And into the net

Columnist Chris Hunt’s nine-year-old son, Riley Hunt. Photo Courtesy Chris Hunt


My nine-year-old son Riley glowers at me as he dribbles a basketball.  He smirks as he sizes me up.  I’m an obstacle, but we both also know I’m the least of his problems.

His blue eyes twinkle and his smirk explodes into a laugh as he runs straight at me.  I gingerly move with him, shuffling my feet to maintain a slight distance between us. The first few times we played, he creatively used shoulder-checks and two-handed shoves to get me out of the way.

My kid plays basketball like the Hanson Brothers play hockey.

He fakes to the left and then veers right before inexplicably dribbling in a full circle away from the net.

He’s still laughing, but when he looks behind me, his eyes narrow. The second, more sinister, obstacle looms over my shoulder. 

A net, its mesh tattered and dirty, its backboard smeared with mud and grit. It’s high. Impossibly high. He hasn’t hit a shot since we started playing. Heck, poor kid hasn’t even hit the rim. 

But that isn’t stopping him. He furrows his brows, drives past me and heaves the ball towards it with everything he has.

My son is competitive. It’s been a nightmare trying to keep him active, so when I suggested he couldn’t take me one-on-one, it was game on.

Two years back, we had to pull Riley from the French program at his school.  He wasn’t keeping up with the curriculum due to difficulties grasping the language. 
When we put him into the English program, we knew there’d be a learning curve.

Fortunately, he adapted well and made surprising scholastic gains. We were of a mind he’d fail that year, but he pushed himself and passed. We had high hopes for the next year, but then COVID hit.

He didn’t do well with the online classes. It didn’t take long before we saw signs he may not be where he was supposed to be. In some instances, there was even evidence of regression.

As he’s returned to school, we’ve noticed some of that regression has lingered.  His teacher noticed it too, and asked us to work on writing at home.

My son had a few choice words for that idea, but we didn’t back down. Initially, there was conflict, but at his teacher’s suggestion, his mother crafted a homemade version of Kaboom (a word game that uses popsicle sticks) and dared him to beat her.

He fought tooth and nail to win. Suddenly, it wasn’t homework, it was fun competition.

Since then, the fighting has ebbed and his penmanship and spelling have improved. 

As the basketball sails through the air, I know it’s not going to go in.  He shot it too far from the net. But I admire his willingness to take chances. This is what I am about to tell him when the ball ricochets off the backboard and falls in the net.

He shrugs and says, “Take that, ya’ noob.” He then passes me the ball.  I immediately dribble right at him.  He doesn’t know it yet, but his next lesson will be one of humility.