Saturday, February 22, 2014

Enough with the whistles, already.

Orange and white-striped prisoners from the Cullman County Jail move between the early 80’s multi-colored chairs while cleaning up the trash from thousands of basketball fans. It has been four days on non-stop high school basketball. Four days of squeaky sneakers, bouncing balls, insane leaps, crazy dunks, slight-of-hand passes, screaming coaches, and ref whistles. It also included very curious music mixes involving Prince, Toby Keith, and Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ on the pa system. But I digress.  Did I mention ref whistles? Yeah, I’m done with them.

The final game of the day ended an hour ago. The last basketball fan has left the building. So here I sit with one other photojournalist from Florence, a dozen prisoners picking up basketball-fan trash, a woman sheriff deputy who likes to make off-color jokes about my 300 mm lens while I wait for  four days of basketball photos uploading to a server somewhere in New Jersey. It’s quiet. At least it seems so after twelve hours of intense high school basketball tournament noise, and the piercing refs whistles. I’m done with a week of shooting basketball.  Who knew I’d spend so much of my life courtside at basketball games?

I played basketball in middle school for the Grace Lutheran Crusaders. I was a forward. I wasn’t very good. I did however throw myself into the game and prided myself on a few fouls, which drew scrutiny from my Lutheran teacher/basketball coach. Let’s just say we lost more games than we won and leave it at that. I tried out for the Grissom basketball team. I made the first cut. I spent a summer working out in Grissom’s un-air-conditioned gym. Then, on the second cut, I was cut from the team by coach Ronnie Stapler. My basketball career was at an end.

But, every year, basketball season rolls around and I find myself on the basketball court. This year, I spent the last week covering the AHSAA Northwest Regi
onal 2014 Basketball Championships at Wallace State in Hanceville. My days were divided into eight-minute segments, the length of a basketball quarter. I would be shooting a game and not even know who was playing. They were simply the two teams who were on the court to me. I know it sounds silly, but I would have to ask the tv sports dude sitting next to me who was playing. I doubt I have uploaded more photos, written more captions, or saved my laptop from more stray basketballs than I did today.

I don’t consider myself a great sports shooter but I think I can hold my own. But after you shoot as many games as I have this week, you’re bound to get a few photos.  I hope my photos showed a little of the teams personality. Each team has it’s own personality, one girls team had a set of triplets, one girls team had the shortest player I had ever seen, and I even saw a few rare-air dunks. And then, there were a few had coaches I thought were going to end up in a cardiac care unit by the end of the game.  Add a few fans dressed as apes, spacemen, and over-sized photos of players heads screaming at the referees. (By the way, Athens fans have the most vitriolic fans.)  

Put it all together and you have a week of shooting basketball. For someone who wasn’t very good at basketball, I seem to spend a lot of time court side. Maybe I should start working on my free throws?

(Here's a link to more of my favorite photos)  

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