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One of life's improbable moments

Published December 27. 2014 09:00AM

When you have three-quarters of a century in the book of life, it's not unusual to survey those 75 years for some improbable, zany moments where you slap the side of your head. You don't necessarily proclaim: "I should have had a V-8," but you smile in embarrassment and marvel about the unlikelihood of the adventure.

My "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me" experience was the season when, at age 19, I coached a girls' basketball team, which wound up going 26-1. Understand that the closest I had gotten to a basketball until this point was being a scorekeeper for my Summit Hill High School basketball team. I lettered in football, baseball and track for the Hillers, but playing basketball never interested me.

I loved to keep the team's statistics, but that's as close to the court as I got. Now, I did play a fair amount of Puff basketball in our living room, but I am pretty sure that doesn't count.

My short-lived career as a coach was not something I sought. It fell into my lap by default. The girl whom I was dating at the time was a member of this team. She and her friends loved basketball and wanted something more challenging than pickup playground games. Their Catholic high school did not have a girls' basketball team yet, but the administration agreed to sanction a sport club that did not have varsity status.

They needed a "responsible" person who would arrange scheduling of games, help line up transportation, make sure the girls observed decorum and modesty, and, oh, yeah, coach the team.

I was so starry-eyed about this girl that I was dating that if she had asked me to fly to the moon, I would have sighed, "When is the next rocket ship leaving?"

Manipulator that she was, she popped the question as to whether I would be coach after planting one of her most sensuous kisses on me. I guess I must have said yes, because the next thing I knew I had the team gathered at the school gym, and they were listening in rapt anticipation as I gave my first Knute Rockne-style pep talk.

After a crash course on learning the mechanics of girls' basketball this was 1958 when the rules were different than they were for boys' basketball I was ready to strategize and come up with several plays in advance of the team's opener.

I found out almost instantly that this team would be built around an incredibly gifted and talented shooter who had near-deadly accuracy from just about anywhere within 20 feet of the basket.

Backed by her 37 points, our team routed the opposition in the opener, and, from there, we were virtually unstoppable. Our star forward scored nearly 1,000 points for the season, averaging about 35 points a game.

Although I was hailed by the girls, their parents and families and the school's athletic director as a genius, the truth is that a turtle could have been coaching this team and done just as well. So long as our star shooter was on the court, there was a pretty good chance that this team was going to win.

The lone loss occurred when our star sprained her ankle in the fourth quarter of the final game of the season, had to leave the game, and we lost by two points.

Because of the incredible showing of the team and the support it generated among parents and the communities, the school decided to establish girls' basketball as a varsity sport with a qualified coach. My brief tenure as a coach was history.

Just as well: My girl and I broke up shortly after basketball season. I felt used, and the word "basketball" became a dirty word for a while.

Bruce Frassinelli, a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School, lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.

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