B y T o m D a n e h y
I SAW MARJI Helser the other day and she's doing okay. Thanks for asking.
This is the first winter in years she's not playing basketball. She's coping, but she's not thrilled. And she's facing the prospect of never playing again, all because of a dumb little accident.
I spend my summers coaching softball and refereeing high school summer-league basketball games. You know what they say about one man's heaven being another's hell. Hey, there's nothing like being in a sweat-filled gym when it's 100 degrees outside and a good two or three degrees cooler inside. It's more fun than eating someone else's socks, if ever so slightly.
Hundreds of kids roll through the gym during the summer. Most are good kids just trying to play some ball. A few are jerks, but on the other end of the spectrum, every now and then there's a really cool one who stands out because of their personality or the way they play.
Marji was on the good end of the spectrum. Nice kid, good ballplayer, big smile, bizarre sense of humor. Real name Marjorie, sort of outdated, but she was named for her grandmother. Could've been worse; Grandma could've been named Gladys.
She and her friends used to bring us chocolate chip cookies, endearing themselves forever to me and the other refs. It's only a coincidence that she and her teammates went to the free-throw line three times more often than any other team.
She played for Sahuaro, a perennial local powerhouse in boys and girls basketball. She was tall and slim, close to six feet. Ran the floor, nice soft shot, tough on the boards.
A lot of the guys would stick around to watch her games, not so much to watch Marji play, but just to watch Marji. Several of the players on the Salpointe team had a serious case of the warm tremblies.
She had a good senior season at Sahuaro and was giving serious consideration to playing at the collegiate level. She wasn't a Division I prospect, but she had offers from junior colleges and certainly could have played at a smaller four-year school.
Margie Torres, women's basketball coach at Cochise College in Douglas, would have loved to have had Helser on her team.
"I saw her play a couple times and she did a lot of things well. She's a smart player, has good size, and plays hard." Torres pauses, then adds, "Maybe she'll be able to play again some day."
Maybe, but not likely. Last spring, Sahuaro was holding its annual senior picnic on campus. Marji and some of her friends were playing with an earth ball, throwing it back and forth.
I must interject here that I've never liked those things. It's hippie nonsense. Who wants to play a game with a ball where there's no winner? That's inherently evil. Earth ball, indeed.
Anyway, somehow she ended up sitting on top of the earth ball, which is as good a use for it as any. She was fine until she decided to get down. She stood up just a bit to get her balance when someone came up from behind, pushed the ball and sent her flying.
She landed funny on her left side and arm and almost immediately noticed the swelling in her left elbow.
"It hurt so much, " she recalls, "but mostly, I was amazed at how fast it was swelling up. You could actually see it getting bigger. It was huge."
Her arm was broken right at the elbow. She underwent surgery the next day. The bone was set and two pins were placed in her arm to stabilize it. Her arm was then placed in a cast that stretched from wrist to armpit.
Her friends were all really supportive. I told her she had to look on the bright side. One good thing about having one arm completely immobilized is that when it comes time to go to the bathroom, you find out who your real friends are.
The next week she had to go to the senior prom. Fortunately she had a sleeveless gown and lots of pain killers.
She went to the prom with her long-time honey, Ike. You gotta see this guy. He looks like the poster child for ROTC. Flat-top hair, square jaw. He could pass for the son of Sgt. Carter on Gomer Pyle.
She says she had a good time at the dance, for which she is eternally indebted to those wonderful folks at the pharmaceutical company.
But within a couple weeks, she noticed severe pain in the arm. She went back to the doctor, who X-rayed it through the cast and spotted the problem. The pins had come loose and the bone had separated. Still, the doctor decided to leave things as is, claiming that the bone would grow back together on its own and that there was no need to go back in and fix things.
When the cast came off and the pins came out, she knew immediately that something was wrong. At first she had trouble bending it and she couldn't straighten it all the way. Now, six months later, she can bend it, but it makes a creaking noise as she does so. She still can't straighten it. The best she can muster is about a 150 degree angle.
And she can't play ball. She tried shooting around, but it was no good. (If you ever saw her shooting technique before the accident, you'd know she needs at least two good arms.)
A scholarship at Pima went to another girl. So Marji enrolled at the UA and is doing well in her studies. She wants to get into physical therapy or maybe athletic training.
She has an idea why the doctor didn't go back in and fix things, but she doesn't want to discuss it. (Actually, she told me because, hey, I'm Tom; but she doesn't want me to discuss it.)
She's thinking of trying to have it surgically repaired, but there is no guarantee it can be fixed all the way. Maybe she could go in the military. She's be able to salute faster than everybody else, because she's always half way there.
She's doing okay, but she misses playing. The least we can do is learn something from this mishap. And that is: Basketball good, earth ball bad. Very bad.
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth