Monday, 17 December 2018

F Fic, Non-fic

Three Minutes

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Three Minutes corrected pic

by Don Tassone

At Fairmont Grade School, every year in October, coaches of the A and B teams in basketball pick their players for the coming season. There is a sign-up sheet for C team players.

Once again, Bill Collier would be coaching the sixth grade C team. He had just picked up the sign-up sheet for his players. That evening, he got a call from Frank Heatherton, whose son Jimmy had signed up for Bill 's team.

"Hello, Frank. How are you? "

"I 'm good, Bill. I 'm calling about Jimmy. He 's signed up for your basketball team this year. "

"I saw that. I look forward to coaching him. "

"And Jimmy can 't wait to play for you. But there 's something I need to make you aware of. "

"What 's that? "

"Jimmy has a heart condition. "

"I 'm sorry to hear that. Can he still play? "

"Well, that 's the thing. His doctors say he can play sports, but if he does, he shouldn 't exert himself for more than a few minutes at a time. "

"What do you mean, Frank? "

"I mean that Jimmy can play for you, but if you put him in, I 'd like you to take him out after just a few minutes. "

"Are you sure? Are you sure this is safe for him? "

"Yeah, I 'm sure. Jane and I have talked about it, and we 're okay with it—as long as he doesn 't play more than a few minutes at a time. "

"Is Jimmy okay with that? "

"Bill, Jimmy loves basketball. He practices on our driveway all the time. He 's a great shot. But until now, he 's never played on a basketball team. He 's never played any organized sport. When he found out he could sign up for your C team, he was thrilled. He really wants to play, and he understands the only way he can possibly do that is to play for only a few minutes at a time. "

"This is a very unusual situation, Frank. "

Silence.

"And a very unusual request, " Bill added.

"I know it is, Bill, and if you decide it 's not something you can accommodate, I 'll understand. I 'll just tell Jimmy basketball 's not going to work for him this year. "

Bill thought about it for a moment. He knew Jimmy. He was a friend of his son, Joe. He found it hard to imagine putting Jimmy or any player into a game for only a few minutes at a time, but if he wanted to play that bad, Bill didn 't want to stand in his way.

"No, Frank. It 's okay. I 'll find a way to make it work. "

"Thanks, Bill. Oh, there 's one more thing. "

"What 's that? "

"Very few people know about Jimmy 's heart condition. He 's very self-conscious about it. He doesn 't want to be seen as a weakling. Jane and I have told him it 's okay to be different, it 's just the way he 's made. But Jimmy insists on not telling anyone. So we would ask that you not tell anyone about Jimmy 's heart condition. Okay? "

"Sure, Frank. I understand. I won 't say a word. "

"Great. Well, thanks, Bill. I 'll tell Jimmy we 've talked, and you 'll find a way to play him a few minutes at a time. I know he 'll be thrilled. "

"Sounds good, Frank, " Bill said, trying not to sound uncertain. "I look forward to having Jimmy on my team this year. Thanks for your call."

Bill hung up. His head was filled with questions. How can I put Jimmy in for such a short time without disrupting the game? Won 't people wonder what 's wrong with him? What if I keep him in too long and his heart fails?

But Bill knew he had just told Frank yes and that, by now, he was probably telling Jimmy he was going to play basketball this year and that Jimmy was probably whooping and pumping his fist in the air.

He was just going to have to figure out a way to make this work.

~ ~ ~

On the first day of practice, Bill gathered his 15 players together and had them sit on the bleachers.

After brief introductions, so that Bill could begin to put faces with names, he handed out their practice schedule and shared his expectations for the year.

Then he told the boys he was going to try something new this year.

"For all of our games this season," he said, "I 'm going to put each of you in for three minutes at a time. "

The boys stared at him, then looked around at each other.

"What?" one of them asked.

"It 's a new approach," Bill explained. "I have a theory that we can actually play better and score more points if I change players every three minutes."

"You 're kidding," said one of the boys.

"No, I 'm serious. Think about it. If I told you that you 're going into a game for only three minutes, wouldn 't you make the most of those three minutes? Wouldn 't you figure out how you can best get the ball to the basket or best prevent the other team from scoring? That would be your total focus because you would know that in three minutes you 'll be back on the bench. "

The boys grumbled and rolled their eyes.

"I know it sounds like a stretch, guys. But I 'm asking you to try it. If it doesn 't work, we 'll try something else. But I think it 's going to work. Not only that, I think you 're really going to like it. "

~ ~ ~

Just before the first game of the season, Bill sent a note to the parents of his players, telling them about his new system and why he felt it was going to be good for the team and each of the boys. He got calls from a few parents, complaining that their sons wouldn 't see enough playing time. But Bill assured them that every player would actually play a little more than he otherwise would. This helped.

Bill also called the coaches of the other teams to give them a heads-up. None of them liked Bill 's new system, but they all respected Bill and gave him a pass.

In the first game that season, Bill started Jimmy at guard. Less than a minute into the game, Jimmy scored the team 's first points. He was ecstatic. Two minutes later, Bill took Jimmy and his other four players out, and another five boys took their place. At first, swapping players this way was awkward and disruptive, but by the second half, both Bill 's team and the opposing team had grown used to it.

And it worked well for Bill 's team. They ended up winning that game by 19 points. What Bill had predicted came true: each of his players, knowing he would be in for only three minutes at a time, made the most of those three minutes. Each of them played up, and as a result, the whole team played up too.

Bill 's team finished with an 18-2 record, first in the league. It was the best performance of any team Bill had ever coached.

Everyone was happy but most of all Jimmy, who was the team 's leading scorer and the player Bill selected as MVP.


Don Tassone 's stories and essays have appeared in a range of literary magazines. His debut short story collection, Get Back, was published in March 2017. His debut novel, Drive, was published in September 2017. His short story "Street Ball and Joe 's Red Bike" was selected for TWJ Magazine 's "Best of 2016" award. He lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

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