It was all sports, all the time this weekend for the Dilettante team. Herewith a quick review and a few observations:
Saturday was as basketball-filled a day as I can remember. We began at the Mounds View Community Center as we watched Maria’s participation in the Little Dribblers program. While the program is open to 1st and 2nd graders, there are significantly fewer 1st graders participating. As a result, Maria is one of the less experienced young athletes participating. But she is making excellent progress – she has improved her dribbling ability and has learned how to shoot a basketball. She is also learning a great deal of related fundamentals – how to jump stop, how to pivot, how to pass, how to move your feet to defend. Basketball, like chess, is a deceptively simple game that actually contains enormous complexity. Maria is barely 7 years old, but she’s getting a very good start in understanding the game.
Meanwhile, young Ben and his ragtag but indefatigable Red Scourge squad took on the lesser of the two St. Anthony teams in the league. This St. Anthony squad had previous dispatched Ben and co. by about 30 points the previous time around, but this time it was different. Ben’s team, even though it was missing 3 of the 9 players on the squad, gave a gallant accounting of itself, losing 40-36. Yes, yes, I know that moral victories are still losses, but seeing the improvement of the team was heartening. Ben played his usual well-rounded game; while he did not score, he contributed solid defense and good team play. Ben’s squad will begin tournament play in two weeks, against an opponent TBD.
Next, we packed everyone in the car and headed over to Tartan High School for the first-ever Minnesota-Wisconsin Border Battle basketball tournament. Mark Miller, my best childhood friend and majordomo of Wisconsin high school basketball, set up this tournament with his opposite number here in Minnesota. We had a chance to see parts of three of the five games, including impressive performances by tiny St. Bernard’s and the small but mighty Seymour, Wisconsin squad, which faced down a highly touted Minneapolis Patrick Henry Patriots. Seymour is a small town located about 20 miles from my home town of Appleton that has developed an unbelievably good high school basketball program. Their kids are the sturdy sons of dairy farmers and millwrights and they play with passion and great discipline. St. Bernard’s features the talented Trevor Mbakwe, a tremendous leaper who will play major college basketball at Marquette. Mbakwe threw down some tremendous dunks that thrilled my son and the large crowd that had gathered for the game against perennial Wisconsin small school power Randolph. We also saw La Crosse Aquinas, a small Catholic high school, easily dispatch a game but overmatched Rockford, Minnesota team. Aquinas has a spotty basketball history but they have really made tremendous strides in recent years. Overall, the Wisconsin teams won 3 of the 5 games. That’s about what I would have suspected; while Minnesota high school ball has improved a great deal in the last few years, the level of ball played in the Badger State has long been superior. It will be interesting to see how or if that changes in the coming years.
As if that weren’t enough, we packed up the kids on Sunday and headed over to the dreaded Metrodome for Twins Fest, the annual mid-winter celebration of all things Twin. Ben and Maria love this event, because they have an opportunity to play ball and try a variety of fun activities. This year they both had a chance to bat in the “Home Run Derby” against former Twin Kevin Tapani, rather than the usual anonymous Twins employee. Ben was smiling so much that Tapani feigned anger and threw him a brushback Wiffle Ball pitch. It was pretty neat. Attendance at Twins Fest was way up this year; this is hardly surprising, given the amount of attention the team garnered in their magical run last season. We are only two weeks away from one of the best announcements of the year – i.e., pitchers and catchers are reporting. And we’re still not done – stay tuned this week for all your Pack 412 Pinewood Derby coverage.