For my last full-length column as an Evergreen sports writer, I’ve decided to go close to home. But going close to home for me requires you as a reader to journey with me a little more than a thousand miles to Chugwater, Wyo.; a no-stoplight town off of I-25 with a population of 244 and an elevation of 5,288.
I grew up five minutes outside this town on a cattle ranch half a mile from the interstate. I’m sure there have been a few families on long road trip vacations that were staring out the window and happened to notice an irregularity in one of the great iconic American images.
The basketball hoop in the driveway they would surely be used to seeing, but they might have had a momentary escape from their boredom as they pondered why a five-foot,
ninety-five pound ranch kid was hanging on the rim like LeBron James.
Then they’d squint a little more and solve the mystery.
“Hey! That little cheater is using a trampoline to play basketball!”
This was the world of sports I grew up in. The great broadcast voices of my childhood were Dave Walsh (Wyoming Cowboys), Jeff Kingery (Colorado Rockies), and Mick Westerman (The 46 Blue Rock Road Trampoline Basketball Association).
Mick is my older brother by three years. He hit puberty by the time most kids lost their first tooth. Me on the other hand, I went to my first homecoming dance before I had hair in my armpits.
But unlike with normal basketball, our size differences seemed not quite as drastic on mankind’s middle finger to gravity — the trampoline.
In this variation of hoops, I could at least compete with the adolescent behemoth I called my older brother. I was never quick or big, but by the time my trampoline basketball career ended, it was almost impossible to block my shot on a normal court. When you got your shot blocked on the tramp, the integrity of the game called upon you to shamefully walk barefoot through the rough prairie grass and retrieve your sphere of rejection.
We spent most of our childhood on that little black-patch of heaven. We invented dozens of games on it, but none was more popular than trampoline basketball.
It was so powerful in our imaginations that, despite the fact that our biggest crowd in the history of our league was a few bored people at my sister’s graduation party, the glory of victory was of Iliad-like proportions.
After our afterschool school snack, Mick and I would go to our room, select from our large selection of basketball jerseys, grab the boom box and head out to the tramp.
We’d plug Third Eye Blind or Box Car Racer in to our garage outlet, start the music, then start our warm-ups. I’m not joshing you when I tell you we had strict pre-game rituals we’d go through as Mick introduced the “listeners” to the big-game.
I could almost always compete with Mick, but I never beat him. Twenty-five percent of the time I’d be a little prick about losing. Twenty-five he’d be a big prick about winning. Another quarter of the time we’d both be pricks, and the remaining fourth we’d go to the freezer and grab a push-pop and talk about how much fun we just had.
One fateful day it all came together for me. I finally played the only way I had a chance to ever beat Mick in a game of tramp-basketball:
perfectly. I played a perfect game and still barely beat him.
My celebration was similar to Macaulay Culkin’s in “Home Alone” when he realizes he made his family disappear. Then something happened that was one of the biggest moments in one of the most important relationships of my life.
Mick got off the tramp, walked up to me, and instead of punching me in the kidneys like I thought he was going too, tasseled my hair and said the three sweetest words in sports, “Good game bro.”
I’d like to dedicate this column to Mick, who has supported my writing dreams with the same passion and challenge he always brought when we took the trampoline for a game of epic proportions.