Member Monday: The Airball Queen by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature an essay by Alicia McCauley. Alicia is a teacher, a writer and the President of Vigilante Kindness. Her essay, The Airball Queen, was recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible. Welcome, Alicia.

The Airball Queen

by Alicia McCauley

Friday afternoon was our school-wide reading program finale in the gymnasium.  The finale was a series of races and games.  There were jump rope relays, basketball relays, soccer relays, minute to win it games, hula hoop contests, scoot board races and a host of other challenges for my first graders to participate in.   There were times when I was doubled over, laughing so hard that I was crying because of balls escaping, jump ropes tangling, and all my first graders clapping and cheering each other on with abandon.

One of the harder games was a basketball shooting game.  Each kid stood at a line taped in the middle of the key and shot five baskets.  This was a supremely hard task for first graders.  That basket might as well have been in the clouds.  One of my darling little girls-a teeny, tiny breath of a kid-was chosen for this game.  

She was an adorable kid with curls of hair that bounced each morning when she would run to me and wrap her arms around my leg in a hug.  When she got excited about something, her blue eyes opened wide and she flapped her arms.  I’d seen her do this when reading her favorite books, when mastering particularly difficult math problems, when playing at recess and especially when she painted.

She stood at the line, basketball in hand, with a serious expression screwed on her face.  She shot.  Airball.  She scrunched up her face in concentration and shot again.  Airball.  Her third and fourth shots arched through the air and again fell short.  

I bet you’re thinking this is one of those stories where she made the fifth and final shot and ran a victory lap around the gymnasium filled with kids who chanted her name and hoisted her up on their shoulders.

It isn’t that kind of story.

Not one of her five shots even came close to grazing the net.  

Not a single one.

Back in the classroom after the conclusion of the reading program finale, we’d gathered at the carpet to talk about all the fun we had competing and cheering each other on.

My tiny airballer raised her hand to share, “Mrs. McCauley, I was nervous about that basketball game because I’d never played it before.”

She paused and I’d waited, scripting in my mind words of encouragement or some sage advice about perseverance or something, anything to ease the sting of all those airballs.

She continued, the pitch of her voice rose to an exuberant squeal, her arms flapped in wild excitement, “I was nervous at first, but then I played the game and I was AWESOME at it!!!”

Wait, what?  

She explained, “I’d never thrown a ball that high before.  I threw it really high five times.”  She held up five proud fingers. 

My face broke into a huge grin, mirroring the smile on her own precious face.

How silly I was for thinking I needed to pepper her with my “sage advice”.  As is so often the case, I found myself marveling at the unconventional wisdom of my students. 

I can be so hard on myself when it comes to trying new things, so fearful and bound in nerves, so unwilling to try lest I fail, or, worse yet, lest I fail in public.

The next time I’m facing a new challenge, I’m going to remember her face, scrunched up by every ounce of concentration.  I’m going to remember her candor in admitting she was nervous and afraid.  But most of all I’m going to remember her wild, flapping arms and the triumph on her face for throwing the basketball higher than she ever had before.

She didn’t make any baskets that day, and for that I’m grateful because if she had, I would’ve missed the lesson.  She didn’t score any points, but one thing is for sure, my itty-bitty airball queen was a winner.

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