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In the bleachers

We have lived in this town for more than two years, and we had never set foot in the high school.

That isn’t unusual, considering we are a handful of months past our ten-year reunion from a school in a different county. None of us has a kid that age, yet. 

But earlier this month, we decided to go with a couple friends to a Monday night game against our town’s neighbor, separated by a bridge over the interstate. The Blue Devils versus the Green Wave. Where do they come up with these nicknames?

We pulled into a pickup-truck-filled parking lot about a half hour before tipoff. Walking into the gymnasium was like stepping into the past. The smell of cheap popcorn. Black Nikes squealing on a shiny floor. Cheerleaders forming a pyramid. 

As a reporter, I grew accustomed to pretty much ignoring all this, and waltzing past the ticket counter, a badge emblazoned with “MEDIA” my key through any door. On Monday, I had to pay. 

We sat with our friends in the top corner of the visitor bleachers, above the rickety black handrails, and I got to really take it all in. I did not have to scribble down statistics and Tweet about three-pointers. I just sat and watched. 

It was a struggle of a game. The Blue Devils wore the Green Wave down late, winning 39-23 in a 32-minute game. The teams combined for fewer than two points per minute. The motion offense lacked motion at times. The two-three zone had holes. Wide-open shots grazed the side of the backboard. Passes went astray. One team dribbled the ball around for forty-plus seconds without shooting. There really should be a shot clock in high school hoops.

But it was all so beautiful. I was not buried in a notebook or scanning team rosters or shrinking some game information to 140 characters. I got to look up and take note of other things. 

I saw the support of other Blue Devils, the students sitting in a circle ten rows up, talking with each other, face to face, instead of through Snapchat or whatever teenagers talk through these days. 

I saw navy- and green-clad parents leaned against the wall on the back row, fixated on the flow of the game, some clapping, some with hands clenched tight when the game was close. 

I saw tall banners covering the walls behind both basketball goals, each showing posed seniors. There were basketball players, wrestlers, others. How cool, to have your own life-size banner. 

I saw a toddler obsessed with Mickey Mouse episodes on an iPhone during timeouts and at halftime, only to look up, hardly blinking, when the ball was being dribbled up and down the court. I saw another toddler, after the game, on a man’s shoulders, trying to throw a basketball through one hoop.

Being in the moment, instead of reaching in your pocket or purse to filter it on Instagram, is far underrated. 

So look up.

Gary Lloyd is the author of five books: "Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History," "Deep Green," "Heart of the Plate," "Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down South," and "Ray of Hope." He has been a reporter and editor at newspapers and magazines in Mississippi and Alabama. He grew up in Trussville, Alabama, and graduated from Hewitt-Trussville High School in 2006. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Alabama in 2009. He lives in Moody, Alabama, with his wife, Jessica, and their two dogs, Abby and Sonny.

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