Thursday, February 23, 2012

Full Court Press

Like many other youngsters, a part of my youth was spent on either a football field, baseball diamond or basketball court, and even now when they are very probably long deceased, I am able to recall the names of coaches in both junior and senior high school, am able to remember the excitement and purity of our team play in those years when the euphoria of winning and tears of defeat were so finely balanced, when either one seemed to be the most important thing in our still green lives. There is something so genuine and throat-catching about the play of young athletes, and too often that passion dissipates when it builds to professional sports where everything is “Show me the money!”

Rare to open a collection of poems by a single author and find that as you read from front to back, each successive poem is one that grips from first line to last. Of course, there are many books of poetry that include an impressive number of memorable poems, but for this reader at least, those that hit a homerun, throw a perfect game—those collections are the unexpected find. The winning collection before me now is one called Losing Season by Jack Ridl.

Jack Ridl is the author of eight poetry collections and for thirty-six years taught poetry and literature before his retirement from Hope College in Holland, Michigan. His work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, The Denver Quarterly, Chelsea, Free Lunch, The Journal, Passages North, and Poetry East. Ridl lives with his wife along a creek that winds into Lake Michigan.

The American experience of high school sports is the focus of Losing Season, Jack Ridl’s latest collection of poems chronicling a year of hope and defeat on and off the basketball court in a small town. Like a basketball game, the book is divided into four quarters, the poems tracing the season in a cycle that follows the hope, the enthusiasm and disappointment of the team players. At its center is the coach, now in middle age and struggling with the tension between his job, his marriage and the widening gulf between himself and his daughter. The youthful exuberance of daily practices with his high school players serves to remind the fifty-year-old of his own aging.


Coach hurls the ball against the garage door,

grabs it on the rebound. He’s missed ten

in a row. He steps to the line, bounces

the ball twice, hard, and the fans from

thirty years ago send their hopes across

their weary lungs. He listens to the hush

of the home crowd while the taunts

of those from out of town float through

the rafters down across the backboard,

spinning around and around the rim.

He slams the ball one more time, feels

the leather, eyes the hoop, shoots.

The ball caroms off the back of the rim, rolls

across the driveway into the herb garden

his wife planted the year they found this house.

Once he could drop nine out of ten

from the line, hit half his jumps shots

from twenty feet. Coach sits down at

the top of the key, stares, sees himself

bringing it up against the press, faking,

shaking his shoulders, stutter stepping, shifting

the ball left hand to right , then back, then up,

his legs exploding, his wrist firing, the ball

looping up, down, through the hoop, making

the net shimmer, the crowd roar. He gets up,

goes over to the garden, reaches for the ball,

stops and pulls some weeds growing through

the oregano, basil, sage, and thyme.


  1. Isn't it a shame that sports have turned into the money game. That's one reason that I enjoy watching golf on TV. That's not to say that I don't watch football and basketball, but I don't follow the pros in football and basketball. I enjoy the college games.

  2. Good poem. As you said, most of us have experienced the thrill and agony of sports--even if only in neighborhood games in empty lots and courts behind schools. And portraits in literature of aging athletes are everywhere you look. Those portraits work so well because physical changes prompt the loss of things that once seemed so secure. True of sports, true of life.

  3. I have liked Ridl since reading his poem "My Brother - A Star"

    but I hadn't seen this one.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America