By Erika Dyk
I am a student again. I sit outside of the classroom, waiting to go in. The TV is turned to the Weather Channel. The Weather Channel is tuned to Tropical Storm Erika. And I remember Hurricane Katrina and I know what I have to write, what I need to write. I know one of my North Dakota stories I have to share.
I am a sophomore in high school. We are the underdogs. This is the Regional Championship game.
I’m at the top of the key. Someone passes me the ball. I shoot. Three points.
I’m sitting on the bench. My teammate toes the line. She shoots. One point. Another. Good.
35 to 32. The final buzzer sounds. The scoreboard freezes its final verdict.
35 to 32. The gym erupts. The crowd storms the floor.
35 to 32. A margin of delicate three points earns us a trip to the state tournament—the storied state tournament.
The night is full of smiles and photos on the basketball court, a locker-room full of singing, a celebration dinner, an escort back into town.
I’m at the front of the bus—the flash of lights out the window. My teammate whispers in my ear, “We’re going to state. It’s real. It’s really real.”
A win means extra practices, extra goals, extra photos, extra pep club posters, extra signs downtown, extra community support.
Another bus ride—a stop in Bismarck to practice, a stop in Minot to eat.
“Can we go to the Dome?” someone queries. Someone else acquiesces.
We’re sitting there, shoes off, on the floor. We play tomorrow, but today we watch and be. We watch them test the starting lineup theatrics. We smile. We are just there together in that moment. My favorite moment.
Thursday night. We play. Someone passes me the ball. I shoot. I miss. We miss.
Friday afternoon. We play. Someone passes me the ball. I shoot. I make. We make.
Saturday afternoon. We play. Someone passes me the ball. I dribble. We miss.
Sixth place. It matters, but it doesn’t. We played for our community. We played for each other.
I am a sophomore again. This time in college. Spring break. To New Orleans to clean up after Hurricane Katrina.
No scoreboards. No spectators. So much debris. So many ruined homes.
I’m standing there, looking at the front of the cell phone shop. Small shop. Shouldn’t take too long. Then I go back. Depths and heights of debris. How will this ever get done?
We wear goggles and face masks. We strip the structure of the mess, separate everything into four piles on the curb.
We finish. And I stare at the four separate piles of a material life ruined by a storm and a thought hits my brain. This sense of accomplishment is better than winning any basketball game, any championship.
That thought reverberated in my brain long after that moment.
We worked for the community. We worked for each other. And that matters. That’s why these North Dakota towns support their sports—because it matters that their youth has a work ethic, it matters that they know the community wants them to succeed, it matters that the community can come around their youth and support them. Sports is simply one way, an accessible way to do so.
The practices, the games, the championships: those are all merely practice—merely methods of supporting the transition to adulthood.
I am a coach. And I remember. I remember my North Dakota youth. I remember a hurricane aftermath. And I acknowledge the responsibility placed upon my shoulders and know that it really is not about the sports or the activities. It’s about community and adulthood and love and support.