What are most 8 year old boys interested in? I ask this because MY 8 year old (and oldest child) is on the autism spectrum, so I guess my perspective on things is a bit skewed. Mr. Literal, as I call him, has had his share of unique interests over the years..........cell phone companies and their slogans, hotel chains and their breakfast areas, and my personal favorite---writing words and phrases on paper, cutting them out, then taping them to the walls ALL OVER THE HOUSE. Every surface needs repainting, but I digress.
So, you can imagine that I was delighted when Mr. L's obsession turned to sports about a year and a half ago. Regular sports, real sports, especially basketball. I supported the interest, buying every cool basketball-themed shirt I could get my hands on, and we started letting him watch SportsCenter in the mornings before school. Last year, my husband and Mr. L went on a boys' weekend trip to see the Charlotte Bobcats play, since they're our nearest NBA team. And all throughout, Mr. L keeps saying that he wants to play basketball on a real team himself. He's tried soccer (not a big hit) and baseball (he likes it, I guess). I didn't even know of any local basketball league for kids, until we heard of one last fall from a Mom I met at the speech therapy clinic. The league was run through her church, and she assured us it was not one of those cutthroat, "it's all about winning" kind of leagues. When I told the boys about it, they both wanted to play, so we signed up, paid our fees and hoped for the best.
The season started in November, and will end this coming Saturday. It's gone well, thankfully, and been a positive experience for both boys. Basketball playing hasn't come naturally to Mr. L, but I'm so proud of how hard he's worked and how well he's handled disappointments and losing (being on a 2-6 team gives you lots of practice at losing). He soaks up every instruction that the coach gives, and his intense focus on the game and the ball is unmistakable. We made the decision not to "come out" to the coaches and kids on Mr. L's team.........you know, about that *autism* thing. I wondered, though, as time went by, whether the other kids liked him or thought he was that weird kid who'd never played real basketball before but is taller than the rest of the team.
Throughout the season, it had been periodically mentioned that there would be an award given at season's end that would be voted on by the kids themselves. It's called the Glory Sportsmanship Award. The league handbook specified that the award shouldn't necessarily be for the best player on a team, but for the child who exemplified true "sportsmanship" by dedication to the team, hard work, good effort and improvement, etc. In my role as passionate advocate for kids with autism AND as super-proud Mom, I couldn't help but feel that Mr. L was the obvious choice for this award. I figured, though, that I was the only one thinking that way.
Mr. L voted for a teammate named Constantine. The kids were told to write their vote on a piece of paper, along with the reason for choosing that child, and bring it to last Saturday's game. According to Mr. L, he chose Constantine because "I don't see him panicing when we lose" (Mr. L's spelling, not mine!) We turned in his vote to the coach, then took our seats to watch the game. The league director brought out the microphone so that each coach could present his team's award in front of the entire gym full of parents and fans.
If this was a movie, you'd look for the happy ending right about now, wouldn't you? And when it happened, you'd think it was maybe just a little too perfect, a little too sappy and sweet, and that nothing that perfect could ever happen in real life. Well guess what?
Mr. L's team, the Dragons, voted MY son the winner of the Glory Sportsmanship Award! That group of 9 little boys, aged 7 and 8, really listened to the instructions for voting and chose my sweet little awkward guy with the huge heart as their award winner. His name was called, he stepped up and received his nice trophy, then stepped back into line with his team and looked out in the crowd for me. After all teams had given their awards, he ran over to me with the proudest look on his face that I think I've ever seen him have. He was truly surprised and touched, as was I. But I can tell you this, NO one else on that team, or in that league, exemplifies what sportsmanship should really mean any better than my son does. And for once, just this one time, we had that too-perfect, too-sappy fairy tale ending. Now I just have to hope that the idealism and generosity of those kids on his team stays with them when they grow up, and maybe even extends to the rest of the adult population. After all, each of us and each of our kids deserves at least a few of those fairy tale moments.