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Last week, Jerry, one of the four boys in this story of an inept basketball coach, had just presented his teammates with a better way to race around the school grounds.
Instead of competing with four others to see who would win and get an A and who would come in last and receive an F, Jerry said let’s all cross the finish line at the same time, then everyone gets an A.
And that’s what they did. What they didn’t anticipate was the coach’s reaction.
When the entire team exploded into laughter, Watkins’ facial muscles began to contort.
“You Army Brats think you can outsmart an old Navy man, but you’ve got another think coming. You think all five guys should get an A. I say all five make F’s.”
That night, Riley went to see his favorite teacher. When he was let in, Riley immediately said, “You know Coach Watkins sure has some screwy ideas. He thinks all there is to basketball is getting in shape. Well, we’re in shape, but he’s never mentioned what kind of offense we will play, or for that matter, what kind of defense. Mr. Kinsley, what does ‘ept’ mean? Coach Watkins uses it like it’s the opposite of ‘inept.’”
“Well, Riley, I don’t think you’ll find ‘ept’ in your Funk & Wagnalls.”
After three weeks of exhausting practices, Coach Watkins had accomplished two things: He had a team in good condition, and he had given the players nicknames. Recognizing Jerry’s rather prominent nose, he called him Hose Nose. Slim Jim, who hardly ever said anything, was Zipperlip. Maxie remained forever in Watkins’ nomenclature Fatty. Watkins’ name for Riley was Bugs, after Bugs Bunny, the cartoon character.
Not knowing what they were doing, the Nürnberg Eagles went naively to their first defeat of the season 56 to 19. Coach Watkins said, “Them frankfurters won because they was in better condition.” In the next weeks, the Eagles engaged Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, and Munich and put up some baskets, but in every game came home with clipped tail feathers.
Riley timorously suggested the team add fast breaks to its repertoire. To his surprise, Watkins said, “Okay, never let it be said that I’m obdurate. I’m as durate as they come. We’ll practice this tactic.”
The Eagles beat the three smallest schools in the league and ended the season with a 3-8 record.
Coach Watkins called a team meeting and announced, “Boys, I’m full of gumption about this tournament and here’s my inchoate plan. In the first round all teams play. Winners will then play for the Class A championship. Losers play for the Class B championship. We can take home a winner’s cup by losing our first game and then beating the smaller schools. It’ll be a maculate sweep.”
The boys were nonplussed. “This means we play to lose against Wiesbaden, a team we almost beat,” said Maxie. Riley and Jerry silently mouthed, “We won’t do it.”
When the tournament began, Riley and Jerry went against Wiesbaden, playing as hard as they could, and after three minutes Nürnberg led 11-4. Watkins called a timeout.
“Hosenose, take yourself to the bench. Bugs, take a shower.”
With those two gone, the team began throwing bad passes and playing lax defense. In the second half, the fans caught on and began booing.
Nürnberg lost the game 49-22. The next morning, they learned they had lost the support of their own fans.
Despite hostile fans, they beat Bremerhaven in the semifinal match.
Against constant heckling, they played their hearts out in the championship game against Berlin. In the final minute, they were two points behind when a Berliner kicked the ball. Just as Maxie was about to make his throw-in, a hostile fan shoved him. Riley got the ball with seconds left and lofted a long shot. It hit the rim, rolled around – and fell out.
Nürnberg lost. The crowd howled its approval!
Bob McQuitty is a professor emeritus from NSU with an interest in the American language.