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Leave it to the kid to figure out sports

January 28, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

My career got a kick in the syntax last Thursday.

It wasn't anything major. It was more like a cleaning of my glasses.

My vision was becoming blurred. Suddenly, the things I used to get excited about were mundane. Those senses I used to pride myself on were dull.

My specs were becoming as dark as Anna Kournikova's tennis career. I needed a fresh perspective with rosy lenses - an injection of youth and innocence to act like Windex.

My stepdaughter Brianna came to my rescue, again.

Those who read this bi-weekly attempt at commentary know Brianna has become one of my frequently-used subjects. Last year, she taught me that I looked like Dumbo on Sarah Hughes' icy blades when I played soccer with her. She's also the one showing me the ropes in that tug-of-war called "Parenthood."

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So who better to put some missing glad in my pad?

It happened innocently. Brianna became my sidekick for the day while my wife, JoAnn, battled the flu. Jo needed rest, so Brianna became my 7-year-old apprentice.

She did her homework at the office while I did some early work. She colored pictures while I tried to shade myself for my assignment - the Mercersburg Academy at St. John's at Prospect Hall boys basketball game.

I raided the office supply drawer for a legal pad, a reporter's notebook, a red and a black magic marker, a pencil and a highlighter to equip Brianna for her first "assignment." I wanted to make her feel like she was working, but in reality I thought it was for coloring purposes to keep her occupied.

After a gourmet dinner of chicken tenders and fries, it was off to Frederick and SJPH's campus. Brianna didn't fully understand what was ahead, but was naively willing to try. I should have realized it when I told Brianna that SJPH's gym used to be a barn.

"Yeeech," she said. "Are there any animals in there? Do they have to watch out for poop when they play?"

I never really thought of it that way.

When we got to the school, Brianna was ready to spring into action. The coldest day of the year wasn't going to stop her as she bundled up in a new violet winter jacket that made her look like a pastel Eskimo. She was ready to tackle the unknown.

Brianna had a real look of purpose on her face as we trudged up the walkway to the gym. She carried her two pads of paper in her gloved right hand and clutched the four writing utensils in the equally-covered left.

We fought through the wind and got inside just as the game tipped off. With a little timing, we hurried to an opening in the short stack of bleachers while the action went to the far end of the Vikings' cozy homestead.

I tried to get a lock on the play while Brianna fought to remove her coat. She put down the pads but wouldn't give up the pens - like a true journalist - while trying to get them and her arm out of the sleeve.

Mission accomplished.

While I tried to get into Mercersburg's early 13-4 run, Brianna settled in to get her angle on the action.

"Do you understand what's going on," I asked.

"No," she said, shaking her head.

You don't know how many times I said that to myself. So, I tried to give her a 10-second crash course in basketball.

"The guys in white are trying to shoot the ball in that hoop and the guys in blue are going for this one. Make a basket inside the half circle on the court; it's worth two points. Shoot a shot from the line with everyone standing still, that's a foul shot and one point. And if you make a basket from behind that half-circle on the floor, you get three points. Got it?"

"No."

"That's OK. Just watch for a little bit."

A couple of minutes later, there was a tug at my arm while I was trying to figure out if SJPH was playing a man or a zone defense.

"Who are those girls with the little skirts?" Brianna asked.

"They are called cheerleaders," I said. "They are supposed to get the crowd excited."

Brianna smiled. "Where do you get those clapping hands?" she asked about the plastic noisemakers St. John's fans were using.

"I don't know," I said, while marking down a basket that put Mercersburg up by 16 points. (I hoped she wouldn't find out, otherwise JoAnn would have had me sleeping in the garage for bringing home more noisy sports stuff.)

Brianna jabbed me again.

"Where'd they go?" she asked, pointing to the cheerleaders' empty area.

"Must have went to get ready for halftime," I guessed.

At halftime, it was my chance to copy rosters from the scorebook. Meanwhile the cheerleaders began the obligatory halftime dance routine. The Vikings' squad bobbed and weaved, shook and shimmied to some unknown "hip-hop, paddiwhack give a dog a bone" song. Brianna watched but seemed embarrassed.

"Why they doing that," she asked.

"Got me," I said.

I was still trying to get my angle on the game while the second half started and kept scribbling down notes. Out of the corner of my eye, Brianna was making her own notations. I hoped my deft description of basketball had my little sidekick keeping track of rebounds, points in the paint or offensive efficiency ratings. (I could hope.)

"What you writing?" I asked, hoping to be that scholarly influence on her one-lesson education.

On the top of the first page of the notepad, it said "Girls." Underneath were stick numbers, bundled in fives.

"I'm counting how many times the girls cheer," she said, flashing her yet-to-be straightened grin.

"Well ... uh ... OK ... good," I said, with conviction, of course.

Brianna joined me for post-game interviews, but she watched the other kids shoot baskets while patiently waiting for me. Then we trudged back to the SUV for the trip back to Hagerstown to slay the deadline dragon.

Then came the big question.

"Did you like it?" I asked.

"A-huh," she said quietly. "I had fun."

Again, Brianna came up with a revelation.

Fun. What a novel idea. Somewhere along the line, I forgot that that was what sports was supposed to be about.

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