Many times after walking into Golden Gymnasium, the screeching of basketball shoes against the hard- wood floor are the first thing you hear, then the aroma of hard-work smacks your nose by the time you reach the ledge to look down on the court.
But, every Tuesday and Thursday at approximately noon, when you peer over that ledge, you’ll find an arguably unpleasant surprise—shirts versus skins.
Faculty and staff from all around campus gravitate toward one-third of the gym floor for some good ol’ fashioned pickup basketball. It’s a faculty meeting of sorts: The head officer of campus Public Safety, professors of Kinesiology and Education departments, alumni, pastors, the Athletic Facilities staff and even PLNU’s Provost, Kerry Fulcher, is out there getting warm-up shots in his retro Air Jordans.
It’s penciled into their schedules every week, and everyone, including the avid onlookers, notice when you miss a game.
The banners of championship caliber teams hang in the rafters. The Sea Lion Hall of Fame banners wrap around the gym with names, decades and accolades that do not pertain to any of the men playing noon ball. But, once the game starts, those days, when they were all in their prime, don’t seem so far way.
They come prepared with a duffle bag packed with a t-shirt (if necessary) and tennis shoes that have lots of miles on them. A towel is usually hung near by to wipe away sweat. This sometimes comes with slight regret due to a mid-game substitution. Extra stretching is needed before, during and after each game.
Dr. Ted Anderson, director of Physical Education, stands taller than everyone. He holds the ball before checking it to make sure his team- mates are all matched-up before the ball goes into play. He’s always the spokesman of this meeting, always educating: “Okay, here we go, let’s get back on defense. We are going to help on Will. Here we go!” he says as he back pedals after a steal.
Professor Jim “Dr. J” Johnson is in his normal stride: free throw line to free throw line. The pass gets to him, he’s open, and drills it. He’s been doing this for 25 years, so the younger guys need to start bringing a pen and paper to this gathering and take some notes.
“The count is five to six, you guys are up,” yells the former Sea Lion- turned-pastor slowly dribbling the ball up past half court as he points at his defender. About three players are walking the ball up with him, taking their time as they are in no rush to get back on defense. A volleyball from the neighboring PE class gets accidentally tossed on their side of the court, a thankful pause in the action.
“No, no, no. We just scored, so that makes it six up.”
This happens a lot.
Someone has either miscounted or…miscounted. Each point is worth fighting for, so the back and forth banter ensues. They stop, hold the ball, and recount each point that has been scored thus far. Hunched over with their hands resting on their knees, drops of sweat plummet to the hard- wood floor.
After a recount, the score is seven to six.
For the pure joy of the game.
I pondered for a moment picturing my post-student-athlete self on the court playing on my lunch break— a place where your personal statistics don’t really matter, where there’s no coach to tell you right from wrong. A place where camaraderie is more important than the win or taking an loss isn’t the end of the world.
Noon-ball takes place on the same court that I’ve practiced six days a week for the past four years. Maybe it isn’t out of bounds to say that the place where staff come and relive their glory days is the same place where I can rest in knowing that my love for the game is enough. Always.
One professor hits a three-pointer from a Chris Paul-esque pass by assistant men’s basketball coach Jordan Courneya–an excellent shot. Everyone chuckles as he gets a congratulatory pat on the butt when he jogs down court.
During the next possession, a reverse lay-up gets blocked by the rim, then the player wallows in shock. A look of “Whoa, I used to be able to do that,” flashes across his face as he gazes at his right hand.
A few possessions later, a steal transitions to a fast-break lay-up on the other end. An “Atta baby!” echoes throughout the gym bringing a smile to my face as I am spectating in the stands.
The gym’s clock strikes one o’clock and the professors head towards the locker room to shower off before they head back to their separate realities.