10 Point Lead

It all started in Mr. Bunderson’s civics class. I don’t remember the details, but imagine it went down something like this: I sat by a girl named Anne Marie Farr, who I had known since kindergarten. We weren’t friends per se; our relationship was characterized by a kind of affectionate antagonism common to boys and girls who have grown up together: on the one hand, we had always mistrusted and loathed one another, but on the other, we had been mistrusting and loathing one another for quite a few years and had, for better or worse, developed something of a shared history. Anne Marie was on the girl’s basketball team, and my natural generosity prevented me from selfishly withholding from her my insights into the intrinsic silliness and futility of women playing basketball. Unfortunately, Anne Marie’s personal attachment to girl’s basketball rendered her blind to the obvious truth of the matter, and she responded by asserting that she was better at basketball than I was.

Now, had she had claimed that she was 50% as good at me, we would have had an argument on our hands. But the claim that she was out and out better than me was so apparently false, so outrageously absurd, that I simply laughed. This isn’t to say that I was some sort of star athlete. I wasn’t. I wasn’t on any of the athletic teams of the junior high and high school I attended, mainly because the selection process for these teams was so incredibly biased in favor of kids who were really good athletes. When the coach comes into try-outs with his mind already made up that he’s going to pick the most talented kids to be on the team, there’s just not a whole lot you can do when your talents are somewhere in the 50th – 60th percentile. Politics.

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It’s amazing my Mom was able to snap a picture of me like this, since it was super rare for me not to be in the game.

I was never going to be the first kid picked for a game, but I wasn’t one of the last, either. While certainly not spectacular or dazzling, I was competent, solid, and steady. Knowing that I wasn’t ever going to be the all-around all-star, I developed – and touted – specialized skills: my can’t miss 8-foot jumper from the baseline in basketball, my perfect sets in volleyball, and my . . . well I never really found something like that in baseball. Heckling the batter, maybe. Anyway, my natural gifts were modest, but I was always competitive and scrappy and tried to make up for my weaknesses with a lot of hustle and by telling funny jokes during huddles and time outs. But all of this was relative to boys, and we’re talking about my skills relative to a girl. A girl.

Mr. Bunderson took note of the commotion towards the back of the class, and after asking us what was going on and assessing the situation, he suggested that the easiest way to settle it was by Anne Marie and me facing off in a game of one-on-one. I laughed, and then realized he was serious, causing a feeling of puzzlement to come over me. I guess we could have a game to see who was better, just like we could have a spelling bee to settle the question of who was the better speller between me and a hamster. At this point though, the whole class was watching, and a game seemed like the only way to help Anne Marie see the light, so I agreed. Indeed, in order to put the matter beyond the reach of any excuse or rationalization, I offered her incredibly generous terms – we would play to 21, and she could have a ten-point lead.


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In my heart of hearts, I was hoping my Dad would be the kind of Dad who, when coaching his son’s team, would give his son a position and playing time that were well above his abilities.  Turns out he wasn’t that kind of Dad.  Which is why I won’t turn out to be the kind of son who doesn’t send his Dad to a “working” rest home in Guatemala.

We met on a warm spring afternoon at the the Compton Bench chapel, where the parking lot had a couple of old hoops. Like seconds at a duel, I brought my friend Darren and she brought her friend Christie. Rather than warming up, Darren and I chuckled as we watched Anne Marie get ready, heckling her shot and enjoying the inherently ridiculous spectacle of a girl playing basketball. We reviewed the terms of the game, and I offered her first possession, which she took.

It didn’t start out the way I had anticipated. Although I could tell I was better than Anne Marie, I wasn’t better by as much as I had thought I was. My shot wasn’t on that day. And I felt like a bully playing hard defense against her, a fact she began to mercilessly exploit. And then there was the issue of my starting the game ten points behind.

After a few points where I missed my shots and Anne Marie hit some difficult ones, it suddenly dawned on me that she could very well beat me, a prospect which prior to that moment I literally had not considered. The precise moment at which this possibility entered my mind was the precise moment at which the game was over. All I could think about was the impact such a loss would have on my standing among my friends and my prospects with the opposite sex. I wondered what my new school would be like.

Considering all this was the equivalent of looking down when you’re crossing the Grand Canyon on a tight wire. A fevered, fearful weakness came over me. Half of my mind was in the game, and half of it was at school the next day. I’d get the ball and just dribble, too afraid of missing to take the shot. Sensing my distress, Anne Marie went in for the kill. She caught fire. The smirk on Darren’s face seemed to have jumped right over to Christie”s. I watched her score the winning basket from outside of my body, hoping that this meant that I was dead. Christie and Anne Marie hugged and laughed and jumped up and down. Darren regarded me with a mixture of shock, sympathy, and disgust.

IMG_0087
That I was elected 9th Grade Vice-president after losing a basketball game to a girl is a tribute to my incredible political and interpersonal skills.  Or to the student body’s empathy for the emasculated.

Well, of course Mr. Bunderson was eagerly waiting the next day to hear the results of the game, and Anne Marie was happy to report them. The girls in the room erupted into a cheer. I stared straight ahead with my face burning, telling myself that I may be able to recover from losing to a girl, but I wouldn’t be able to recover from losing to a girl and then crying about it in class.  I considered arguing that I’d had an off day, and pointing out that I’d given her a 10 point lead, but I could sense how these arguments would be treated by the cruel, shrill mob that was jeering at me, so I held my tongue.

Thankfully, the damage seemed to be limited to Mr. Bunderson’s class. The story never went viral, making it’s way throughout the entire school the way it had when Matt Nielson and I went diving in some puddles during gym class and, realizing that our underwear was too wet and lacking any spares, put our school clothes back on without any underwear.  Someone accused me of not wearing any underwear, and I lied, saying I had just put my wet underwear back on, and man, it was so uncomfortable! Matt cheerily admitted the truth and was forced to fend off a mob of 50 kids chasing him with the intent of pantsing him. I believe Jeff Hirst saved him by pacifying the hungry mob with a stirring speech about how we all had days when, figuratively, we weren’t wearing any underwear.

The most amazing thing about my loss to Anne Marie is that as I sat down to write about it yesterday, 20 years later, I considered not posting this because I actually still find it embarrassing. So, please be gentle in your comments. I’m still tender. And please remember that I gave her a 10 point lead. Seriously, that’s huge.

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16 Responses to 10 Point Lead

  1. Layne says:

    Awesome story. Just be glad it wasn’t on national TV.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_of_the_Sexes_%28tennis%29

    He also gave her a spot and was 55 while she was in her prime, but no one remembers that. They only remember that BJK won.

  2. Troy says:

    Davis, it’s inspiring the lengths to which you would reduce yourself in the name of chivalry. Sacrificing your ego for the fragile self esteem of a young woman. It’s cute that to this day you still play the humble card like you really tried hard and she beat you fair and square. Somewhere there is a confident woman who holds her head high and teaches her own daughters about this experience and that they too can accomplish anything they set their mind to. All the while you stick to your story with a twinkle in your eye. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a fine, fine man.

  3. Daniel says:

    I could not stop laughing at this.

  4. Braden says:

    Oh wow, Dave. You are a brave man and clearly secure. You tell that with warmth and wisom, that gives you a real moral victory. That sort of has the tone of Walter Cronkite reading a memoir by Steinbeck or something.

  5. Ben Pratt says:

    The caption about Guatemala: so great.

  6. Christian says:

    That is truly embarrassing and a blight on dddt.

    It’s going to be sad but fair when I put Mom up in that high rise the President of the church lives in in downtown SLC in her old age to reward her for the pampering she gave me whenever I was sick as a kid, while I sign off on Dad being sent to the working home in Guatemala for the time he got mad at me for spilling my tiger’s blood shaved ice in his just-bought-that-day new car.

    Kook never forgets.

  7. Davis says:

    Layne, oh man, that poor guy. The mistake that both Bobby Riggs and I made was this: you never participate in a match where you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. If you beat a girl, great, you beat a girl. Who cares? But if the girls beats you? Any sane cost/benefit analysis will tell you to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

    Troy, chivalry prevents me from confirming that what you’re implying is true. But yes, it’s true.

    Daniel, it’s only now starting to be funny to me.

    Braden, it’s not that I’m secure, it’s that I feel I owe our readers complete honesty. Unlike Kook and Ry, who continue to present a perfect faade to the world.

    Ben, I’m not joking about that.

    Christian, are you serious? After all the weeding she made me do, Mom’s rest home is going to make Dad’s look like Disneyland.

    Craig, I honestly don’t remember. I think it was 21 to 18 or 19.

  8. Ferg says:

    Not to make matters worse, but in the depths of my memory, I seem to recall event where you were embarrassed by a farmer’s daughters in a hay bale throwing event?

  9. Cappy says:

    Didn’t the game end in a ferocious make out afterwards? That’s how I choose to remember it at least. I don’t know how Mower looked you in the eye after this Bell. Maybe I should curb my I could beat anyone on BYU’s womens basketball team in a game of one on one banter with the wife.

  10. Anonymous says:

    If it’s any consolation, I once entered into an arm-wrestling match with an 18 year old boy (I was a 17 year old girl) assuming I would probably lose. I am super strong for a girl, and knew my arm-wrestling capacity would be underestimated, thus giving me the element of surprise, if not enough strength for an outright win.

    So imagine my shock, in fact almost dismay, when I realized about 5 minutes into the match and he was wearing down much faster than I was, and that I was strong enough to beat him.

    But I lacked the killer instinct. I knew if I won it would only be marginally satisfying for me and dreadfully humiliating for him. So I pretended to tire quickly, and let myself lose, acting like I was working especially hard towards the end so that he wouldn’t get grief from the other guys about how long it took for him to take me down.

    I suspect he secretly knows I threw the match, but we’ve never spoken of it, ever. And you know what? I would never confirm to him that I let him win, even though I’m pretty sure we both know he got a freebie that day.

    So Davis, here’s some questions for you:

    1. If you had to do it again, would you handicap yourself with her 10 point lead?

    2. Even if you both started even, do you think she still could have won?

    3. Assuming she could beat you fair and square, would you prefer that she go ahead and do so, or would you prefer that she allow you to save face and throw the match in your favor?

  11. Danica says:

    Ten point handicap! That’s half the game right there, my friend. My dad still talks about how mortified he was when he lost to my mom in tennis, going into it 100% knowing he’d win. And my favorite part was you lying about your underwear. It reminds me of getting made fun of in junior high for not having cool shoes, but rather, knock-off Simples from Mervyn’s. Imagine the taunting crowd sneering and pointing at my shoes and asking, “Where’d you get those, PAYLESS???” and me answering super confidently, if not truly, “NO!! I got them at the mall!!!” I’m sure there was some mall out there equipped with that great store, Mervyn’s, right? Ryan, it seems you were somewhat of a connoisseur of Mervyn’s in your day – can you confirm that for me?

  12. Davis says:

    Ferg, you must have me confused with someone else.

    Anonymous, I keep laughing at the idea of you and this poor guy exchanging furtive, knowing glances for the rest of your lives, keepers of a shared secret. In answer to your questions:

    1. No. No way. Not in a million years.

    2. Absolutely. I was way better. Honestly. The problem was the head start, which made the game close, and once it was close, I lost my composure

    3. I wouldn’t want charity, especially from a girl.

    Danica, we’re all Mervyn’s experts – we were a big time Mervyn’s family. And yes, there were plenty of malls with Mervyn’s.

  13. Hameen says:

    Boy, I’m glad I never lost to a girl. That sucks, Davis.

  14. ron says:

    lolol. great post.

    losing to girls in sports is more humiliating then getting depansed (where i’m from we call it depansed. not pansed. wouldn’t depansed make more sense since the pants are coming off?) – underwear and all – in front of your crush, which happened to me in the 8th grade.

    i recently discovered something else i hate losing to girls in – words with friends. did i ever tell you about that time i lost to that one girl and she snapped a photo of one of her high scoring moves and posted it on her blog. thank your lucky stars blogs didn’t exist back when anne marie took you to the cleaners.

  15. Alesa says:

    When I was in high school someone came up with the brilliant idea that the Girls Basketball team should challenge the wrestling team to a game for a pep assembly. Although I can’t remember who won, I do remember that I proudly stuffed one of the cockiest guys when he attempted to make a layup. A thing I am still proud about. Getting stuffed by a girl in front of the whole school, now that would be embarrassing.

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