I'm not superstitious--but my point guard wishes I was

I'm not superstitious.

I know, I know, I'm a Catholic, which for some of my friends amounts to the greatest superstition of all. That's OK; y'all can laugh now, but 100 years from now, I'll be sitting on a cloud, hanging with Albert Einstein and Dusty Springfield, while you guys will be trying to climb over Jimmy Swaggart and Donald Rumsfeld to keep the flames from licking at your butts. Or so my faith teaches me.

Outside the realm of religion, I'm not superstitious. I don't knock on wood; I've never thrown salt over my shoulder; I've walked under ladders, and all I care about black cats is that they taste good with barbecue sauce.

I'm just kidding about that last thing. Barbecue sauce doesn't help at all.

I'm so un-superstitious that I always wore No. 13 in every sport I ever played in high school and college. I had coaches who would ask me why I dared to wear that number.

I'd always tell them, "C'mon, Coach, it's bad luck to be superstitious." I was a delightful young man.

I've even tried to be superstitious, but to no avail. It's just stupid. Wearing the same socks during a winning streak doesn't increase my chances of winning again. It only increases my chances of getting athlete's foot again. And no thank you, I've had that once, and that was plenty.

And so it was that the team I coach had a game at Tohono O'odham High in the village of Topawa. The school is shockingly remote. Those of you who go to Rocky Point have undoubtedly passed by the school, which is on Highway 86, two hours west of Tucson, just this side of Why, where one turns south to head for the Mexican border.

Kids are always getting sick this time of year, and teammates are more likely to get each other sick than are soulmates. We only have 12 kids in the entire girls' basketball program, so one bad cold at the wrong time can be devastating to a season. A few kids were getting over being sick, so, by mutual agreement, I left them in Tucson so they wouldn't be coughing on other people in a closed bus for five hours.

As the game progressed, we built a pretty substantial lead, and the atmosphere in the gym wasn't the best. Since we only play man-to-man defense, the game was getting a little bit rough as people had to fight through screens.

I only had three subs that night, and they all played a lot. Heading into the fourth quarter, I put my starters back in so the subs could get a rest. I'm not exactly the most profound coach in between quarters when my team has a big lead--or at any other time, for that matter. I either joke around or tell certain individuals to make minor adjustments in one part of their game or another.

At this time, I just gathered my starters together and said, "All right, let's just go play hard, and try not to get hurt."

My daughter, Darlene, who was home from Cornell at the time and was helping me coach, pinched my arm and said, "What's wrong with you?! You're never supposed to talk about getting hurt!"

I said, "Excuse me, you're an Ivy League student and should know better. Superstition is for morons and Red Sox fans."

She pointed out that she is a Red Sox fan, but because I love her so dearly, I left the inevitable punch line hanging. I also reminded her of an undefeated freshman girls' team I had coached at Amphi a few years ago. The team had only seven members (it was right after Brandi Chastain had stripped to her sports bra in the Women's World Cup, and all the freshman girls wanted to play soccer that year); of the seven, maybe four were athletes, and only two were actual basketball players. But they simply refused to lose.

Just about every time we'd start a game, I'd tell the starters, "Please don't get hurt. Look who we have sitting on the bench."

Darlene gave me that look like she was hoping that heredity didn't apply to all facets of life, and we sat down.

Not 10 seconds into the quarter, my point guard, Nora, stepped on somebody's foot and severely sprained her ankle. Those of you unfortunate enough to have experienced that particular injury know how painful it can be. I've been shot, and that didn't hurt as much as spraining my ankle.

So, I walked out onto the court to look after Nora and to keep from having to make eye contact with Darlene, who was probably doing her impression of Cyclops from the X-Men and burning a hole in my back.

We play T.O. High again tomorrow night at our place. I plan on wearing the exact same clothing--from socks to tie--as I did that night. If she's up to it, I'll even put Nora in to start the fourth quarter.

Darlene just called from Ithaca. She told me that I shouldn't be telling you this story.

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