Practicing for the Game Outside the Painted Lines

By Natalie Moorehead   natalie1

I’d like to thank my mom and dad for every three-pointer that I’ve ever scored. I love to play basketball, but unlike math, it never came easy to me. My dedication to the sport was motivated by my discovery that basketball serves as the perfect refuge from a horrific, life-changing event. “Natalie and Parke, your father and I are getting a divorce.”

The moment felt never-ending as I listened to my parents explain how this had nothing to do with my brother and me, but with their own relationship. This had everything to do with me. I questioned myself and what I could’ve done wrong. I felt betrayed and rejected by my own parents. I suddenly held new responsibilities for myself and my brother due to all the changes occurring.

At 10 years old, coping with a drastic life event was unfamiliar to me. I tried many different ways of taking my mind off all the overwhelming emotions, but nothing was effective. In seventh grade, everything changed. On the basketball court, my thoughts about the stresses of going between two households disappeared. Basketball always required hard work because at 5’1” I do not fit the typical mold of a basketball player. Basketball provided a challenge large enough to demand a huge focus when I needed to divert my thoughts. The self worth I lost over the divorce returned when I was on the court. By freshman year, my goal was to one day make the high school varsity team.

Every day prior to tryouts my freshman year, I was building my skills by practicing my shot or playing with my team. My work paid off and I not only made the freshman team, but was captain as well. I motivated my team each practice and game to strive for success. Soon, my goal to make varsity felt within reach. After spending the next summer in the gym, I made the junior varsity team as a sophomore. So far, so good. I was on the path to making varsity.

As nervous as I was during tryouts, my skill exceeded the jitters and I made the varsity team. I secured playing time in the first three games, after which my playing time decreased until I spent all of my time on the bench. As our coach discovered each girl’s playing style, mine did not fit her vision for the team. After many hours of being the chief bench-warmer, I considered whether my dream was a fraud as expectations to play became unrealistic.

I felt years of working hard wasn’t paying off. On top of this, my feet constantly nagged me to give up: my soles burned, my arches throbbed, and my knees felt as if they were being hit with hammers. I sacrificed time and energy that could have been spent completing homework, catching up on desperately needed sleep, and even participating in family vacations. But I wouldn’t let any of those feelings conquer me. I continued to focus on how much I love the game.

Currently, I am working with a private trainer, playing fall basketball, and attending open gyms in preparation for my final varsity season. I won’t give up now; this is my chance. I want this in every fiber of my being. This is the dream that keeps me putting one step forward when I am worn out and beaten down.  

My coach now says I will likely get a lot of playing time this year. If something happens to alter that promise, I may be disappointed, but that will not destroy my love of the game. I will keep playing. I know I can find a way to adapt to life after a big disappointment. The life changing moment in fifth grade prepared me to cope with the things that come with life.

Natalie Moorehead, a graduate of Redwood High School, will be a freshman at Chapman University.

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