It was an odd refrain to be singing in my head as I walked through the Comanche High School gym, and yet, not so odd at all if you know the story of this season’s Comanche Maiden basketball team, a story that is nothing if not a real life Cinderella story…with a few ashes and all.
As I waited in the very large classroom that to me will always be Gene Westmoreland’s room, my mind wandered back through Maiden years and Maiden players long since grown, their basketball years nothing but memories.
And then, the laughter of the girls who currently wear the name Maidens brought me back into the present.
Mo was the first to walk into the room, a smile lighting her face. Soon everyone was gathered in the old room, ready to share their success story.
“You do realize that you are a Cinderella story, don’t you?” I asked. Of course, having taught young people for many years, I also know that I needed to follow up that question with, “Do you know what a Cinderella actually is?”
It was Rylie who answered first with that dimpled smile she sports so often.
“I do. We are the underdogs who came back after losing 13 of our first 20 games.”
I suppose I believe that the fact that I am their biggest fan gives me the right to be brutal.
“Well, you aren’t underdogs now. In fact, you are now the favored team in the district, but girls, you were horrible when the season began. I remember the game where you scored a whole 3 points in the first half and a total of 15 points in the entire game. Horrible! How did you get from there to here?”
We are a young team, and we didn’t know each other very well when the season started. We lost a lot last year when our seniors graduated.”
And yet, 4 of the girls seated in front of me were on last year’s team…
“So what have you done this year to turn this train around because you obviously have turned it,” I asked as each began to stumble over another as everyone tried to explain at once.
“I think it’s our shooting chart. Coach talked to us about shooting and coming to open gym and shooting more after practice. We shoot as much as we can now.”
“A lot of it has to do with confidence. It took us a while to realize we could do it.”
And then Jilian, who has been on the team since she was a freshman, chimed in.
“We have learned our plays a lot better. We know them well enough now to be able to get out of them and then get back into them.”
With Coach Diana Salinas heading toward an OB appointment in Abilene, it was an easy thing to ask about coaching. It was also easy to see that the answers to this question were going to come almost faster than I could type.
“We work a lot harder now because she believes in us more than any other coach ever has.”
“She makes us see the little things…”
“We honestly didn’t believe in ourselves…”
“She has a lot of patience…”
And then I had to laugh because I probably understood the next droll remark better than anyone in the room!
“I’ve never had a coach who could convince me to run track and cross country. I literally play three sports to get to play one.”
It was at this point that we left basketball for a few minutes to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart.
“I know you aren’t going to want to hear it, but if you will look deeply enough into every single school that is continuously successful across the board, you will find one common denominator,” I told them.
And that was enough to cause the quiet Mr. Coach Salinas to speak up from across the room.
“Track,” the young man that I have known since he was just a boy said, thus sending us down that road for a few moments.
“And then Cinderella lost the glass shoe,” I said going back to my original analogy to bring our thoughts back into the very gym where just a few nights before, the Comanche Maidens had suffered their first district loss at the hands of the Brady Lady Bulldogs.
“We lost the shoe in the game against Brady, but even Cinderella lost the glass slipper for a while, but it didn’t matter did it? She still became the queen! So tell me what happened to us,” I continued.
It was Mandy who spoke first. Our heads just weren’t in the game. We were all just dead.”
The confession came from Mo.
“We didn’t shoot that week like we normally do.”
And then once again the Maidens began to talk over each other as they explained their quirky game day superstitions to me so quickly that I had all I could do to make my fingers work fast enough to capture it all.
“We are a team that is into tradition….”
“Molly had stock show, and not having her at practice threw us off and really threw her off as well.”
“We do the same things in the same order normally, and it really got to our heads that we couldn’t do that.”
“We were extremely intimidated…”
“The loss we handed them in the first round was their first district loss in 2 years, and we knew they were coming for us. That messed with our heads.”
“And now it is do or die time as we face Coleman,” I said. “So what are we going to do?”
“Well, preferably not die,” came the droll answer that caused me to laugh.
It was Mandy who turned the conversation serious once again.
“We don’t need to over think it. We just have to play the game we know.”
“We just need to relax and have fun. We get stressed out very easily, and we play so much better when we just relax.”
And then it was Coach Jamey Salinas who summed it all up for us.
“We came into district knowing that the ladder to success is not always the same, not always straight up. We feel that is our season summed up. We failed in the early games, in the preseason. But now, playing such a tough preseason schedule is helping us to succeed.”
And with that I concluded my interview of the Comanche Maidens, choosing to hold this article until “the morning after.” Sure enough, as I suspected they would, the Maidens defeated Coleman in Coleman, enough to join the Brady Lady Bulldogs as co-district champs, and as I left the gym after that decisive win I found myself humming once again.
“Hey, Hey, Cinderella, I wonder does the shoe still fit you now?”
Yep…it surely does!