Once upon a time, my wife and I enrolled our son to play youth league basketball in Kerens, where we lived at the time.

It was a memorable experience. As a dad who once played sports (but not basketball, at least very well), I imagined him stepping onto the court and magically understanding the game.

When I say “understanding,” I mean scoring. Lots of scoring.

Instead, he met my enthusiasm by spreading out his arms and flying around the court like a plane once he was put into the game.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if he was doing his sorties on the end of the court where the action was going on. Needless to say, there were chuckles to be heard all around us.

So when our son heard about Upward basketball earlier this year and said he wanted to try out, we got ready to break out the flight jackets.

Funny things can happen when you lower your expectations of a kid. Turns out that kid might just perform better.

Each Saturday here for the last month or so, hundreds of local kids gather at the courts at First United Methodist Church and Eastern Hills Church of Christ. They bring hundreds of parents and grandparents with them.

And then something strange happens that you won’t see at so many other sporting events.

The kids play, and when they make mistakes, the game is often stopped so a referee can explain what they did wrong and how to play right.

There is no official score (although I must admit we get tickled when a kid hits his fifth shot of the game and subsequently turns to his mom or dad and yells, “That’s five!”)

Foul calls and turnovers are met by responses of “Good call” from coaches. I’ve yet to hear a fan — and I’ve sat shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of them over the last month — yell anything but positive encouragement. Don’t get me wrong, these fans are passionate. But they are positive.

Halftime includes a routine by cheerleaders, who work just as hard as the basketball players and give everything they’ve got. I love seeing my own daughter cheering on her big brother and making friends with girls she might not otherwise have known.

I have to admit that, in these same pages years ago, when I was a new father, I wrote about youth sports leagues that don’t keep score. I said that life isn’t made for everyone to win, and that sports, by design, must have a loser.

Now, as a father of two kids, I’ve softened that stance. Winning isn’t everything (sorry, Lombardi). I doubt my son will remember wins and losses. But he will remember playing. I’m pretty sure he’ll remember not getting the ball as much as he’d like, but I hope with that he also remembers old dad constantly reminding him that he’s not a scorer, but a defensive machine.

Most important to us, he’s learning in an environment that will probably make him want to keep on playing. He even wants us to get a goal at home.

And even if this basketball thing doesn’t work out, something tells me he could be a heck of a pilot.

Jayson Larson is editor of the Athens Review. He can be reached at editor@athensreview.com.

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