My hometown thinks the movie Hoosiers is about them.
If you’re unfamiliar with the movie (a classic, in my opinion), it’s the story of a small Indiana town and their high school basketball team. There’s a new coach, a lot of expectations to WIN, and all kinds of stories of redemption going on in that movie. After a tough season, the team makes it to state, where in my favorite scene of the movie, the coaches talk to the boys on the team about how the big, fancy stadium is the same as the small court at home. And they measure the floor just to prove it.
My hometown isn’t in Indiana; it’s in Missouri, but that fact is a little lost on my home town. Quite simply put, Bernie loves basketball. The whole town can be either united behind the high school team or completely divided over the coaching and level of play (sometimes both in the same season), but one thing is clear: everyone has an opinion and everyone cares. Just to prove the point about my hometown’s love of basketball, think about this: a few weeks ago, when Bernie was playing in a town up north (regional play, I think) there was a wreck south of town. And no one was in town to come to the rescue. They had to call the ambulance from the town 8 miles north!
I’ve been going to Bernie basketball games since I before I was actually in school. I used to sit behind the cheerleaders and learn all the cheers. I also used to use the old wooden bleachers as a desk, sitting on the slat for your feet and sticking your legs underneath the seat in front of you so that it formed a tabletop. Eventually, I became one of those cheerleaders, a girl who loved hometown basketball and may have yelled at the refs as a cheerleader.
“Going to state” is a big deal in my hometown in any sport or discipline, but especially in basketball. And it’s a feat that’s only happened 3 times in the school’s history. There was a team that went in the 1960s and the banner is still proudly displayed in the high school gym, even though some of the players, sadly, have now passed away. It happened in 1989 when I was in fifth grade, and we came home with second place in 2A MO state basketball.
And it happened this weekend. The 2010 Bernie Mules won their game in sectional play (I guess that’s what it’s called) in Poplar Bluff (at Poplar Bluff High School on a court named for hometown hero Tyler Hansbrough) and are headed to Columbia, Mo., later this week to play for a state title. They’ll play in the Hearnes Center and I wonder if their coaches will measure the floor.
I went to the game on Saturday, cheering and wearing blue (a shirt bought for me expressly to wear for that game), though I don’t know most of the players anymore. And as I looked at that bench when it became clear they were going to win, I couldn’t help but smile. I saw Brad, the head coach and a guy who was in my class in school, smiling from ear to ear, proud of his team, proud that he’d coached a team to a state championship (something he never got to experience as a player), and undoubtedly, remembering his dad who had played on that 1960 team, had ignited Brad’s passion for basketball, and passed away when we were in junior high. I watched Brad go down that bench, hugging his players, and tears unexpectedly welled up in my eyes.What a joy it is to see someone else’s dream come true! That’s a weird thing to say, I guess, but it’s true.
So Bernie plays at noon on Thursday in Columbia. You can bet most of Bernie will be there. School’s already been canceled. My brother has promised to text me scores.
You can take the girl out of the town, but some things remain.
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