Going in, I was a little worried. I was afraid the final buzzer would sound and I might turn into a weeping, sniffling mess of a man.
Kind of like John Boehner, only less orange.
Thankfully, when the last game of my first season as a basketball coach ended, I mostly held it together.
When one parent thanked me and I responded, "I wish the season wasn't over," I could feel my lower lip quivering just a little. But I got ahold of myself and was able to fill the next several minutes with thank-yous, hugs and smiles before leaving the arena with a bag full of sweaty jerseys to turn into the athletic director.
It truly was a great season for the mighty 7th grade Lady Bucs of Charlotte Country Day.
Although we could have won a few more games -- we finished 7-5 -- we grew so much from the first day of practice to the season's end.
Just as I had never coached high-level, competitive hoops before, many of these girls had never been a part of such a program. Several of them had trouble even catching the ball. Layup lines were an adventure, with girls bumping into each other and basketballs bouncing every which way.
As for running the three-man weave, well, we might as well have asked them to split atoms.
Slowly, thanks in great part to the guidance and patience of our head coach, Diana Cromartie, and also to the intelligence and work ethic of the girls, we figured things out. Together.
After a 1-2 start, we reeled off five straight wins, each more impressive than the one before. Our best players took ownership of the team and their teammates followed. Most of them have been friends for years, playing other sports and just hanging out together, and that bond was paying dividends on the basketball court.
In the last two weeks, the level of competition rose significantly and we lost 3 of our final 4 games. But we fought hard in every one of them. We didn't always make the best decisions and our shots didn't always fall, but nobody worked harder than we did. Nobody.
In Thursday's finale, we fell behind by 9 points but came roaring back to trail by 2 in the final seconds. We couldn't quite pull it out, but we didn't quit. We never quit. The girls -- and their parents -- should be extremely proud.
It was cool to watch the girls grow individually, too. Diana is an excellent teacher of shot mechanics, and every single girl improved under her tutelage. I preached the fundamentals of rebounding -- one of the few skills I had in my playing days, back when the ref had to take the ball out of the peach basket after every successful shot -- and by season's end, several of our girls were terrors on the boards.
Not a practice or game went by without us coaches getting a good laugh. We'd be in the middle of an intense huddle in the final minutes of a close game, and as Diana was drawing up a play, one of the girls invariably would ask: "Um, is this offense or defense?"
I like to think I grew as a coach, too. Frankly, before the season started, I thought I might be in way over my head. My main goal was to reward the trust Country Day (and the girls' parents) put in me. My secondary goal was to not embarrass myself.
Those who know me might not believe this, but I mostly kept my yap shut during the first couple of weeks. This was Diana's team. I was only along for the ride. Writing about others playing basketball was a whole different ballgame than being involved in the day-to-day operations of a team.
As I got more comfortable with the system and with the players, I relaxed. I absorbed as much knowledge as I could. My confidence grew, as did my voice. Again, Diana deserves credit; she encouraged me to make suggestions in practice and take a bigger role in games.
Maybe I'm delusional, but I now actually think I could handle being a head coach at this level next season should the opportunity present itself. If I'm an assistant again, that would be cool, too. I've still got so much to learn.
One thing I did learn is why life-long coaches become life-long coaches. It's addictive. I really am sad the season's over.
Mostly, I will miss the girls. They were fun and funny and smart and goofy and enthusiastic and classy. Above all, they never cheated themselves or their parents or their coaches or their school. They cared.
I hope I'm wrong, but I now realize I might coach for 20 more years and not be lucky enough to work with kids I like this much.
Next up: Monday's farewell party at one of the girl's homes.
If I make it through the night with dry eyes, it might be the season's biggest upset.