Parents are the reason bleachers exist, not that they use them

By Randal Walton — rwalton@unca.edu — Sports Editor

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Parents usually encourage their children to play a sport in their youth to build “people skills.” Normally, parents know their place is on the sidelines and the bench.  Yet, some parents like to root on their children from center court.

My sister, Brianna, played sports her entire life. She played so many I can’t remember them all. But I always believed that out of all the sports she played, she gave her heart to basketball. As a child, she always threw things around the house, pretending the trash can was a basketball hoop. She got into basketball last, during middle and high school. I remember the look on my dad’s face when she told him she was trying out for the basketball team. I could tell he was trying to keep his face from spreading into a large grin. He succeeded in keeping his face composed, if only slightly.

Usually, I never went any of my sister’s games with my father. One time, my father insisted that I go in order to practice driving so I could pass my upcoming driving test. I assumed my subconscious kept me from attending any of Brianna’s games with my father because it anticipated foolishness on the part of my father. Let’s just say that my subconscious never tells me lies.

This game, a road game, took place at a high school that prided itself on that fact that most of its student body was richer than most of the other schools in Charlotte. I always despised this school because of its pretentious attitude.

My father practically bounced as he walked to the bleachers like we were getting ready to watch Lebron James and Kobe Bryant instead of a couple high school adolescents. He sat a couple of rows from the actual court; I suspected he didn’t want to show his eagerness. He started conversations with some parents he recognized, introducing me with a large grin on his face.  In every conversation he introduced me as “his oldest daughter who was going to UNC Asheville in the fall.” My heart tinged with a bit of pride, but I still gave a shy, embarrassed smile — I don’t like people to brag about me.

All of the conversation ended once the game started. About five minutes into it, I promoted my subconscious to genius status. My dad inched his way down a bleacher towards the court, yelling the entire way.

“Get your girl!” he yelled. “Get your girl! Don’t let her get by you!”

At this moment, I remember a look my mother gave me before I left the house to go to this game. She raised an eyebrow and glanced purposefully at my dad. Now, I understood what she meant: You don’t even know what you’re getting into.

Two voices blended in with each other, commanding my sister and her teammates: the coach’s and my father’s. Only one voice was supposed to yell commands. Only one voice got paid for that specific action.

My dad kept yelling, turning his attention to my sister.

“You got to keep up Brianna, get down court!” he said.

Although I’m sure my sister heard him, she never turned her head. I think she believed if she didn’t turn her head, no one would know she was the Brianna he screamed at, since they only had their last names on the backs of their jerseys.

While she had the luxury of pretending she didn’t know him, I sat in the stands trying to distance myself from my wannabe-coach father. I slid farther away from him, thinking that some physical distance could alleviate the pressure of the eyes I could feel drilling into the back of my head. Then, I felt someone tap my shoulder. I turned around to see a very pretty middle-aged woman. She looked like Kerry Washington and had some pretty amazing hair – it was probably a weave, but it still looked good.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Is that your father?”

“Uh…” I didn’t know what to say. I had two options: 1) to claim him as my father, therefore my distancing would amount to nothing, or 2) tell her that he was just a family friend I drove here to support his daughter. Then I remembered that my father already introduced me to half the audience as his oldest daughter, so that effectively eliminated option two.

“Yes,” I said, sighing. “Yes, it is.”

“Oh, OK,” she said. “I was just wondering.”

I turned back around, my eyes widening in horror. While I remained busy confirming my relationship to him and trying to hide my embarrassment, my father drifted off the bleachers and onto the actual court. Although he stayed behind the line that denoted out of bounds and closer to the bleachers, he still removed himself from the “I’m a supportive parent” category and into the “I’m that parent. No wait, I’m the coach” fiasco.

I hung my head and watched the game through my fingers for the rest of the game. I felt worse for Brianna than I did for myself. She probably had to deal with this every game and I was just getting a taste of what she put up with every week.

After the game, we met my sister outside the gymnasium and she gave me the exact same look that my mother gave me.

“Did you hear him?” she asked me.

“How could you not?” I replied.

“Now you see what I have to deal with,” she said.

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

For an hour or so, my dad thought he was Coach K., leading Michael Jordan to another record breaking championship. In reality, he was just a normal parent cheering on a normal child. She didn’t play basketball to make it to the WNBA or the Olympics, but just because she loved the game. Shouldn’t that be the reason we cheer?

Needless to say, my sister quit playing basketball a year later. Although she said her reasons stemmed from her teammates and coaches, which I believe, I also think she got tired of my father yelling at her and her teammates the entire game. I think the embarrassment just got to heavy to handle. And, to be honest, I don’t blame her.

See, I love my dad, I really do. But that just ain’t right.

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