March 1, 2014 by The Citron Review
We were ballers then, and knew nothing else. Our uniforms told us who we were. They were black with a green script across the front, a script that said: WE ARE TORRESDALE.
And that’s who we were: the Torresdale traveling basketball team, the 12-14 bracket, the white kids who dreamed of Nike while wearing faded white Converse.
We traveled all across Philadelphia’s “Great Northeast,” pounding the post on the short kids at Pennypack, shooting the three against those tall Russians on Somerton, and always losing to the black kids from Byberry. We didn’t hate the black kids, we just wanted to be as good as them.
We practiced at LaBrum Middle School, trapped between the 7-9 team and the 15-17 team. Some of us stayed after to watch the older guys and dream of being them, wearing their uniforms, the green ones with the white script, the ones that didn’t have any sleeves – just like the pro tops. But 12-14 kids needed sleeves, because what else would we have wiped our brows with?
What we wanted even more than their skill was simply to sound like them: not just the words, but the quality of their voices – the very bass of which would have announced our arrival as men. When they ran suicides, their laughter and ball-busting bounced from side to side as they glided up and down the court, and later, into their cars, into their futures.
Suicides just made us sweat and cramp, and a few even heave. We ran 10 at the beginning of practice. We ran 10 in the middle of practice. We ran 10 at the end of practice. We ran 10 when we weren’t practicing hard enough. We ran 10 when coach said good hustle, but didn’t want us getting carried away with ourselves.
We ran suicides from the baseline to the foul line so that we would be ready to do the little things – chase a loose ball, close down the perimeter, run around a screen. We ran suicides from the baseline to half court so that we would be ready to convert turnovers into points, to learn that the best attack was a counter-attack.
We ran suicides from the baseline to the opposite foul line and dreamed of the days we would be tall enough to dunk the ball, even though none of us would ever be tall enough to dunk the ball. We ran suicides from baseline to baseline because, well, we never figured out why. Perhaps the coaches were cruel. Perhaps they wanted us to know that we could do it. Or perhaps the coaches once ran them and it was their idea of justice.
We ran suicides every practice. We ran suicides until we stopped mouthing off to Coach. We ran suicides until we thought we could be better than C students in social studies. We ran suicides until Chrissy Stenson got up on Labrum roof late one Saturday night and ran straight off. She landed on the blacktop of the gym’s parking lot. Later, we confessed, one by one in the cold damp of the locker room, that we would have liked to have been there. “Thank God it wasn’t a practice night,” the moms all whispered. It was their collective prayer.
The rumor was Chrissy confessed to trying to kill herself. She broke a bone in each leg, but as the season went on, the story expanded. Some days she broke 7 bones, others 14, and on rare days something like 22 or 36. At the next practice, we told the 15-17 guys there was dried blood by the dumpster, even though it wasn’t there and maybe never existed.
No one ever asked us to stop running suicides, Coach simply tried out new names – Burners for a little while, then Touch and Go’s, and then finally Individuals. And while we kept running and playing, the white script on our shirts cracked under the duress of weekly washing. Some of us left the team. Even more didn’t make the jump to the 15-17 squad. Sometimes when we saw each other separate and elsewhere – at Franklin Mills, or along the wall outside of Wawa – we pretended we were outsiders, strangers who were just passing through. We ceased to be Torresdale. We stopped running suicides eventually, but we never stopped running.
John Carroll is a writer from Philadelphia. His fiction has appeared in Cleaver, Stymie, The Battered Suitcase, Interrobang!?, Versal and Philly Fiction 2 (Don Ron Books). He received his MFA from American University in Washington, DC. John is also one-half of the comedy duo Carroll ünd Klinger, co-writes the web site The Critics Agree, and maintains the experimental poetry site Poetry, by Google Voice.