I was supposed to be a boy. I know this because when I was younger I found some audio cassettes marked “Baby John’s Heartbeat.” I mean, it was 1980. It was before the ultrasound technology today so there are no pictures of me in utero (thank God, I was an ugly baby!) but there exists a sound recording of my whooshing heartbeat at about 30 weeks gestation. I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever heard. But I was so confused as to why it was labeled “John” when I clearly was a “Jessica.” My mom informed me they had been told throughout the pregnancy that I was a boy (again, ancient technology – or lack thereof) and they had planned to name me after my father’s older brother who succumbed to cancer at 19.
I’d say it was about that time, at 6 or 7, that I started viewing my relationship with my father differently. I felt surely he was disappointed that not only was I NOT a boy but he had another daughter after me and no son AT ALL (this speaks much to my psyche even today in that I will continually attempt to change or better things for others, even when there is no need or point). So I began wanting to do things that which were more on the tomboy side. We played catch. He put up a basketball hoop and taught me how to shoot. Unfortunately, coordination is not one of my strong suits (also still true today) and I wasn’t very good. But it was fun to hang out with my dad and I felt like it brought him some enjoyment too.
When I started 6th grade, I made a new best friend. Her name was Karen and her dad was the head coach of the high school boy’s varsity basketball team. My dad started bringing me to games where I got in some social time with my best friend but also learned about the game. That continued until I started high school where I took my uncoordinated self paired with my vast knowledge of the game of basketball and became a cheerleader (which is a sport BTW, a fight for another post!) for all 4 years.
When I went away to college, I would look forward to winter break where my dad and I would return to the gym of my alma mater and watch his alma mater play mine. We would catch as many games as we could, my dad always with a pocket full of tootsie pops and me flitting about being social while trying to keep up with the game.
When I returned home from college, my sister was in her freshman year at UVM. She had been tapped to be the person who performed the National Anthem before home games for the UVM Catamounts. With this honor, she received two tickets to every home game which she handed over to my father and I. It was the early part of the glory days. There was so much heart in this team. We began traveling for games with the team – for both championship games AND regular season games. We were utterly hooked on the magic that is Catamount Basketball.
In 2004, the America East Championship Game was played at Patrick Gym, our home court. Tickets would be hard to come by but dad & I were determined. We made a plan that he would head over at about 4am and I would replace him in line about 8. Well, when we watched the 11pm news, people were already lined up. So we decided to join them. We packed blankets and pillows, snacks and games and spent one of the most memorable nights of my life surrounded by other die hard Cats fans. Coppenrath’s return from injury to score more than 30 points in a thrilling win over Maine was icing on the cake.
The Cats went onto to lose in the NCAA tourney in the first round as a 15th seed playing #2 Connecticut. But we had hope for the next season. The final year of the magic that was Coppenrath, Jensen, Sorrentine, Hehn and Mopa Njila’s. They went on to win the America East tourney and upset Syracuse in the 1st round.
I think that was the height of my Catamounts fandom. The team has remained superb, usually finishing in the top 3 of the league (at worst). They clinched a second place regular season finish with a win over UNH last night, who handed them their first league loss this season. I still see games with my dad. Ryan has grown to love the Cats as much as I have grown to love the Patriots. It’s embarrassing to attend a game with me. It is normal for me to leave a game hoarse or without a voice. I scream during the opposing team’s foul shots. I yell at the refs. I cheer hard for my team. I am looking forward to this year’s playoff and at least one, if not two, home court playoff games after a change in the playoff rules this season that got rid of a tournament that ALWAYS required Vermont to travel.
Basketball will always have a special place in my heart. In that place is an even more special spot for the Colchester High School Lakers and the UVM Catamounts. If there is a home game and I can afford tickets, win tickets (thanks Heritage Ford & Toyota!) or am given tickets by my boss (thanks Boss!), I am there. If not, I am streaming it at home. I stream every away game I can and at least check in via ESPN app if I can’t watch it live. I already have tickets to the first playoff game and we haven’t ruled out a trip to Albany should it necessary for the Championship. I am a lifelong, die hard basketball fan. And damn proud of it! #IBleedGreenAndGold