A Weekend in Trinidad

There is nothing quite like spring break on the gulf coast to remind one of just how annoying 15-year-old boys can be. A week of witnessing loud, obnoxious, awkwardness took me back to when I was an annoying fifteen-year-old. So this week, instead of another tired cancer post, I’m going to tell ya’ll a story from my youth. It will take a while to tell, so I’ll roll it out over the next few weeks.

I’m quite proud to be from God’s own Alabama, and this is no secret. What you may not know is that I actually spent my first two years of high school in Colorado. When my mom and stepfather wed, they stepped away from the ballet world to pursue an opportunity out west. Our first year there was spent in the mountains outside of Colorado Springs, the next year we moved to southern Colorado. The town of Crestone, at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, was home to 73 souls. Kids from Crestone take a thirteen-mile bus ride to go to school in nearby Moffat.

Crestone is a stunningly beautiful place.
I was a freshly minted 15-year-old when I started tenth grade at the Moffat Consolidated School (k-12 enrollment of about a hundred). At the time, basketball was life. In fact, basketball was more important than life. I thought about the game every waking moment. It so happens that basketball was the sport in this little corner of the world, and the primary form of entertainment for the community. Being in the middle of nowhere, in a pre-internet world, there wasn’t much to do there except for farm. The student-athletes were celebrities of sorts, and of course I soaked that up. Both in the summer before and after this year, I experienced “growth spurts” when my game markedly improved. I was aware of my newfound capabilities, and let this go to my head.

Thanks to chemo I'm almost as skinny now as I was then.
The social scene for the new guy in a high school can be difficult, but the kids there loved basketball, and there were relatively few of them, so settling in was fairly easy. As I got to meet my peers on and off the court, it became apparent that even though I was only a sophomore, I was the alpha baller. Early in the year, every conversation eventually turned to basketball, and the focus was the season-opening tournament in Trinidad. Trinidad! The beautiful island nation in the Bahamas? How in the world is a middling team from a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Colorado going to Trinidad? And how in the world are we paying for it? When I asked who was responsible for the trip, the responses I got were weird looks and the answer “The school, of course.” I knew that due their size and the monetary poverty of the area, the school received significant amounts of federal and state assistance for facilities, food, and apparently athletics. I guessed that explained things. It sounded fishy to me, but who was I to complain.

The run up to the trip was a bit rocky. I can be an ass from time to time, and this particular quality was magnified in the 15-year-old version of myself. Despite my talents, I was on the outs with our coach- who I thought to be a poor one. (This was mostly true.) I don’t know that I ever told coach Brillhart that, but I suspect he knew what I thought. I don’t know if my opinion was shaped by his ineptitude or by the fact that he was an authority figure trying to throttle my adolescent awesomeness. In either event, we settled into an uneasy d├ętente- I needed him because I wanted to play, and he needed me because he had a limited pool of talent.

This about sums it up. The only picture of Brillhart
on the basketball page of the yearbook. (He's probably a
really good guy, but I'm afraid he never had a chance with us.)
One particular on-court interaction stands out in my memory. During one practice Brillhart wanted to move me from the post to a swing position (this was a fine coaching move, although neither one of us recognized that the two guard was my natural position). At the time, however, kids couldn’t guard me in the post, and with a defender on my back I was unstoppable. (This was mostly true.) Rather than seeing his move as an effort to help the team succeed by spacing the floor, I saw it as a move to stop me from dominating practice. I did what he asked, but in the half-assed, sulking posture that only a teenager can affect. Between plays, Zack (one of my lesser teammates) suggested that I suck it up and play for the team. I told Zack in graphic terms what I thought he should do to himself. That was the first time I got kicked out of practice.

In hindsight, I think we can agree that of my mother’s three boys, I was by far the easiest teenager. Unfortunately for me, I was first, so I got hammered for things that my brothers easily got away with. To wit, my mother’s world nearly came crashing down over something as simple as a haircut. At the time, I was sporting a flattop- a conservative look, harkening back to the clean-cut ‘50’s. In the 80’s, however, athletes were embellishing their flattops by shaving lines or other shapes in the sides. One day, while watching a game on TV I saw that a player had shaved his uniform number into the side of his head. Eureka! The next day at school, I asked one of my teammates (who inexplicably had hair clippers at school) to help me out. Rather than simply copy the guy on TV, I thought it would be awesome to shave the entire side of my head except for my number 21 (leaving the flattop intact). My mother was mortified, I’m pretty sure she cried. It might have been the end of the world. I don’t recall the serious part of my punishment, but one of the conditions was that I had to wear a toboggan around the house until it grew back.

Way ahead of my time. Tying bows in '87.
Such was life as the remaining warmth of fall faded, and the time for our trip to Trinidad arrived. I had no clue how long it would take to get there, but I was happy to relax and go along for the ride. As the team boarded the bus to the cheers of our parents, the excitement was palpable. I was the proud occupant of the cherished back seat of the bus. Sitting in the way back enabled us to avoid the ears of authority figures, listen to crude music, and tell jokes that we didn’t fully understand. It was on this trip that I introduced southern Colorado to Southern hip-hip (and the Beastie Boys). The music was sophomoric to be certain, but so were we and it was a natural match.

A few hours after our departure we pulled off the highway and wound our way through a small town. It was getting late and I surmised we were headed to the hotel for a restful night before the flight out. When the party bus came to a stop in the overfull parking lot of a gymnasium, it started to dawn on me. Brillhart told us to grab our bags and get ready to change into our home uniforms. I walked into the gym and my heart dropped.

Welcome to Scott Gym, home of the Trinidad State Trojans. Trinidad State Junior College? Trinidad? Colorado? Bull. Shit. No sun? No airplane flight? No trip to a sandy beach? All of my conversations over the past couple of months fell into place and made perfect sense. I felt like an utter fool, but hid my disappointment and embarrassment.

I had a good game that night, but don’t really remember any of the details. Afterwards we returned to the hotel and settled in for a weekend of basketball that turned out to be much more.

To be continued…

Beastie Boys provided the sound track to part 1 of the story.  Paul Revere, and  Rhymin & Stealin were in heavy rotation on the bus.

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