Dorms 2B and 3B were already warming up in the John Amos Field House gymnasium when I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, July 17, with my family to witness a spirited Philadelphia Youth Camp basketball contest.
In years past, when dorms arrived early for basketball, they would wait in the hallway in two lines, the tension building like the moments before a violent storm. But, as basketball instructor Dwight Falk told me when I entered the gym, the boys could only benefit from an extra 10 minutes or so of shooting.
When it was finally time to begin class, assistant basketball instructor Matthew Castillo led both dorms in several laps of jogging, high knees, one-legged vertical jumps, and defensive shuffle-steps as the Rocky theme song played. Fellow assistant Joella Tolis then demonstrated various stretches for the boys (plus Mr. Falk’s daughter and my daughter) to replicate.
After a three-man dribbling and passing drill, the A-teams and B-teams departed for opposite courts to practice layups, jump shots and the standard read-and-react offensive set. Mr. Falk wisely instructed dorm 2B’s A-team to leap using one leg when trying a layup, and then gently redirect the ball off of the backboard. Showing tough love, he had Jude, Spencer, Calin, Jeremy, and James repeat the drill until they did it correctly. In just five minutes, they showed marked improvement.
Led by counselor Harvey Powell and assistant Jared Schow, the powder blue-shirted boys of dorm 2B appeared to have the skill advantage on both the A- and B-sides. With Mr. Falk officiating and assistant Vienna Flurry keeping score for that game, and Mr. Castillo and Miss Tolis overseeing the B-game, dorms 2B and 3B clashed for supremacy over the course of two 20-minute halves—no timeouts, no clock stoppages.
In the A-game, dorm 2B suffered from a distinct height disadvantage, giving up repeated short shot attempts from the center of the lane and falling into a 24-10 hole at halftime. Mr. Falk pulled the team aside during the break and encouraged them for playing better basketball than the green-shirted dorm 3B, despite the points deficit. They had been missing quite a few open jumpers, so he offered some “revolutionary” advice: Make some shots. I chimed in and told them to outrun dorm 3B and to blitz them with hustle.
Dorm 2B was a different team in the second half. Cousin Jude was everywhere, sprinting up and down the court, creating turnovers, driving the lane and finishing layups, connecting on a pretty bounce pass through the middle to Spencer for a layup, and even drawing a charge with help defense when an opposing player ran him over at full speed. He urged teammates to take personal responsibility for mistakes rather than blaming each other.
But he also committed a couple quick fouls at the start of the half while trying to lead a comeback. As dorm 2B played more aggressively, the game became more physical. Too many fouls, an inability to consistently protect the basketball from opportunistic defenders, and a few missed layups spelled dorm 2B’s demise, 46-34. Jude finished with 20 points, Spencer with 12, and Calin with 2.
Mr. Falk, who initially added eight minutes of game time at the end of the second half, called a stop to the contest halfway through the extra period. The game had become too rough. Though the players generally maintained good attitudes through the excessive contact, there were simply too many near-injuries to tolerate.
Mr. Falk used the opportunity to teach controlled intensity. He stressed physical discipline instead of recklessly flailing or running blindly into other players. Such restraint is usually built with age, as players start to realize that basketball is supposed to be a non-contact sport, and that crashing into others is an easy way to lose friends or start drama. (I speak from experience.)
Dorm 2B’s B-team redeemed their counterpart, winning by a lopsided score of 34-14. Frank, Jacob G., Elisha, Jacob B., Alexander, and Daniel proudly informed me of the conquest.
After an eventful 90 minutes of basketball, dorm 2B (minus Mr. Powell, who had left earlier in the class for the counselors’ night off) vociferously congratulated dorm 3B and the basketball staff for challenging them to reach a higher standard.