Beyond Average

by Lauren Ingram

Besides school, I had always been average. I had never been the slowest runner in gym, but I never got picked to run in a foot race either. I never had behavioral problems in school or church, but teachers barely remembered my name because they never had to punish me or actually praise me for being exceptional. In dance class, I was never put in the back row, but I was never put in the front of the class to demonstrate how extraordinary I was either. At one point, it was even worse when I was simply referred to as "Suzie's good friend" or "Gerald's sister" and "Dr. Seuss' daughter."

So naturally, in third grade, when all of my friends became interested in basketball, I begged my mom to take me to the mall and buy matching sweatbands and shoes to go with our school colors. I wasn't the best, but if the coach needed a fifth player who wouldn't make the the team worse, I was his girl. I could memorize all the plays, and I knew that if the ball ever came my way the right thing to do would be to pass the ball right away to someone who could handle it.

By the end of elementary school, I had become an expert at getting the ball and automatically passing it to the best player on the team. All my coaches knew I was reliable and good at my position. I wasn't the best player on the team, but my coaches didn't cringe every time I got in the game, and other parents didn't have to make up something polite to say around my parents just because they didn't want to tell them the truth. Yet at the same time, the opposing team wasn't trying to double team me or getting worried every time I had the ball because I could score.

I moved on to sixth grade at this middle school where so many different types of kids came together. I had a feeling that basketball was going to be more competitive, so by then I had quit dance and fueled all of my spare time into basketball and school. I got to be a starter but was disappointed at the same time. I thought I had improved, but I was doing the same thing I did in elementary school. I was reliable and the coaches never pulled me to the side to give me tips on how to improve.

We won the citywide championship that year, turning our public magnet school with a major emphasis on academics into a force to be reckoned with. Our coach that year was also the varsity basketball coach, and all of us starters had made a pact that we would stay together for high school, so we could all play on the team together. After sixth grade, my best friend moved away, leaving me without a best friend and our basketball team without a star player whom everyone could rely on, more or less, just me.

By the tenth grade year, all of the original starters from sixth grade had either left the school because they couldn't take the rigorous program, or they moved away, or they just became uninterested. Every year I'd had to take on more responsibilities as my skills improved.

The team had dwindled down to five players due to injuries and disinterest. We couldn't have a team with only five players, so unless we wanted to disband the team for the rest of the season, we had to do some major recruiting. Coach set all of us down and told us that someone had to step up and get the team together. I never thought it would be me.

I recruited two more girls to play whom I knew were athletic and upped our roster to seven girls. A lot of the girls were discouraged when we had our first game, and it got worse as the season continued. I think our attitudes were even worse than our record. Most of the girls didn't care because we had an excuse—we only have seven players—and the others simply didn't care.

Over winter break, I spent days contemplating whether I should quit because I didn't want to be part of it. I wasn't, until I had a talk with my coach and he told me that the only thing missing from our team was a leader, somebody on the team who knew who to get everybody focused.

When we returned from break, I was a different person. Before a game, I didn't crack jokes along with the rest of the team, and when I started playing better, the others began to follow my lead. I quieted the team and started practice on the days that coach was late. My stats started to improve because the team started looking for me for advice on plays and drills. I spent more time working on my ball handling, so the team could have a consistent point guard.

Coach started to witness the change of attitudes of the team, and we started to win. He also noticed how easily I had stepped up to play point guard. After our third win in a row, he named me captain of the team. When I discussed it my friend who had moved, she didn't believe it all. How had I gone from the girl who didn't trust herself to dribble the ball, to the girl who wanted to be the only one dribbling the ball.

Lauren Ingram is a rising senior at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy. She is the daughter of Dr. Michael and Lisa Ingram. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and playing basketball.  Her future plans include attending college and becoming a corporate attorney.

Photo assistance by Håkan Dahlström.

© Lauren Ingram, 2011