Meredith Carroll: Aspen turns to Title Town, and we’ll take it
With apologies to my alma mater Mamaroneck High School, which must have had a basketball team (and surely still has one now), I feel compelled to confess that I never attended a single one of their games. Same goes for the football team and pretty much all the other teams. To be fair, I was on the MHS tennis team from eighth through 12th grades and cannot really say if I even showed up at my own matches (I mean, yes, I was there physically, but whether I was ever mentally present is debatable).
Much to my bleeds-Penn-State-football dad’s eternal dismay, I went on to attend a small liberal arts college that had an equestrian team but no football. Much to my husband’s dismay, the enthusiasm I showed for spectator sports when we were first dating was a lot like the blonde hair I had back then, too, which is to say: long-since faded.
I brushed the dust off my long-standing indifference to watching sports to attend an Aspen High School boys basketball game earlier this month, although for sure not because I longed for the ambiance of fluorescent lights mixed with a note of old sneakers. I went because my older daughter sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” with the Aspen Voices choir before the game, and I stayed because it gave me an excuse to text photos to my stepson, Quinton, who first started playing (dominating? starring? ruling? changing Aspen basketball forever with his greatness?) on the Aspen High School basketball team eight years ago, although I barely ever made it to his games (my desire to support him in person always lost out to my then-toddler and preschooler’s solemn commitment to saving their biggest meltdowns every week for Friday night).
It took a while to remember the last time I had been in the Skier Dome that was not to procure a COVID-19 vaccination dose. I also could not recall seeing so many familiar faces (not people, but actual faces) smiling in one room. The Aspen boys played their hearts out — that game, and then the next four after that until they clinched their first-ever state title on March 12. Go, boys!
(And go, girls! While male athletes everywhere are accustomed to having a disproportionate amount of attention heaped on them compared to female athletes — somewhere, the National Women’s Soccer League just sang out “Amen!” in unison — it is nice seeing hard-working young athletes of all genders, including AHS senior Kayla Tehrani, recently named the Class 3A swimmer of the year for the second year in a row, and the Aspen High School Dance Team, which captured their second state title in three years in December, also being celebrated community-wide today.)
I do not usually invest feelings in sports, not because I am totally disinterested in what is happening but rather because I am almost always more interested in mostly anything else that has, is, or could be happening. The feelings I quickly developed for Aspen boys basketball were less about the game and more about the team’s obvious and very tender connection to each other, their classmates, parents and coaches, and all the people who showed up along the way to let them know their local family extends much further than the gym.
Students, parents with kids in the game, parents with no kids in the game, teachers, administrators, townspeople and AHS alumni packed the Skier games. A concentrated mixture of love, joy and pride blanketed the upper valley down, spread to Denver, and then traveled back home on Sunday to a welcoming parade and police escort into town.
The boys’ victory was well-timed as the dim filter of the pandemic is being overtaken by the grim reality of war. Surely this was not the first time in two years that real Aspen came out for each other, but it still felt like the first time in forever. The pandemic (and, you know, Mark Hunt) changed Aspen, but the community demonstrated a vibrant proof of life that seemed stronger than ever. The boys on the basketball team felt like all of our sons, and we gave them all of our love.
Despite just how many people showed up, it is safe to say that Aspen is still a small town. Because while it may have been a crowd, they weren’t just faces. It was a victory for the ages and the boys, and a gift to everyone else.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.