By: Emma Krupp
Ironically, the love that I would come to have for basketball began with a feeling of discomfort and uncertainty. Walking into the GCMS gym in November of 2012 one thing was for sure: I did not belong in the gym. I had never picked up a basketball in my life, I didn’t own any other sneakers besides my pink and white Asics that I played tennis in, and I was one of two girls from Jefferson Elementary School in the gym. More than anything, I felt alone and far out of my comfort zone. When the results came out a week later and I saw my name on the list, I was speechless. Just about the only thing I had going for me was the fact I was at least four inches taller than any of the other girls in the gym.
Eight years later, I bit my lip on the court as the final seconds ticked away on the clock in Fort Lee, New Jersey. When the buzzer sounded, I ran back to the bench and stepped off the court. I lined up, slapped hands with the other team, and whispered “good game” for the last time. Looking over at my teammates, their eyes watery with tears, all of the emotions I had been suppressing for the past week came to the surface. I realized my speechlessness was not because we had lost the game, but rather because it was all over. In thirty seconds I had lost a little part of myself, the family I had been accepted into, and a game that made me feel alive. Yet along the way, I had found my sense of belonging.
So what exactly changed over the course of eight years? How exactly did I go from calling a group of strangers my family and how did a sport that I knew nothing about become part of my identity? I would be lying if I said that my experience was picture perfect. As anyone who has talked to me on a given day of the season knows, my relationship with basketball could be bipolar at times. But simply as we do not generalize our entire lives based off of one bad day, I cannot do the same for basketball. The sport, with the objective of putting a ball through a hoop, taught me more in eight years than I will ever be able to give back to it, and I am going to miss many aspects of it.
The first thing that I am saying goodbye to is always seeing a familiar face. When I decided to start playing basketball competitively out of a club in Morristown with a fair reputation, I had no idea I would end up playing there until my junior year of high school. AAU (Amateaur Atheltic Union) is intimidating; there are no “weak” players on the team, and most weekends you can be found traveling to tournaments all over the East Coast. Every year when tryouts would come along in both the spring and the fall, I would drag my feet into the gym. At the time I felt miserable having to meet new people and I dreaded the feeling of not being able to catch my breath after scrimmaging for over an hour. If there is one thing I saw by my senior year, however, is that AAU introduced me to so many new girls I never would have met otherwise. It’s a running joke on the school team that almost every game we play, I know someone on the other team because of AAU. Even if it’s someone I haven’t seen in years, my AAU connections always lead to a wave before the game, tough competition during, and a good catch up talk after. Meeting girls across the state means that I have connections I never would have had before. AAU has introduced me to some of my closest friends because we were all bonded by the same thing: sweat, bear crawls, and our dedication to the game.
I’m also saying goodbye to the only real form of structure that I had in my life. From seventh grade to junior year, I was playing basketball for about 10 out of 12 months of the year thanks to the school, AAU, and summer leagues/camps. Basketball meant that from a young age, I had to learn to manage my time and figure out how to get things done. This meant getting my homework done as soon as school ended, so once practice ended later at night, I wouldn’t be struggling to keep my eyes open. This was especially important when I was commuting 40 minutes to play on my club team. I am also very fortunate that I had two parents who always put the emphasis that school came before sports. They motivated me to study hard and finish my assignments so I could use basketball as an outlet for any stress I felt during the day. Looking forward to college in the fall, this is how I know I will be joining either an intramural or club basketball team on campus; I’ve never been able to excel academically without a sport to keep me balanced.
Graduating from the Caldwell Basketball program also means that I am leaving behind girls that I grew up with. We have all come a long way from being the strangers that occupied the GCMS gym in 2012. Since starting in fifth grade, I’ve had nine different coaches and these girls have been with me for every one of them. We’ve been through victories, we’ve been through defeats. We’ve been through sprints, “11-man-drills,” countless laps around the school, and the infamous layers drill. Yet as it is probably recognizable to anyone who goes to JCHS, each of the five seniors roll with a different crowd in the hallway. The beauty of basketball, which I came to appreciate this year, is that we didn’t need to be best friends or in the same friend group to be a successful team. Any time we stepped into the gym, it would just click that we were teammates and we needed to have each other’s backs more than anything. I feel fortunate that I was surrounded by girls who could immediately tell when I was having a bad day, and they would try to pick me back up. This is my thank you to them: Carli, Makenna, Gabby, Kat, Jamie, Brielle, Jojo, Natalie, Casey, Lauren, and Cassidy. Especially to the seniors, who I have been with since the beginning. While my heart still breaks a little thinking about our final game, also the day of the first reported case of Covid-19 in New Jersey, I cannot reflect on my time at JCHS without remembering all the fantastic memories we did have.
Basketball was never supposed to be a part of my life. I took a chance on a sport eight years ago and now I can confidently say that it has had the greatest impact on my high school career. My senior year would not be the same if not for the endless support of my parents, my friends who came to every single home game this year, Zoe Vandergast, who hit the notes of the national anthem perfectly before tip off, and once again my teammates. Although my own Dad might not believe it, I am very sad to be closing this chapter in my life. However, I am confident that the characteristics and lessons basketball has taught me over the years will remain with me as I continue on to college. Thank you Caldwell Girls Basketball!