The Six-Month Backslide Part 1

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March 1995

Jeff Dempsey has that look.

It's one of those universal human expressions that we all instantly recognize. It's the look you would have after stepping in dog shit on the way into the most important job interview of your life. Or if you looked up to see the car you just rear-ended is a parked police cruiser.

It's an expression that encapsulates contempt, anger, frustration, and overall exasperation. And for the last 20 minutes, it has been permanently affixed to Jeff's 17-year-old baby face.

What caused this look is not necessarily anything he did or saw. Instead, his dismay is caused by something he heard...over and over and over again. It's the unmistakable sound that any basketball player dreads. The seemingly deafening sound of the ball CLANGING off the iron. Each time, echoing off the walls of the Holy Trinity High School gym.

He's fired up so many bricks, he's expecting someone to rush in and give him a well-earned Mason's union membership card.

Had he been searching for excuses, he wouldn't have to look too far. His plaid button-up long-sleeve shirt and faded blue-jeans are not exactly conducive to draining long jumpers. He hasn't had a proper warm-up given that he skipped third-period Religious Studies so he could get in fifteen to twenty minutes of shooting as a confidence booster. As another shot ricochets off the rim and slams against the wall, he now sees the folly in this plan.

His only consolation is that he is suffering this humiliation alone. There is nobody else in the gym to bear witness to this Hindenburg of a shooting display.

"Your elbow is flying out."

Or so he thought.

The female voice was familiar although he couldn't immediately place it. Jeff turns around to see the varsity team's equipment manager, 15-year-old Ginny Holder standing behind him. Two decades later he would be re-introduced to her as Ashley but at this point in time, Jeff has no idea how their paths will cross again one day. Right now, she is just Ginny, the Grade 10 girl who makes sure the team's uniforms are ready for the games and the ball racks are out for pre-game warm up.

Her comment has Jeff perplexed and almost unsure where to begin. As adults, this is an occurrence that will become commonplace for him. But for now, Jeff is more than a little annoyed.

"What?" he offers as more of a statement than a question.

Ginny takes a few steps towards him. "Your shooting elbow is cocked way out to the side. Ginny mimics the shooting motion that has the shooting elbow pointed out at a 45-degree angle. She then brings it in so the shooting forearm is more straight up and down. "This is how you normally shoot."

Jeff's delicate male ego makes him instantly resistant to taking shooting tips from a girl two years younger than he. On that other hand, he can't bear the sound of another missed shot so he's ready to try just about anything. Jeff picks up the ball, squares up to the basket, launches a jumper with his elbow in and...SWISH.

Dead. Solid. Perfect.

He looks at Ginny who does her best to hide a smug, satisfied grin. "Thanks, kid." He offers in his best cool-guy voice and starts to walk out of the gym. He doesn't realize he's being followed until he hears that voice again.

"You nervous about Franklin Heights tomorrow?"

"I don't get nervous," Jeff offers in his best Steve McQueen demeanor. Of course, that was total horseshit. As lies go, that is one of the top five he's ever told. It's right up there with "Of course, I'd love to see your slam poetry reading," and "Oh my God, you love Carrot Top movies too?!?"

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