Friday, February 24, 2017
It's hard to believe, but we are almost done with our first full season of AAU basketball, and it went so fast! Thinking back to October when this journey first presented itself to us, I was grateful but also a little nervous about what we were getting ourselves into. And now four months later, it's been one of the greatest blessings to our family. Not only is it enabling Jaden to grow in and pursue something he absolutely loves doing... but it has allowed our family to foster new relationships with other families that we would probably not have otherwise gotten to know. Not to mention, it's made this winter go incredibly fast! Very rarely have we had a weekend of sitting at home with nothing to do but endure the cold.
Growing up so entrenched in the athletics world myself, I always dreamed of being a boy mom, getting to watch my own son compete, making memories and fostering relationships through sports. I grew up watching these parents sacrifice their time and resources to support their kids, and now I'm right in the thick of it. Cody and I both find so much joy and pride in watching Jaden play - because we know it makes him happy, and we also know how much good this is doing for him. He is learning such valuable work ethic, time management, the importance of teamwork, and that chasing after something you really want doesn't usually come easy - but that it's worth it. February was a very busy month for our little Outlaw, and this weekend will be our first one off since January before we head to one more tournament in March to wrap up the official season. But - there really isn't much down time. The team will get a couple of weeks off around spring break and then get right back after it - practicing almost year round to prepare them for their 4th grade season and for any offseason summer tournaments that they have the opportunity to join. This is no rec league or smalltime program - the Outlaws are building a brand at almost all grade levels, and the players, families and coaches involved are committed to working hard - not just to win - but to get better all the time. It's a commitment for sure, but as we were driving home from State this past weekend, it already crossed my mind that we are done with the first year already. And the years we get to do this are limited.
And Jaden has improved so much since October! The confidence he has in his game and in his role on this team has grown by leaps and bounds and it is so noticeable in the way he plays. Starting out as the quiet new one to the group, he has developed into a more vocal leader on the court, directing his teammates to where they need to be and calling for the ball down low when he knows he's open to make a play. It's not always easy being the post player on a very young team, as most kids at that age are more apt to just shoot long jump shots than look for the open player under the basket, but he knows that with age and practice, that will change. He prides himself on his defense, and his rebounding is getting a lot better with every week of practice.
The team kicked off the month of February at the Cedar Rapids Kennedy tournament. This one tested them all day long, competing against some tough teams and coming out on top until the championship game at the end when they lost by just a few points.
It also really tested Jaden, as the ankle that had been bothering him for a couple of weeks leading up to the tournament took a turn for the worse during the second game of the day. He came down wrong on his teammate's foot, re-sprained it a bit, and was feeling bad enough that Coach Ryan had to escort him off the court and out into the hallway to try and walk it off. The coaches didn't want him out of the game for long so he recovered enough to be put back into the game for most of the second half, but it then needed to be taped up pretty good before the championship. Luckily Mindy has some athletic training background, and Cody has taped plenty of ankles in his time as a football player and high school coach, that we got Jaden's ankle taped up good and strong before the final game that night. Still sore and hobbling a bit, he powered through.
However, playing almost 40 minutes in the championship took its toll, and by the end of the final game Jaden was in tears when the final horn sounded. He could barely walk to the car, and we made him elevate it in the backseat the whole way home. The Sunday after was filled with ice on/ice off, Epsom salt foot baths and a day off from practice. We then had him start wearing new basketball shoes, and luckily that ankle recovered quickly after that. But we were so proud of him for how he competed and showed up for his team when they needed him - even in pain.
The next weekend we headed to Marshalltown where the boys went undefeated and earned themselves another medal.
One of the things I love about our coaches - is that they are always coaching! Even in the lobby by the concession stand, plays are being drawn up and the kids are being mentored. :)
Cody accidentally started something here - jolly ranchers after victories. ;)
For two weekends in a row, we wrapped up our tournament days back home with the entire team at the OP or Doughey Joeys. It's been so fun to gather together for food and games and conversation and get to know all of our Outlaw families better. It's made for some late and exhausting nights, but --- worth it.
And then this past weekend, it was time for State.
Our boys got to compete at the Iowa State practice facility in their biggest tournament yet. Our first two-day tournament, our first hotel stay with our team, and several challenging contests.
Such a cool opportunity for them! The head coaches parking spots are directly behind them, and the Cyclone basketball players were in the building practicing at the same time that we were playing.
"Stack Ubben" for the inbounds -- works like a charm almost every time... :)
The boys went undefeated in day one, with their toughest win coming in their 8:00 game that night against a team that has somewhat become our rival. They have been at many tournaments with us and have managed to play us in close games, including beating us one time about a month prior.
When that game had been won, we finally let the team jump into the hotel pool before forcing them in their beds to prepare for their big day two. The parents hung out on the open balcony with our beverages and snacks and watched all our kids below let loose and celebrate their successful day. And our hotel stay was exactly what I pictured it would be like - a bunch of happy kids running from room to room, doors open throughout the hotel, exchanging room numbers and video games, splashing in the pool together, while grownups unpack coolers from the car and drink wine. ;) This is where memories are made.
Day two. Championship day. Our boys ready to take the floor Sunday afternoon. Nine years old and already playing for a state championship.
Kael's dad, Carter, took this picture during tip-off, and it is now the cover photo for the Outlaws' Facebook page.
They came up just three points short in the championship, falling to a very talented, skilled - and tall team from Council Bluffs. There were tears from our kiddos, but there also was a lot to be proud of.
It's been a crazy month, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Proud to wear this boy's name and number on my back - even when the pictures embarrass him. ;) As Cody told him - "She carried you for nine months. She made this possible for you. You owe her a picture or two." :)
What a journey we're on! Go Outlaws!