Ross Dember and Alex Schroeder | Five-feet nothing
Stagger, no swagger
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 10:09
I’m Ross. And that’s Alex. And together, we’re five-feet nothing. We’re switching off every week taking you on a walk down memory lane to the glory days of our sports-playing youths. I’m kicking off the semester this week.
There is no fantasy like a great sports movie. Whether it is Rocky Balboa single-handedly ending the Cold War in Rocky IV or Rudy getting to wear a Notre Dame jersey, there is a certain amount of romanticism to sports that in the end, the good guy always wins no matter how undersized or untalented he is. Life, especially middle school, can quickly shut down that belief.
I was in eighth grade, and due to early morning tryouts and a charitable coach, I had made my middle school’s basketball team. Luckily, we were the best team in our league. Most of my playing time was in practice, which consisted of failed attempts at guarding our lightning-quick point guard and trying to box-out our behemoth of a center, who at the age of 14 had already mastered both the art of grabbing rebounds and shaving.
It wasn’t bad. I still got to run out at the start of the game as Rick Ross and R. Kelly’s “Speedin’” blasted out of the speakers. On game-days, I got to sport a shirt and tie, which allowed my teammates and me to walk around with the level of self-importance only middle school boys can have.
During one game in the beginning of the year, we were beating a team by so much that the coach decided it was safe enough to put me in the game. As soon as I slapped the scorer’s table, he yelled out “Stagger Dember!” which shocked the 15 guys on the team.
A stagger is a popular basketball play where one of the players, usually a talented three-point shooter, runs through a labyrinth of off-ball screens in order to get open for a catch-and-shoot from beyond the three-point line. We ran that play about five times a game; the coach would shout, “Stagger!” followed by the player’s name, and everybody on the bench would be prepared to stand up as the ball dropped through the net.
A few years before, “Stagger Dember” was a staple of the team’s offense. My older brother had the best jump shot on the team, so the coach would call his number when the team was in desperate need of a momentum shift. He loved that play, and he used to teach me the subtleties of how to make it work. You had to hesitate first, throw a speed burst around the first pick and go shoulder-to-shoulder through the double screen on the opposite side.
Right before the play, my brother and I gave each other a quick nod, and I allowed myself to daydream for a second. I would hit this shot and the one after that, move from benchwarmer to starter, and the group of popular girls that sat in the bleachers for every home game would be impressed.
Our point guard took the ball up the court, and just as I had done so many times in my head, I drifted toward the paint and made a sudden sprint around the first screen. If that didn’t send the kid guarding me into a tailspin, then the double screen set by our team’s two biggest players must have, as he was knocked to the ground.
Having perfectly completed the first half of the play, I planted my left foot right above the three-point line, pivoted toward the point guard, prepared myself for the catch-and-shoot, and ... the ball hit me square in the face.
That was the last time “Stagger Dember” was ever called. Three years later, Rudy was charged with securities fraud.
Ross Dember and Alex Schroeder are both sophomores who have yet to declare majors. Ross can be reached at email@example.com, and Alex can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.