Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, January 20, 2018, 11:10 a.m.
Laurens Academy is up on a hill on Highway 49, out in the country a ways, between the highway’s intersections with Interstates 385 and 26. The basketball games began at 4 p.m. on Friday, with middle-school girls and boys, and varsity girls and boys, taking on Richard Winn Academy of Winnsboro. The Crusaders won three of the four games, losing only the first, 10-7, in overtime. The game’s leading scorer had three points in middle-school girls.
When I go on assignment, I try to be an observer of more than just points and rebounds. I had never been to basketball games at Laurens Academy. Two years ago, I wrote about a couple playoff baseball games. Perhaps this is why the people were so nice to me.
For instance, after the boys’ varsity game – the Crusaders won, 45-33 – head coach Travis Plowden and I talked about books: mine, others, books in general. I told him what makes it difficult is that more and more people write, and less and less people read. This is a view of mine I’ve expressed in other places, but never to a coach after a game. We talked about the game, too, of course.
I try to notice things I’ve never seen before. In this instance, it was the first time I watched basketball games in which all of the officials were black and none of the players were. This was only true of the varsity games, though the officials were all African-American in the middle-school games, too.
What else occurs to me? Prejudice wasn’t an issue.
It’s not an issue frequently voiced in public, but it’s an underlying suspicion that intrudes in the minds of white players toward black officials and black players toward white. It can be seen in the eyes and expressions. I’m not making judgments, just observations. Motives are questioned even when they aren’t publicly disputed. In defense of the officials, motives are often questioned when there is no evidence that they should be.
By the way, three years ago, I watched a college baseball game in which a team with all white players and a black head coach played a team with all black players and a white head coach. Again, no judgment. Just observation. It occurred to me, but I suppose it might not have if I were color-blind. It might not have been worth noticing if the world were color-blind. The world isn’t. It was just something I had never seen, like a left-handed third baseman.
The Laurens Academy girls’ team, coached by Jason Marlett, is impressive. It’s the most cohesive team I’ve seen all year that wasn’t on TV. I am positive that the boys’ teams of the county’s two public schools would swamp the boys’ team at Laurens Academy. I’m not sure of that with the 19-1 Lady Crusaders. I’d like to see Laurens Academy play Laurens District High School. I’m not claiming Laurens Academy would win. I’m just claiming it would be worth seeing.
Most of the times I watch girls and boys play back-to back, the most noticeable change is in speed. It looks as if the girls’ game is a record played at 33 rpms, and a boys’ game is at 45. It’s the only comparison I can retrieve, and many people today haven’t ever used a record player, so, okay, let me try another. It looks as if the girls’ game is on cruise control, and the boys’ game has no speed limits. I rarely see officials unable to keep up with a girls’ game, but I see their limits tested quite often in boys’ games.
The Laurens Academy girls and boys play at very close to the same speed. They are both fundamentally sound. When the Crusaders won the boys’ game, I was somewhat astonished because, in the warm-ups, I noticed that Richard Winn Academy’s players were quite a bit larger. Winn took an early lead, and I was paying more attention to taking pictures than notes for a while. Then, all of a sudden, I looked up, and the Crusaders were up, 24-16. It was 26-19 at half. The Eagles made a bit of a third-quarter run, but the Crusaders never lost the lead.
It was impressive.
The whole night was impressive. I knew that the LA girls had a senior point guard, Taylor Campbell, who is going to Newberry College next year on scholarship. She played despite an ongoing bout with the flu, but a junior guard, Ruthie Moore, just carried the team, scoring more points by herself, 26, than the total of the opposition. The final score was 41-20.
Here’s my GoLaurens story on the evening.
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