Agony of defeat: A look at the pain that follows the end of a high school basketball career
I think I'll remember the feeling I had on Feb. 23, 2007, the rest of my life.
I'll remember the sense of failure. I'll remember the tears. Mostly, I'll remember the pain.
On Feb. 23, 2007, my high school basketball career came to an all-to-soon end.
Over the course of the past couple weeks, many high school kids in Yuma played their final games. Whether it was in the regular season, the sectional tournament or the state tournament, their basketball careers are over. Some may play some college ball, but the majority of them will hang up their sneakers for good.
During my senior season at Portland Christian High School, our basketball team finished the regular season 23-2 overall and a perfect 14-0 in conference. As a captain and starting shooting guard, I was a part of a core group of players who played together on varsity since our freshman and sophomore seasons. There were times when we looked unbeatable — a lock for a chance to play for the state championship.
Then everything collapsed.
We lost by one point in the league championship to a team we had already beaten twice by a combined 45 points. That sent us to a small town in southern Oregon for the first round of the state playoffs. Playing in a cracker-box gymnasium, our dream season came to a nightmarish end by losing 69-44. To make matters worse, I played terribly.
I still remember the locker room after the game. Two hours previous, that same cramped room was full of noisy, excited teenagers. After the loss, it was a room of quiet, inconsolable tears.
I sat on the locker room's cold, concrete floor with the back of my head resting up against the locker.
The core group of players — brothers, really — had an unbelievably successful career, which included four consecutive state playoff appearances and a few league titles. But in that locker room, each and every win we got was meaningless. That's the brutal part about ending your season — your career, for some — in some somber locker room in the state playoffs. No matter the accomplishments, the only thing you can feel is that you're a failure.
I've covered some very good high school players in my first year in Yuma. But guys like Daniel Santana and Orlando Lopez will never play another game at Kofa High. Stevie Mitchell and Deante Gaines' careers as members of Raider basketball are over. Ashley Doering's Cibola days were over when the Raiders lost in the first round. Everett McKinney most likely had his locker room moment when the Shamrocks lost to El Capitan on Saturday.
The second the final buzzer sounds in their final loss of the season, their prep basketball days became nothing more than memories. Time does seem to heal the painful wounds, but the scars are still there. I don't just remember that depressing locker room anymore. I can also look back at the good moments — although that final loss still pokes its ugly head in every once in awhile.
Feb. 23, 2007, felt like I had a dog die, lost my wallet and got dumped all in the same day. It's the kind of day where optimistic expectations are met by a devastating reality. A season that was supposed to end with a joyous state championship ended with teenage boys crying their eyes out.
It reminds me of the last lines of T.S. Eliot's famous poem, “The Hollow Men.”
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6881. Find him at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson