Hoops season really kicks in once the calendar turns to January. December is always a time so focused on the holidays that high school sports are an afterthought. So the New Year brings more coverage on basketball.
As I write this piece, the Saunders basketball team sits at 3-3. The season is still early, and we have yet to play a game with our full team together on court. We are building our team and searching for our identity. Being a young team with only three seniors, I fully expected this. I am confident that January and February will be fruitful as we gain more experience.
When I came out in June, many members of the media questioned what would happen when we began playing games. How would my players react? What about opposing teams? Opposing coaches? Opposing fans? My response was pretty much the same: I believed there would be no problems. However, I did recognize that the possibility existed and that I'd be forced to deal with it as it happened.
As opening day approached, my friend Robert Gorman, who works at Nike, was kind enough to send me some shirts for my team. The shirts read "#BeTrue" and are part of a Nike campaign that benefits the LGBT Sports Coalition. I told the kids about the shirts, and one of them suggested that they wear them as shooting shirts for the opening game. I didn't think much of it, assuming he was joking; I couldn't have been more wrong. A few days prior to the game, several of my players began talking about wearing the shirts. I addressed the team to make sure that this was what they wanted. The response was unanimous.
In some ways, our first game felt like my first ever as a coach. I worried that people might look at me differently, and that the focus would be on me rather than on the team. When I entered the gym and saw all my kids wearing the "#BeTrue" shirts, I had to keep myself from becoming emotional. I had 19 exceptional young men showing me an awesome gesture of support.
But once the ball went up, it was just another game. We inched out a win by junior captain Dijon Gonzales, sinking two free throws with 3 seconds on the clock.
In December we played in two tournaments and had a tremendous amount of media coverage at the games. There were no questions about my sexual orientation. It was all about basketball. Our team has 12 games remaining, including a three-game trip to Kentucky later this month. I am hoping that business continues as normal.
During the past six months I have received so many emails from coaches and players who remain in the closet. The fear of the unknown -- what others might think, how players might react, etc. -- can be paralyzing for anyone. But I can tell you this: It's not as bad as one would think, and in most cases the support is tremendous, as the photo above hopefully shows. I have never felt healthier than I do right now. So far this has been the most enjoyable season of my career.