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Welcome to 2TheHeart!
Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes it is the little voice at the end of the day that says "I'll try again tomorrow." -Unknown
It's been a long time since I have written a "Noah story" and I wrote this one last night after we arrived home. It's hard to believe he is twelve now!
by Susan Farr Fahncke
They were always the smallest team on the basketball court. Middle school is funny – some of the kids still look like, well, kids, while others seem to morph into young men almost overnight. The mixture of sixth, seventh and eighth-grade boys is interesting to see. The first game we attended was a shock. The other team towered over our kids, none of them looking younger than twenty to me. They slaughtered us. The final score was 49-6. Oh well, I thought. We'll get the next one.
The next game rolled around two days later and again, the other team was gargantuan compared to ours. They whomped us just like the first team did. With the third game, the losses had become so brutal, I could see the boys beginning to accept defeat as a given. As a mother, I was heartbroken to see what started out as a gung-ho, boisterous group of basketball players turn into disheartened, depressed boys losing game after game, after game. Eventually I could see they were just going through the motions; no longer expecting, or even hoping to win. Most games were called early, using the “mercy rule”, because the score was usually an embarrassing forty-point gap. My heart ached to see those boys find their pride again, to feel that spark of hope that comes from the occasional victory.
I have always taught my children that winning doesn't matter, that sportsmanship and trying your best is what matters, but deep down I know that we all need to feel victorious once in a while. Especially when your whole life is spent trying to fit in, to be understood, to feel that you are the same as everyone around you. You see, this middle school basketball team is made of boys who are deaf.
The roar of the crowds. The cheerleaders' sing-song chants. The buzzer signaling the end of the period. The ref's whistle. The springy thunk of the basketball as it bounces on the court. The whoosh of the ball slicing through the net. None of these things are heard by this team. They rely on visual cues and their well-developed sense of their surroundings to follow what is happening on the court. They have learned to watch like eagles for the most subtle change in body language, movement of arms, stillness of motion in order to stay on top of their game. But sometimes they don't realize the whistle has been blown for time out and will continue on down the court in a lone dash for the net. They are embarrassed more and work harder than any of their hearing peers. Yet they accept all of this for the love of the game and for their school. Deaf kids are amazing. There is no other way to describe their tenacity and courage and spirit. But just like you and me and especially like all other middle school kids, these kids just want to be accepted. They want to be like the other middle school teams and maybe even once in a while, feel like a success.
“They're all better and bigger than we are,” my sixth-grader tells me, his hands flying and every emotion beautifully visible on his face. Noah's frustration is clear and I feel it myself. I try to reassure him that next year will be better and to just do his best and blah blah. Mom stuff. The truth is, he struggles on the court. Really struggles. He has never played basketball before and fights to keep up with the fast pace of the game. He rarely gets passed the ball when he does get time on the court. I know it hurts him and I am proud of him for sticking with something so difficult for him.
Tonight marked the final countdown to the end of basketball season. Three games left and mostly we were just relieved it was almost over. I don't know how much more I could stand of seeing the looks on our boys' faces at the end of each loss. They deserve to win, just once, I thought to myself. If anyone needed a win, it was these boys. As their coaches told both teams it was time to take their places on the court, I noticed a marked difference in the way our team moved compared to the other team. The other team was a private school – their uniforms expensive, their gym top-notch. School pride was abundant and clearly they didn't suffer from the bruised spirit our boys did. They bounced off the bleachers and jogged onto the court with confidence; something I hadn't seen in our own team since our first game. Our boys looked like puppies who had been kicked too many times and as though they were headed for another kicking. My heart ached for our boys and I wished so badly they could have a win. Poor kids, I thought. I don't blame them. They probably just want to get it over with and go home.
As the buzzer sounded and the game began, I mentally zoned out, planning tomorrow's errands, work and my to-do list. I was happy to see we had four cheerleaders this time, instead of our usual two and noticed the other schools' families watching with fascination as they performed cheers in half dance, half sign language.
Suddenly I realized the score was tied, 6-6. I couldn't ever remember a game when we weren't already demolished in the first period. I started paying attention to the game. One of our boys scored a basket and the score was 8-6. My heart started pounding. Is that right? Are we ahead? I felt excited and held my breath as I realized Noah was on the court. He rarely got to play and I had gotten used to seeing him sitting out most of the game. Someone passed Noah the ball and I could tell he wasn't expecting it. It hit his chest and bounced to the floor. My heart caught and time froze for me. Then Noah was on the floor, scrambling to gain control of it amid a tangle of arms and legs. Noah popped up, the ball in his hands and in one fluid, fantastic, dream-like movement, he fired the ball up, up, straight up into the air and it neatly sluiced down, making that sound you hear about. That unmistakable (to hearing people) WHOOSH. Straight through the net. I was on my feet, screaming and jumping and proud out of my mind. My baby had scored! He put that ball through the net! I saw the look of surprise on his coach's face and high-fived Noah's dad. Overjoyed, we yelled and cheered and waved at our son. The look on Noah's face was pure joy. “Did you see me?” he signed across the gym. “Yes, yes! I replied. You are awesome!” I signed to Noah, hoping he couldn't see the tears threatening to spill down my face. I don't know if it's possible, but I was so proud I was shaking.
Now the score was 10-8. I started to see something new happening in our boys. A new fierce determination to keep going, and hope. Hope. It brought them alive. What a gift. This was the first time ever this team of amazing kids had taken the lead in a game. You could feel the renewed excitement fairly crackling in the air. We held on to that lead all the way to the end of the last period. The score was now 20-18. So close. So easy to lose that lead. Anything could happen now. I watched the clock and held my breath, willing it to run out before the other team could score. Just keep them back, just hold them off, I thought. We had never even come close to winning and here it was, only seconds away. Eleven seconds left and the other team took possession of the ball. “GET IT BACK!” I shouted to boys who wouldn't hear me. My heart was racing and my hands were shaking. I fixed my gaze on the clock, thinking that if I couldn't see the game, the other team wouldn't score and the time would run out. I could barely breathe and my legs felt like jello.
Five seconds on the clock. The numbers on the clock spun and I heard the ball go in and the buzzer ring, almost at the same time. Not sure what happened, I looked around. Parents were yelling, everyone was on their feet and the game had ended in a shocking conclusion. We had won. 22-18. We had won? We had won! Jumping and cheering, I could not believe it had happened. Tears burned in my eyes as I watched our boys piling on each other, dancing and yelling and madly signing to each other. Gone were the beaten, dejected boys who couldn't bear another loss. Filled with joy and confidence, they hooped and hollered and celebrated their first ever victory.
As I made my way over to them, I realized this was the most exciting game I had even been to. I've seen the Utah Jazz and Lakers play. But they don't hold a candle to a group of deaf middle-schoolers who had finally won their first game ever. I got hugs from some of the boys and marveled at the change in them. Before the game they were cranky and bickering and depressed. Now, they could not contain their joy. I stood back, watching hands flying and every moment of the game replayed in animated sign language and lit-up faces. I found Noah's coach. “Did you see Noah's basket?” He asked me. Duh. “I am so proud of him!” I told the coach. “It was a fantastic game!” He was glowing and I could tell he was as emotional as I was.
Tonight was a night I'll never forget. My heart is simply filled with joy. I was reminded to have faith and hold out for a miracle. Amazing, unexpected things do happen, and in our focus on getting through everyday life, we sometimes forget that. I learned that even though winning isn't the most important thing, we all need a victory from time to time. For kids fighting through life just to be a part of it all, a victory is all the more sweet; all the more cherished. And no one deserved this victory more than the school for the deaf middle school basketball team.
Susan Farr Fahncke
I am the founder of 2TheHeart and also of the amazing volunteer group, Angels2TheHeart. I have authored, co-authored, edited and contributed to over 60 books and am currently getting ready to re-release Angel's Legacy this spring. This new version will have new, previously unpublished stories added to the existing ones, a new cover and new photos. I am also working on another book that is my “secret project”, which I hope to publish this summer. I teach online writing workshops and you can learn more about my writing and workshops at www.2TheHeart.com/SusanFarrFahncke