A five foot three basketball player, that was Jean. At 14 years of age she was the youngest and shortest member of her high school team. The first game of the new year was the toughest on the schedule. Del Monte High had slautered Apollonia last year by a score of 100 to 0, and all of the same players for both teams, with the exception of Jean, were back this year. Jean, with her gold-brown hair, wide blue eyes and sturdy chin, was determined to make a difference. Besides, she loved shooting baskets.
Two months before the season opener Jean began practicing her shot. For an hour each morning before the school bus came along, for an hour after the school practice, and for two hours each weekend day, she shot at the regulation height basket behind her house. Over and over, over and over, practice, practice, practice. She told no one and kept it a secret, except from her mother, of course, who often stood at the kitchen window, watching with a thoughtful wonder. For Jean there was no trace of wonder. Many times, usually late at night, when he though he was alone, Jean had heard her father say, “If you really want something you’ve got to persevere until you get it.”
The day before the game Jean tripped at school practice and sprained an ankle. Luckily, it was right at the end of practice and she was able to hide the limp, despite the severe pain. She sat on a bench and waited till the other girls and the coach had left the gym, before hobbling off, taking extra time at her locker. Jean was very worried, but she kept telling herself to persevere, not to let anything stop her. One good thing, she knew that she probably wouldn’t be allowed into the game until the last quarter, and by then her ankle might be okay; well, at least good enough.
Game day came and the ankle was no better, but Jean gritted it out in the shoot-around before the game.
The Del Monte players were all four to six inches taller than the Apollonian squad, and oh, did they look confident! Word was going around that they intended to best last year’s score.
The ball was tipped; the game began.
Oh, the blocked shots, the steals, the breakaway runs down the court, the easy, open shots, the uncontested lay-ups! Jean knew it was time to get to work. She stood up from her place at the far end of the bench and, as steadily as possible, walked up to where Miss Markel, the coach, was sitting and sat down beside her. Jean said, “Miss Markel, don’t you think you should put me in now? After all, I can’t hurt the score.”
Miss Markel, not really paying Jean any attention, replied, “Oh, I would, Jan, but you would be swallowed up out there.” Jean said nothing then, but every two minutes she asked again, each time more loudly and more imperatively than before.
The score was 98 to zero, with but two minutes to play when Miss Markel, becoming a little cross with Jean’s ever louder persistence, said, “Okay, get out there, Jan! It won’t make a bit of difference!” Jean half-limped out on to the court with a brilliant light in her eyes. When Miss Markel saw the limp she could only raise her brows and think, “Oh, well, it IS a funeral.”
Apollonia had the ball. A bounce-pass to the left, a dribble, a pass back outside. Jean was standing alone in the corner. Yes, she was spotted; the ball came her way; it was in her hands! The five-foot eleven defender was almost laughing as she ran over with long arms outstretched. Jean paid her no attention, just looked at the rim twenty-five feet away. Then she lifted the ball to her shoulder, turned slightly to her right, and somewhat like a shot-putter spun and launched the ball almost straight into the air! It sailed above the outstretched hands of the shocked defender; it slanted up for nearly thirty feet, then slanted back down, down past the lights, down through the open air, and down—swish!—through the net!
Then there was a wild cheer that hadn’t been heard in Apollonia’s gym before! Even the parents of the Del Monte players stood up and applauded. The Del Monte players themselves were stunned, and in the last minute of play were unable to score another basket. The final score was Del Monte 98, Apollonia 2.
Many hugs and kisses (even a dry peck from Miss Markel) came Jean’s way, and she was glad of them, but she was prouder than anything of that 2 on the scoreboard. She also knew that before the night was through she would be saying, “Thank you, Daddy.”