Fortier: Hack reflects on meaning of Media Cup

first_imgThe first time it happened, I looked in horror from the baseball to my partner playing catch.My eighth-grade arm had twitched in the middle of throwing. I wound up as I had so many times before, extending my arm behind me, rocking back then forward, but by the time the ball got just behind my ear, my arm felt heavy and jerked seemingly on its own.The throw had landed nowhere close to him, just a few yards away from me and way to the left. He guffawed, thinking I was joking, until he saw my face.“The yips” are a sudden, inexplicable loss of fine motor skills, rare but not unheard of. They pounce without explanation, defy medical treatment and shatter self-confidence. Within a year, I had quit baseball and realized the anxiety also overtook me on the basketball court, but only during games.As a high school sophomore, on junior-varsity basketball, three concussions became the perfect excuse to sidle away. The doctor OK’d playing again, but I thought about the next season, varsity. Free throws. Full gyms. Nope. Whenever anyone asked why I stopped, I told them my head wasn’t right, the time commitment was too much, anything but the truth.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textI stopped playing because I was ashamed.The shame of not being able to throw or shoot turned the games I once lived for into prolonged opportunities for public humiliation. The shame of failing teammates, noticing their reactions after screwing up, felt like I had betrayed them. The shame of being afraid prevented me from telling almost anyone about it.This wasn’t about losing a core piece of my identity, which was always going to happen. I was never a scholarship athlete. Instead, I bowed to fear. It prevented me from being my idea of being a teenager, playing high school sports with the friends I’d grown up with.I worried what else fear could take from me. One summer, seemingly every Red Sox game I watched with my dad had a Volkswagen commercial in which a father teaches his son to throw a baseball. The father is terrible, the son could be too. At night when I slept, I dropped into a nondescript suburban front lawn, airmailing tosses to a faceless, red-haired boy.I tamped down my uncertainty, and when I got to Syracuse, The Daily Orange helped fill a void. I wrote one story, then another and another. I earned a staff writer job, spent hours at 744 Ostrom Ave. and learned to chest-beat with the fanboys of WAER, the radio station we play against in Media Cup, the annual battle of egos at the Carrier Dome.This was my chance to confront the fear that once stopped me from playing the sports I loved. Freshman year, I hurried a shot at the end of a blowout loss. I felt a familiar heaviness, then relief when the ball grazed the rim. I didn’t have to explain another air-ball.The yips never fully disappeared, reminders cropping up at inopportune times. In Manley Field House for an interview, a player asked me to toss her a ball. My throw whistled above her head, and she laughed. I underhanded everything after that. In an intramural game, I air-balled two free throws.By senior year, our D.O. class still hadn’t won Media Cup. I never scored and grew increasingly anxious from missing open looks. This year’s Media Cup was about the seniors beating WAER, but it was also my last meaningful game. The night before, antsy, I went to the Women’s Building with two teammates. We shot around for an hour, and I missed almost everything.When the ball tipped the next night, the crowd behind us made everything, including my anxiety, bigger. Early in the game, I got the ball and everything blurred. A teammate set a screen, I dribbled right once or twice when fear ran into muscle memory. I rose up to shoot from just inside the top of the arc.The motion felt as it always had. My arms lumbered. Air came in sips. Everything moved too fast. But, somehow, this shot went in. I ran back on defense, scowling to suppress a smile — as intent to conceal what the moment meant now as I had been the hurt in high school.I didn’t attempt another jumper all game. I didn’t need to. When the buzzer echoed through the Dome, I held the basketball and wondered how I could feel such shock and joy and sorrow in a moment so fleeting.A few weeks later, I threw a ball and the yips reappeared. Still, something had changed during Media Cup. When that shot left my hand, the fear that kept me from moments like this went as well. That night, I got to play one last game with the friends I grew up with.Sam Fortier was a senior staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column will no longer appear. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Sam4TR.– 30 – Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on April 29, 2018 at 10:24 pmlast_img

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