Tales of a Third Grade Spit Ball

The latest 'Father Figuring' column
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I love to exercise, but I don’t play sports. I can’t dribble, shoot, swing or throw. I can run, but that was the extent of my athletic prowess.

I passed this genetic defect on to my three daughters. I created dancers and singers, not soccer or basketball stars.

I tried. I desperately wanted to regain my underwhelming youth sports career through my kids. I longed to spend Saturdays in a lawn chair by the soccer field.

I distinctly remember my middle daughter, the most petite of the lot, scoring a goal in the third grade basketball league at the YMCA. It was the highlight of our entire family’s attempt at athleticism. I rose from the bleacher and tossed my arms in the air with hands clasped in victory fashion. The other parents congratulated me — all were shocked. A Ham getting the ball typically meant turnover.

It wasn’t long after that when this same child informed me she was packing up her Converses for good and swapping them out for ballet slippers. Daughter three picked clovers on the soccer field, cried at swim meets and ducked on the basketball court when the ball came her way. My attempts were futile.

I could not be frustrated with my girls at their lack of enthusiasm for sports because I dropped out of the youth basketball league because of spit. That’s right, spit.

I was in third grade when I joined the church basketball team in Fayetteville. I remember two things about that season. First: A kid named Paul spit on me during practice because I stunk at the game. 

The second thing I remember is that the third graders were allowed to play in one game that season. Our team was up by 25 points so Coach Ancherico put the third string in. I was the point guard. We played at Horace Sisk Gymnasium. It felt like the Dean Dome to a small kid like me. There were, maybe, two minutes left. My buddy Steven threw the ball in to me. Seconds later, I heard a whistle. The ref, with a condescending smile, yelled, “Traveling. Green ball!” I had forgotten to dribble. 

It seemed like the entire gym snickered, “Ahh, the little third grader forgot to dribble. Isn’t that cute.” It was NOT cute. It was humiliating. My teammates weren’t happy. I had blown one of only two offensive possessions we would have that entire season. 

Paul did not spit on me that day, but it may have precipitated his ongoing frustration the following week at practice when he launched a loogie onto my bright orange jersey. 

I am thankful that my kids were never spat upon for their lack of talent. But maybe Paul did me a favor. I traded my team sports aspirations for running, and that has brought me a great deal of joy. 


Bruce Ham, who lives in Raleigh, started writing after losing his wife and raising his three daughters on his own. He has written a book, “Laughter, Tears and Braids,” about their journey, and writes a blog about his family’s experiences at therealfullhouse.wordpress.com.


Categories: Family, Lifestyle