words aren’t used together every year. Volleyball, maybe, but not basketball.
Since no one bothered to tell us about the massive construction project on I-40 (shoutout to all you chumps), we got to the game just a few minutes before it started. Okay vs. Velma-Alma, two schools that, had you conducted a poll anywhere but there, no one would have heard of.
Our boys made it look easy.
That’s not slighting the Comets, that’s simply a testament to the shooting performance our boys gave. Shots were dropping like gas prices during an election year, and it was fun. After a certain point, it didn’t even seem real anymore.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you and tell you I wasn’t sure how they’d handle the big stage.
Turns out they didn’t need me to believe in them.
A twenty-point win and a drive back to the hotel, where I swam in the pool and thought about the game. Where I thought about Chad, and how he was back where it started for him in 1998. About that time I played thirty seconds in a state tournament game and had one rebound and one turnover.
I seriously think I told that story to whoever would listen. I was pulling hotel maids into the room and reenacting the rebound, making Hayden and Nate play defense every time I told it.
Enter day two.
A 10:30 a.m. game against the number three team in the state. A team that had also been up by twenty points in their first game.
I was, yet again, worried, because that’s what I do.
Turns out they didn’t need me to believe in them.
The shooting performance they put on Friday made Thursday’s show look like me trying to dip two McNuggets into a painfully small hot mustard packet.
I honestly think at one point I made a three. And if I live long enough I’m sure that’s how the story will go one day. Three-pointers were flying through the nets like a…well, listen, I’ve watched my two favorite teams lose today, so I’m at a loss for a simile.
They got hot.
They won by ten, but it was really by twenty.
In the meantime, Fort Cobb-Broxton was busily winding their way through the bracket, making it look as though the OSSAA had mistakenly assigned a 5A team to the A tourney.
And then today happened. Day three. The championship game.
A Facebook post informed me earlier that Okay has been a school district for 97 years. In 97 years we’ve never once had a basketball team in a state championship game.
But by God we did today.
I was worried. I watched Fort Cobb play both nights and I was worried. I tried to contain what I felt but my celebrations were muted, my conversations heavy with the weight of my pessimism.
Turns out, they didn’t need me to believe in them.
Our boys—Our Okay Mustangs—went out onto that floor and from the very first tip worked their butts off to bring home a gold ball for our town. They ran off screens, they dealt with bumps, they hustled for loose balls—all for us. All for Okay.
Those shots that fell the first two games didn’t fall today. And you know what? That’s okay, and here’s why.
My children teach me things all the time. Just when I think I’m the smartest person in the family, one of them will innocently say something so full of wisdom that I know The Lord is trying to knock me over the head with a lesson.
I pulled into the driveway this evening, emotionally exhausted, upset, and proud all at the same time.
Aven, my eight-year-old, was playing in the yard and came up to the truck as I got out.
“How was basketball?” he asked.
“It was a lot of fun,” I replied.
“Did you win it all?”
“No, son, we lost in the championship game.”
“Oh…well, that’s really that bad though, right?”
I looked up, and saw my beautiful wife, who I’d missed very much, coming outside to kiss me hello.
In that moment, the entire weekend sped through my mind like a highlight reel on fast forward. The jump shots. The three-pointers. The conversations with people I’d grown up with. The celebrations. The hustle. The silver ball. The first second-place state tournament ever for our basketball program. The beautiful game of basketball that I love, played by young men that I love, coached by two men I admire and respect, administrated by a principal and superintendent that I think the world of. It all came over me, baptizing me in the sheer fun of the weekend.
And I realized that my son is wiser than I am.
“No, Aven, it’s really not that bad.”
Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We’ll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball.
Thank you, boys. Thank you, Chad and Steve. Thank you to the fans, to the town that raised me, and the town that is letting me help raise their students.
November can’t get here quick enough.
“The game can kill you with hope.” – Kevin Baker
Well, they’ve done it.
Yesterday, while battling to maintain a lead against the No. 3 ranked team in the state, the Okay Mustangs were suddenly up 20 points, and I’m still not entirely sure how it happened.
I mean, yeah, 70 points from Caleb and Darius Riggs probably did it, but still.
Remember yesterday when I said I wanted Goliath vs. Goliath? Well, I watched Fort Cobb’s game with Seiling yesterday thinking that I was an idiot for writing it.
But I’m not. The whole season has been leading up to this point. Two teams, both Mustangs, across the state from each other, and each doing the kind of work it takes to be successful in this glorious game of basketball.
And now we’re in the finals. School history has been made. We all got to see it. We all get to see it.
This small group of boys from a town no one has ever heard of have given hope to thousands of people.
noun — the feeling that what is wanted can be had.
It’s such a simple word. One syllable and four letters with an ocean in between each one, and a gold ball waiting just after the “e.”
You know, you’re going to laugh, but I finally went to see Deadpool last night, and I think I can actually use part of a scene from that movie to teach something here.
Colossus, a member of the X-Men, stops Deadpool from shooting someone by saying:
“Wade! Four or five moments.”
“Four or five moments — That’s all it takes to become a hero. Everyone thinks it’s a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true. Over a lifetime there are only four or five moments that really matter. Moments when you’re offered a choice to make a sacrifice, conquer a flaw, save a friend…”
Now if you’ve seen the movie you know that quote immediately loses relevance not long after, but I think it maintains its relevance here today.
Okay Mustangs, go be a hero today. Live in the four or five moments of this game where you’ll make a choice, play harder than you thought you could, or sacrifice a shot for a better one. Live in the moments where you’ll be a hero.
Something I struggled with as a player and now as a coach is being told/telling kids to “leave it all on the floor.” I understand the sentiment, but if you leave it all on the floor, where’s “it” going to be for the next game?
Today, there is no next game. Today is the one day I agree with “leave it all on the floor.”
I’ll be in the stands hoping. I’ll be in the stands believing. Thousands of us will.
In the moment of hope, there is no doubt. There is no room for doubt. So hope breeds confidence, and confidence breeds happiness. You’ve made the town of Okay and your families very happy. You’ve already accomplished something enormous that will never be forgotten.
Thank you for that.
Now finish the job.
“hope is the thing with feathersthat perches in the souland sings the tune without the wordsand never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson
It’s just after 7 a.m.
Light is slowly filtering through the blinds of our hotel room—a hotel room that Hayden booked 400 miles away from the stadium—and I’ve already been down to have breakfast, which was crap.
I woke up excited.
My roommates, Hayden and Nathan, are still snoring softly in the bed behind me, which they are sharing because I told them I’m a cuddler.
I woke up excited because the Okay Mustangs made school history yesterday.
Yesterday wasn’t a great day for our state or our nation. You see, schools took yet another budget cut. A budget cut that will mean the end for some. There’s some small school in Oklahoma that will have to close its doors thanks to the idiocy we’re seeing at the state level.
Hundreds of thousands of people were taken off Medicaid, something I don’t quite understand, but expect to soon.
Last night during the presidential debate, politics were eschewed for penis measuring, which, I suppose, is really the basis of all politics anyway.
Yesterday wasn’t a great day for our state or our nation.
But it was a great day to be a Mustang.
I wish I had a cool action shot to post here, a picture worth more than a thousand words, showing the hustle and effort our boys put forth into bringing home the first Okay State Playoff win in school history. I wish I had a picture of Darius shooting three pointers from the parking lot, or Paul Taylor checking into the game and in the first five seconds driving in for a layup. I wish I had a shot of Caleb or Austin shooting jump shots with the confidence that Donald Trump has in his hair, but I don’t. I was busy in the stands updating my Facebook every three seconds for the folks back home.
I’m told the boys’ bus ride back to the hotel yesterday was silent. They weren’t celebrating their win. They realized that although they made school history, all they really won was the chance to fight another day.
Today. This day.
Most probably haven’t even woken up yet. They probably haven’t gone downstairs to gorge themselves on homemade omelettes and all-you-can-eat bacon (I’m looking at you, Hayden). Some of them might be up though, thinking about the game, doing the mental preparation that is oh so important in this game, yet so often overlooked.
Our opponent opposite the bracket found themselves in a close one yesterday. Everyone talked about how they hoped there would be an upset, and I joined in that conversation. But truthfully, I don’t want an upset. I want 1 vs. 2 out there tomorrow. I don’t want to see David and Goliath, because we all know how that goes, and sometimes Goliath wins anyway. I want to see Goliath vs. Goliath.
But they aren’t there yet. They have to win today.
And you know what? Even if they don’t, even if they lose today, one day they’ll look back and say, “Remember that time we won a game at state? That hasn’t been done since, has it? Remember how many points I scored? Remember how proud the town was?”
You’re damn right I’m proud. This town, this Okay town, is my life. I will empty all I am into it until it shines or until I die, and I’m even prouder to say that I don’t stand alone in that objective.
So go fight today, boys. Go win the chance to take on that other Goliath. You’ll hear us in the stands, and if you don’t, feel free to come over and remind us that we’re not Okay.
We’re freaking great.