I took this picture a year ago, just days before the pandemic changed everything. I took this picture at the start of our Sweet Sixteen game in the Kentucky Girls Basketball State Tournament. When I took this picture, I knew the girl in the middle, number 20, only because she had a class with one of my sons and she was a starter on the basketball team. I vaguely knew her first name and could not tell you her last name.
That night a year ago, as she stood looking back over her shoulder at her teammates with her hands on her hips, Amiya was ready to play, to win, to move on to the next game and the next and the next. She played with fierceness, with boldness. As her posture in this picture might suggest, Amiya approached the game with comfort and confidence. I know little about basketball, but I watch sports enough to know that Amiya has skill on the court that is rare and magical.
I couldn’t wait to watch them play the next game.
But there would be no next game for anyone. The entire tournament was canceled because of the Covid pandemic. An eight-way tie. No final four. No championship game. No trophy. No celebration. No winner.
But there have been so many losers this year. We have all lost something. While not getting to finish a tournament--or go to prom, attend graduation, or hang out with friends on the weekends during the only time you will be a senior or a junior in high school--is so small compared to what others have lost, these are still real losses that cause real hurt for our kids. They have felt it in so many ways.
This year, Amiya and the rest of the girls basketball team became a symbol of perseverance, resilience, and positivity during trying times. They made it to the Sweet Sixteen again this year after an amazing season.
I told one of my classes just the other day, this is not really about basketball at all. This is about school unity, community, morale. During a school year when so much of our lessons were done virtually, when we don’t know what others look like without masks on, a year with no pep rallies, few clubs, no lingering in the hallways or lobby to socialize, no field trips, and I could go on, we need a reason/excuse/opportunity to come together and cheer and celebrate. The basketball team has given us just that.
This next picture is the start of the Elite Eight game, the game our team could not play last year because of the pandemic. The picture is taken from a different angle, but it is still Amiya. This time, I know her. This time, I sought her out. I was talking to my friend as the game began, and I interrupted my own sentence--”Wait, I’ve got to find Amiya and take a picture.” And I did. Because this year, I know this child. The Amiya I know is a beautiful soul who sits in my third period and makes me laugh. She is the one who raised her hand a few weeks ago while I was reading one of my blog posts. Thinking it was urgent, I let her speak, “Excuse me, Mrs. Potter, I was just wondering when you were going to write a blog post about me,” she joked. (Here it is, my silly darling.)
This year, when I watched her play, when I watched her charge down the court with such fierceness and speed, with such courage and resolve, I also saw the person she is off the court. This year, every time she was under the net and the other team rained down on her, I drew in breath, not because I was afraid she wouldn’t score, but because I was terrified she would get hurt. Several times she was knocked in the face, at least once she was poked in the eye. I feared for her safety. “Don’t get hurt, don’t get hurt, don’t get hurt,” I whispered, while everyone around me yelled.
After two exciting games, our girls made it to the Final Four. Only the second time in our school’s long history this has happened. What an honor. What a victory! The game was hard to watch, though. Our girls fought so hard. During the game I thought about the pressure Amiya had on her shoulders. At one point during the game when she was knocked to the floor, she slapped the hard court with both her hands. “It’s okay, Amiya, it’s okay, baby girl. You’re still brilliant and beautiful. You’re still magical.” I said it out loud. I didn’t yell it. There were too many people already yelling.
I knew she wasn’t physically hurt. It was worse. She was hurt inside. As the game drew to a close and defeat became inevitable, her demeanor changed. She, like all the other girls, wept. Her heart was broken, her spirit bruised.
Over the weekend I thought about emailing her to tell her I was proud of her and to not be sad. Making it to the Final Four is huge in itself.
I’m glad I didn’t. It is good and right for her to be sad, just for a bit. She is passionate about basketball; she loves her team; she wants to win. It stings, at least for a little while, to lose. But what will last is the way she played during the tournament--with all she had. With magical beauty.
Welcome to my Blog! I am a wife, mother of three, high school English teacher, and a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Before anything else, I am a woman of faith.