85: The Air Ball Queen

85: The Air Ball Queen

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

The Air Ball Queen

Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.

~Rabindranath Tagore

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. 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 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 that bounced each morning when she ran to me and wrapped 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 on her face. She shot. Air ball. She scrunched up her face in concentration and shot again. Air ball. 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 the net.

Not a single one.

Back in the classroom, after the conclusion of the reading program finale, we gathered at the carpet to talk about all the fun we had.

My tiny air baller 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 waited, scripting in my mind words of encouragement or some sage advice about perseverance or something, anything to ease the sting of all those air balls.

She continued with her arms flapping 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 precious face.

How silly I was for thinking I needed to provide 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, so unwilling to try lest I fail, or, worse yet, fail in public.

The next time I’m facing a new challenge, I’m going to remember her face, scrunched up in concentration. I’m going to remember her candor in admitting she was nervous. 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 little air ball queen was a winner.

~Alicia McCauley

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