Intro from Jay Allison: This piece was produced as part of the Transom Story Workshop Fall 2015 session. Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.
About More Than A Game
This story happened by accident. I was Googling open gyms on the Cape and stumbled onto Jonah’s league. It was unlike any other basketball league I’ve ever come across. There was an emphasis on community service. Every player played regardless of skill level. Parents only had to front fifty bucks. And at the end of the year they could ask for it back, or donate it to the league. Jonah was taking kids, from 12-15 years old, and trying to make them better humans, not just better ball players.
There was one teen that Jonah kept referencing in his anecdotes: JaTayvyn, or Tay. I soon found that Jonah and Tay are like brothers. Cut from the same cloth kinda thing. Their stories parallel: both are/were troubled youths on the Cape, both have a strong kick game, and both value the release that happens only on the hardwood. And while Jonah’s story and accident had been covered locally, it felt superfluous. I know that working with at-risk youth is not easy and I was curious about how he dealt with the challenges.
It took me a long, long, long time before I understood the ingredients to make this story work. In the editing process I relied heavily on all eight classmates, along with Rob and Catie. They reminded me I needed to find the conflict. Something needed to be at stake. As much as I was enthralled with Jonah and Tay’s relationship, there was no obvious central issue, no story. So I made myself available every time those two were together — mic in hand. The two were expressive, hilarious, and great talkers. As their worlds opened up to me, I started to see that Tay was heading for some real-world trouble. He was heading into places that Jonah wouldn’t be able to follow or help. And then Tay ran away.
I remember hearing about the “cringe test” in class. It centered on how you would feel if your subjects heard your piece. I knew everyone in this piece would be uncomfortable at some level — hell, I was uncomfortable. It was an incredibly vulnerable time for everyone involved and here I’d just walked in off the streets and asked to record them. I almost ditched the story. I wondered if I was exploiting the situation. There was still time to find another story, one where the main characters would want to share openly about their lives. In the end, this was the story. I went looking to tell about the challenges of working with kids on the fringe and this was exactly that. After finishing the story, I decided they should hear it first. Individually, we listened. I didn’t cringe. The biggest compliment I received was when Wanda told me, “You nailed it. That’s the truth.”
Jimmy’s Sonic ID
I was gifted this Sonic in our first week at the workshop as we went out to get our Vox-Pops. I wanted to know if people were as freaked out about all the Great White Shark sightings as I was. I’m a kid from the Midwest — no sharks. Once Ronald started talking, I knew beginner’s luck was a real thing.