Another long season

Published 11:26 am Friday, January 20, 2012

Before Porters Chapel takes the court, there’s a quiet confidence both among the team and in the crowd about how the game will play out.

The Lady Eagles get off to a good start, holding their opponent scoreless for a few minutes as nervous anticipation builds. When their first shot falls through the hoop, the fans erupt.

Then the excitement dies down. The opponent, Rebul Academy, goes on a run to take a big lead and the confidence returns. Both the team and its fans have seen this one before.

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The Lady Eagles play hard. They dive for loose balls, hustle up and down the court and even make a small run — and it’s still not enough. Rebul, like most of PCA’s opponents, is simply better and ends up with a lopsided victory.

The seconds melt off the running second-half clock like sands escaping a cracked hourglass. The buzzer sounds. The teams shake hands. The scoreboard resets to 0-0 and the Lady Eagles start hoping next time will be different, even as they cherish what they just endured.

There’s next time. There’s always next time.

“It’s not tough,” senior point guard Marshedia Graise said. “I’m going out there with a bunch of girls who love me and I love them. We don’t play for wins, we play for the memories we’re going to get. Even knowing the possibility of winning is zero, playing with them is amazing. Playing with them is winning.”

Porters Chapel has not won a game this season. It came close Tuesday night, leading for nearly three quarters before losing 27-21 to Park Place.

It won once last season. Counting the wins prior to that gets a little sketchy — memories have faded a bit and the losses blur together after a while — but it’s clear they’ve been few and far between the past five years.

It’s been a tough stretch for a program that won two state championships in the 1980s, played for one as recently as 1999, and was a state tournament regular into the middle part of the last decade.

The talent pool soon dried up, though. Only a handful of girls now participate in athletics at the school, which is in Class A in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools. Those who do play head into basketball season with the knowledge that victories will be rare.

“You have to define success as something else,” senior forward Heather Sit said. “If you want to win, you obviously don’t want to play on our team.”

That “something else” is different things to different players.

Some play for personal satisfaction, the feeling of seeing something through to the end, or because they enjoy the game. For others it’s a way to stay in shape or make friends.

Whatever the reason, all of the losing hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm.

“You just have to remember why you play and think positive,” junior guard Katie Locke said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Attitude can change a lot of things.”

A positive attitude is one thing the Lady Eagles have in spades. No matter how many losses pile up, each game is another chance to play well and have fun — and if things break right, maybe even steal a victory. Just because it didn’t happen last time doesn’t mean it won’t this time.

“We go out there thinking we can play well,” Graise said. “I always tell the girls that anything is possible. Don’t get your heads down. We can do it if we put our minds to it.”

Beyond the hope that things will improve for this year’s team, there’s a sense of duty to younger players. PCA’s current junior high team has shown some promise, and giving up when times are tough would show them it’s OK to do the same.

“You have to have faith and be a role model. We do have some young girls, and I think they do see that we don’t give up,” Sit said.

Playing now, when it would be easy to simply quit and let the program slide into oblivion, is also a responsibility to the next generation of players, Sit added.

“The younger girls might have more talent than we do. I’d hate where they could be a winning team, and if we didn’t play (basketball) wouldn’t be offered,” Sit said.

Those who cross paths with the Lady Eagles come away with a mix of sympathy, empathy and admiration.

Most opposing coaches call off the dogs once their team is comfortably ahead, well aware that they have been or could be in the same position some day.

“You don’t want to absolutely get on them. Just drop back in a 2-3 zone and slow it down,” Rebul coach Shane Edwards said. “It’s a deal where you’re letting them learn the game. People did that for me and I got better. And they’ll get better. They already are.”

In the stands, fans become disappointed with the struggles, but gain an appreciation of the struggle. Coming back time and again when the odds are stacked against you builds character and respect, they said.

“That says a lot about her, not to give up. A lot of kids would quit and she’s not like that,” Tammy Sit, mother of Heather Sit, said of her daughter. “I’m extremely proud of her. I don’t know if I would’ve been as strong as she has been.”

PCA coach E.J. Creel, who became the school’s career scoring leader when she played from 1997-2001, has also gained an appreciation for the inner strength of her players.

“I admire them, because they take advantage of what they’re given,” Creel said. “They want to experience new things. They started in seventh grade and liked it enough to stick around. That’s encouraging when you see kids like that, because they’ll end up making something of themselves. This creates so much more than winning and losing. If they can get by it and learn something, then I feel like I’ve done my part.”

That there’s life beyond winning and losing is a lesson the Lady Eagles have taken to heart. More than most teams, they’ve gained an appreciation for how fleeting the feeling of victory can be and are determined to savor it if they taste it again.

And if they don’t?

No biggie.

“I know years from now, the records aren’t going to matter,” Heather Sit said. “Trophies collect dust. It’s going to be the memories we make. It’s a lot more to it than just a game.”