Sports blogger and coach Anthony Bonelli explores the meaning of “Unforgettable Moment” against the backdrop of the Merchants Bank Holiday Classic.
By Anthony Bonelli
Earlier in the week I sent an e-mail to my family, friends and colleagues. In this e-mail I wished all of the recipients a very joyous and prosperous new year.
In the second paragraph I asked all of the recipients to do something a little different this year. Instead of making a New Year’s resolution that they could not keep, I asked them to look at the words that they speak, read and write.
Some of you may be asking yourselves “what does he mean by this?” Well I will tell you, what I mean is, we use so many different words on a daily basis, but do we really understand and appreciate their true meanings? Take “unforgettable moment,” for example.
Some of you know I am now coaching girls’ basketball at my alma mater Warren Hills Regional High School in Washington. Prior to every season, a coaching staff sets goals for their team to achieve in the upcoming season. One of the first goals we set out to achieve was to win the Merchants Bank Holiday Hoops Classic, which is held at Bangor Area High School in Pennsylvania.
We knew that achieving this goal was going to be challenging because there were three other schools that set out to achieve the same goal: Nazareth, East Stroudsburg, and the hosts of the tournament, Bangor. In the semifinal round we were slated to play Nazareth, the defending champions and the team that the Lady Blue Streaks lost to in the semifinal round of last year’s tournament.
I have the same pregame routine for every basketball game that I coach. It includes observing how both teams look in pregame warm-ups (how they are shooting), staring at the clock hoping the time will go faster so we can start the game, and talking to the other coaches about our strategy.
Once I completed this routine before our semifinal matchup with Nazareth it was time for the introduction of the starting lineups. I usually use this time to get focused, but instead of doing that I rather thought of a basketball legend who passed away recently. I never saw Meadowlark Lemon amaze fans of the Harlem Globetrotters with his talents, I never even saw him bounce a basketball. I was fortunate enough to see the other side of the Clown Prince of basketball, that being a kind gentle man always willing to talk to fans.
Every year my parents and I attend the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Enshrinement Weekend. During this weekend past Hall of Famers gather to celebrate the induction of a new class. Lemon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, did not miss an Enshrinement Weekend in the five years my parents and I have been making the journey up to Springfield, Mass. Every year Lemon was one of the first people I would look for; he was hard to miss because he had an unforgettable smile. He would not hesitate to take a picture with me every year.
So you might say I was coaching with a heavy heart; I dedicated our semifinal game to Mr. Lemon, and, boy, would he have been proud of how we played. We were aggressive, our passes were crisp, and we were playing like a true team, just like the Globetrotters! After the first quarter we had a lead of 14-10, which we would never relinquish. One of my favorite aspects of the game to coach is pressure defense, and our defense sure put pressure on the Blue Eagles as we went on to win 48-41 and we moved on to play Bangor, who beat East Stroudsburg 36-30 in the other semifinal game.
Playing the host team in any tournament is a difficult challenge whether you are the more talented team or not, because 95 percent of the people in the gymnasium you are playing in do not want you to win. Knowing this as a staff we tried to prepare our girls for everything that they would encounter, including physical play, and Bangor’s tendencies.
We had a very good practice the day before the finals, which is when I knew we would be successful in accomplishing this goal. It was game day; the only bad part about it was we were not scheduled to play until 7:30 p.m., so all day I was trying to harness my nervous energy, which was not easy. Of course Mother Nature wanted to make me a little more nervous by making it snow and rain, as if I needed a reason to be more nervous.
We arrived at Bangor Area High School safely. When we arrived Nazareth and East Stroudsburg were playing the consolation game of the tournament, which Nazareth was victorious in. As the consolation game came to a conclusion, I said to myself “we are up.” I was wheeled across the court to our bench; as I was locked into my spot a feeling of calmness came over me, I guess because it was now time to go to work. Yes, I went through the same pregame routine that I detailed above.
Honestly we were sluggish throughout the entire first half, but we still managed to hold a 32-26 lead at halftime.
The hometown team would not let us leave their gymnasium as champions without a battle. They did their best to capture the lead, but they were never successful. I hate this saying as a coach, but in this case it is so true, we made enough plays to win 48-42.
I have been fortunate enough to experience several unforgettable moments in my life, including meeting some of my favorite athletes, past and present, hearing my niece and nephew say Uncle for the first time, and even winning a Hunterdon\Warren\Sussex County Championship last year as a member of the Hunterdon Central Regional High School Girls’ Basketball coaching staff.
There was a moment after this game that truly made me understand and appreciate what the phrase “unforgettable moment” really means. As each member of our team received a championship medal to commemorate our achievement, the tournament committee realized that they had made too many medals. They had two extra, and they asked Head Coach Meghan McGeehan who should receive the extra medals. One went to our wonderful statistician, who keeps our scorebook, which tracks team points, fouls, and timeouts. The other medal I received. As coach came over to put the medal around my neck, she saw the surprised look on my face and just smiled.
Anthony Bonelli is a 2007 graduate of Warren Hills High School who has returned to coach baseball and girls’ basketball at his alma mater. His childhood dream was to either be a sports journalist or the host of “The Price Is Right.” He hasn’t gotten the call from CBS yet, so until then, his work can be read on his blog.