37: Wrong Way Reuscher

37: Wrong Way Reuscher

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Wrong Way Reuscher

Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.

~Author Unknown

One of my earliest recollections of how proud I was to be Conrad Reuscher’s son was when I realized that he was responsible for creating the Cavalier basketball program in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania. I was born in 1965 and a year later he formed a basketball program for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade boys from all three local Catholic grade schools. It served as a feeder program for the Catholic high school. He created a very successful program. Thinking back on what he accomplished with a shoestring budget and limited talent was incredible.

Dad made his teams successful through hard work and discipline. I can remember when he would take his teams to play in Erie, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and against a bunch of other teams he had no right challenging and yet they won or came close trying. The highlight of the season was the Thanksgiving Tournament held at the high school, Elk County Christian. Crowds packed the place to watch an eighth-grade basketball tournament, heady stuff for a little boy. I always remember saying to myself, “That’s my dad.”

One of the happiest and saddest periods of my childhood occurred in a span of two years. The happiest was when my father took over as head coach of the Elk County Christian Crusaders, the Catholic high school team. I remember sitting on the floor of the living room, with Dad lying on the couch, on a Saturday afternoon with the announcers describing the action from the night before. I thought it was so cool to sit and listen to the game and ask Dad questions on strategy and why he subbed this guy and why he did that or why he didn’t take a timeout. To his credit, he would answer my questions patiently and honestly.

The saddest time was when he got fired. I’ll never forget when he came home and told me he wasn’t going to coach the Crusaders anymore. I was sitting at a card table working on a puzzle and Mom had already informed me of what had happened. Dad came in behind me and told me the news and I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. To his credit, he placed his hand on my shoulder and gently started squeezing and said, “It’ll be alright Eric. This won’t be the worst thing that happens to me in my life.”

But a dream of mine died that day. It’s a dream that every little boy has, playing for his Dad. I joined the Cavaliers in third grade and didn’t want or expect to receive special treatment because of who my father was. I tried hard, but I wasn’t very tall or talented enough to crack the starting line-up or second string. I was a pine rider. As I progressed to eighth grade, I had formed a tight bond with my two teammates, Dino and Rodney, because we were the last three players to be put in the game. We called ourselves the Bomb Squad. People knew the game was well in hand when the three of us took off our warm-ups and walked to the scorers table.

Three years after my dad was fired as the head coach at ECCHS, when I was in eighth grade, he came to see me play. Although he taught history at the high school, to my knowledge this was the first time he had been back in the gym. It was the final game of the Thanksgiving Tournament. Our toughest game had come the night before when we had won by two points. Our opponent in the championship game wasn’t going to give us much of a challenge. Dad was a good friend of the head coach, Pete, and Pete had mentioned that we had a very good chance to win and that Dad might like to be there to see the first team in Cavalier history win the prestigious Thanksgiving Tournament.

We fired on all pistons and by halftime we were comfortably ahead. I remember seeing Dad come into the gym right before the half and I watched him as he took his seat at the top of the bleachers. The place was packed and people seemed to move so Dad could walk, reminding me of Moses parting the Red Sea. With four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, we were well ahead. Coach Winklebauer barked, “Bomb Squad, get ready.” I remember sitting at the scorers table getting ready to check in and how excited I was that my father was there.

There was a timeout and I don’t remember a thing that Pete said. We ran an in-bounds play right at center court. I faked left and broke right. The ball was thrown to me and I remember being all alone. I drove hard to the hoop on cloud nine and I remember thinking, “It can’t be this easy. I am all by myself.” I was pumped and thought for a split second I could dunk, but I decided not to risk it and laid in a beautiful left-handed layup. “Dad’s going to be so proud. I can’t believe I broke free so easily.”

As I turned to head up court the whole gym was laughing. Pete had his hand over his eyes and when I got to half-court it dawned on me — I scored at the wrong basket! I immediately looked at my dad and he was smiling. I pleaded with my eyes for Coach Winklebauer to pull me out of the game, but he didn’t. The last three minutes lasted an eternity.

After the game, my teammates were very understanding, as eighth grade boys can be.

“Hey wrong-way Reuscher, I bet your old man is proud of you tonight!” All I could do was sit in my locker and take the ribbing, but I was on the verge of either fighting or crying. I waited until everyone had left and then I stood in the shower all alone thinking, “How could I have embarrassed my dad like this? We are the first Cavalier team to win this tournament, and his son scores at the wrong basket.” I was devastated.

I finally dressed and slowly descended the stairs that led to the gym. When I opened the doors the only light was from the red and white exit signs at the far end of the court. Dad sat on the bleachers at center court. I walked up to him with tears in my eyes and as I was about to speak, he said, “That was the finest left-handed layup I’ve ever seen.”

In a moment he wiped away all the shame I was feeling. He put his arm around my shoulders and we walked out of the gym with my head held high.

~Eric T. Reuscher

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