Hoops season really kicks in once the calendar turns to January. December is always a time so focused on the holidays that high school sports are an afterthought; The New Year brings renewed focus on basketball.
As I write this piece, the Saunders basketball team sits at 4-3. The season is still early and we have yet to play a game with our full team together on court. We're building our team and searching for our identity. Being a young team with only three seniors, it's what I expected. I'm confident that January and February will be fruitful as we gain more experience together.
When I came out in June, many members of the media questioned what would happen when we began playing games. How would my players react? Opposing teams? Opposing Coaches? Opposing fans? My response was pretty much the same: I believed there would be no problems while recognizing the possibility existed for worse. There was a slight fear I'd be forced to deal with it as it happen.
As opening day approached, my friend Robert Gorman at Nike was kind enough to send me some shirts for my team. The #BeTrue shirts are part of a Nike campaign that benefits the LGBT Sports Coalition. I told the kids about the shirts and one of them suggested that they should wear them as shooting shirts for the opening game. I didn't think much of it, assuming he was joking; I couldn't have been more wrong. A few days prior to the game several of my players talked about wearing the shirts. I addressed the team to make sure that this was what they wanted. The response was unanimous.
In some ways, our first game felt like my first-ever as a coach. I worried that people might look at me differently, and that the focus would be on me rather than the team. When I entered the gym and saw all my kids wearing the #BeTrue shirts, I had to keep myself from becoming emotional. I had 15 exceptional young men showing me an awesome gesture of support.
Once the ball went up, it was just another game. We inched out a win by junior captain, Dijon Gonzales, sinking two free throws with 0.3 on the clock.
In December we played in two tournaments and had a tremendous amount of media coverage at the games. There were no questions about my sexual orientation. It was all about basketball. Our team has 12 games remaining, including a three-game trip to Kentucky later this month. I'm hoping that business continues as normal.
During the past six months I have received so many e-mails from coaches and players who remain in the closet. The fear of the unknown -- what others will think, how players will react -- can be paralyzing for anyone. But I can tell you this: It's not as bad as one would think, and in most cases the support has been tremendous. The photo above shows just one example of that.
I have never felt more healthy than I do right now. So far, this has been the most enjoyable season of my career.
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