a story about the quirks and glories of church life featuring unlikely basketball star Hayden Daily
In the locker room after practice on Friday three of the other starters approached Hayden. “Hey Dailey”, said one, “We’ll be in the back room at DJ’s tonight. See ya there, huh?”. It was an invitation to the inner sanctum of the college social scene – and, Hayden had heard, to certain… privileges. “Got plans tonight”, he replied, remember-ing the fund-raiser for the Afghanistan mission trip. The others stared back at him. He saw the hint of accusation in their eyes. Loser, it said. Hayden thought quickly. “But catch me next time”, he said.
“Hey, I hoped I’d see you here”. It was Dorcas at the mission fund-raiser with two cups of coffee in her hand. She set one in front of Hayden and sat down next to him. “Hey, Dorkie”, said Hayden, giving her a one-arm hug. He’d called her that since middle school youth group. Rick and Bev joined them, new baby in tow. It was a small group; the whole crowd numbered less than forty.
They googled at the baby while the band played. Then Elder Andrew stepped up to speak. “Just want you to see why we’re building a water purifier in Teliff”. He showed some slides of the villagers. “That’s dysentery. That’s Black Fever. And that’s malaria”.
Hayden blinked. His stomach turned a little at these diseased bodies and he was annoyed with Elder Andrew for showing them. He didn't like pressure like this. He turned to say so to Dorcas, but he saw she had a very different reaction.. She was fighting back tears.
“I don’t know how else to say it”, concluded Andrew, “we need your money”. As the band began playing again, conversations resumed. Dorcas, who had been silent, suddenly spoke. “That’s it, I’m going”, she said.
“Don’t go yet, it’s only 9:00”, said Hayden
“No, Hayden – I mean I’m going to Teliff”. Hayden stared. “It’s not safe for women, Dorkie.”
“No”, she replied, “it’s not, is it”.
Since meeting her at bible study Hayden had been looking forward to Sunday service. Her name, he’d learned, was Gloria. “See you Sunday”, she had said – and she had smiled at him. Her smile had gone right through him. Now as he knelt to pray before service, he realized he was nervous about seeing her. He forced himself not to look toward the doorway.
Elder Andrew stood up during announce-ments. “We only received $700 from the concert on Friday”, he said. “And less than 40 people even came. People, we have got to do better”.
Then Elder Greening stood. The congregation stilled. Elder Andrew was all fire and passion, and he inspired Hayden; but Elder Greening was different: she was a deep river. Shespoke softly, but when she did, people hearkened.
She spoke. “I had hoped for more from you all”, and then she paused a while. “But perhaps this morning God will move among us”. Then she simply sat. The pastor let the moment linger.
“Christ’s peace be with you”, he said at last. Hayden stood and immediately Gertie was on him. Hayden braced for the weekly medical report.
“Bin havin’ gas all week, can’t stop it”, she said without even greeting Hayden. “Peace be with you, Gertie” said Hayden as he hugged her, making sure not to squeeze too hard.
After service Gloria disappeared. Hayden felt both relieved and confounded; relieved that he’d been spared another intestine-wrenching encounter, and confounded that he’d missed the chance. Oh well, he comforted himself, I can tell she’s interested in me by the way she’s ignoring me. Suddenly someone spoke to him.
“Coming to brunch, Hayden?” It was Dorcas. “Yeah”, he mumbled. “I’m coming”. “Let’s first go see how much we got from the special offering", she said. "Maybe Elder Greening loosened up some wallets”.
Apparently she had. The total from the special offering was over $6,000 and still counting.
“Georgetown is a Division I team”, Coach was shouting during his pre-game speech. “That’s Division I. And if you don’t focus and play like men tonight, you’re going to look like…like, uhh...chumps out there!” Hayden chuckled to himself. Coach’s pep talks were spotty at best.
As his team was introduced they were loudly booed by the Georgetown fans. We’re only a lowly Div. II team, though Hayden, why are they bothering to put on the display? And then the crowd erupted as the Georgetown players were introduced. "We Are The Champions" blared from the speakers as their team sprinted out – and ran right at their starting Center. Jason stepped aside to let them pass, but an elbow knocked him to the ground anyway. Hayden’s team protested, but the intimidation worked: they were scared.
As they readied for the jump ball, every one of G-town’s players was talking trash at them. “Freakin’ dwarf, I’ll rock you”, said a voice at Hayden. Hayden took a breath and prayed. As he did, his mind cleared. He looked up at the man guarding him. “Amen”, he said distinctly.
The jump ball was tipped right to his man, who faked right and sprinted to the hoop. Hayden saw it coming and stepped behind him. As his man launched for the lay-up, Hayden stripped the ball from behind. He fired it down court to Jason, who sunk a 10-footer.
As Georgetown set up for their first possession, Hayden pressed his man. Again he faked right and stepped past Hayden, and again Hayden stripped him from behind. With no one between him and the hoop, Hayden took it all the way. As he launched he noticed he was rocketing a good half foot higher than usual. There’s a first time for everything, he thought, and he slammed the ball in. He team leaped off the bench and pumped their fists. Yes!
A few plays later Hayden had the ball and his man came up tight on him. A lane opened under the hoop – Hayden saw it plain as day. He hooked the ball around his back and in two steps was past his man and in the key. He pulled up and sank an 8-footer over their 7-foot Center.
The man guarding Hayden was clearly rattled. After Hayden wrested a rebound from him and lofted in a three-pointer, he heard him hiss: “Time to put you down, punk”. Sure enough, next rebound Hayden took a hard elbow to the bridge of his nose. The lights went out as he crashed to the floor. Blood spurted onto his jersey and the crowd jeered. Coach screamed for a technical foul, and he got it. Hayden was helped to the bench while three of his teammates held back another from punching the man who fouled Hayden. Suddenly Hayden’s pain ceased. Calm took Hayden’s mind. “I’ll take the shots, Coach”, hesaid. Coach halted. “Your nose is broken, son”. “I can play, Coach, I’m fine, really”. Coach blinked stupidly, but nodded. Hayden walked to the foul line, perfectly poised – and swished both shots.
By halftime Hayden had already tallied 18 points and 8 assists. Now, with 20 seconds left in the game, Hayden led all scorers with 31 points. But his team was down by one, and Georgetown had the ball. They scampered wildly to inbound the ball and found an open man, who burst toward his hoop. Hayden streaked to the key ahead of him. Plainly the man, who had 6 inches and 60 pounds on Hayden, planned to slam it over him to seal the victory. He steamed to the hoop and launched, legs churning. Hayden saw exactly the only spot where there was bare ball and leaped up into the oncoming train. As they collided in mid-air Hayden touched nothing but ball. The Georgetown man’s legs sailed forward as his torso plunged backwards and crashed to the floor. Hayden picked up the loose ball and saw 9 seconds on the clock. Dodging a defender, he sprinted up the court and passed behind his head to RJ, who dribbled twice and shot. Hayden saw immediately that the ball would glance off the front of the rim. Five players rushed the hoop for the rebound, three of them from Georgetown. As the ball arced downward Hayden went airborne from the foul line. Ten pair of hands went up for the ball, but only Hayden’s found it. He grabbed the ball and, momentum still carrying him forward, slammed it into the basket. Time expired as Georgetown tried to inbound. Hayden had stolen their victory.
As the buzzer sounded, two things happened. Hayden’s hysterical team swarmed him at mid-court… and the pain came flooding back into his broken nose.
His Wednesday bible study was packed that week. Few had brought bibles, and Hayden could barely turn the subject away from basketball Gloria came too. And this time he was sure she had smiled at him.
That night Hayden floated back to his dorm.
chapter 3 in a few days....