PEARL CAO/THE VARSITY

This year, I was lucky enough to be a part of the Varsity Blues event staff for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Every time I received the staffing schedule before the first basketball double header at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, I remember feeling slightly disappointed that I was always assigned to be a sweeper. Back then, I couldn’t wait to eventually graduate to the scoring table, but, fortunately for me, that time never came. I quickly realized that sweeping the sweat off the court was the best possible gig I could ask for.

When I was growing up, I would watch those few young volunteers at NBA games pass the balls to players at shootaround, give them water on the bench, or sweep the floor during the game. I would always wonder how in the world those kids got so lucky — I was so envious that they got to be so close to the action every single night. Somehow, I stumbled upon the same position.

Although Blues basketball is not quite the NBA, each game is extremely well programmed, and everyone playing, working, or in attendance is fully invested in the game. This environment made the sweeper job truly fun.

Watching the game from under the hoop is probably the best view in the gym. I felt much more secure in my chair with my mop than I would have felt sitting at the scoring table, which seemed intimidating.

From under the hoop I could get a close look at the coaches, bench, players, and referees. Whenever there was a rough play under the hoop, I could see it first hand. I could judge whether I thought there was a foul and anticipate an argument between player and referee. I could catch every missed box out or defensive rotation, guess whether a player would be subbed out, and look to see the coach’s reaction.

Since basketball players are among the most visually exposed athletes with their light outfits and lack of headgear, I could read each player’s mood and engagement throughout each contest. The unique insight my position gave me allowed me to predict which direction a game would go. Confident stature, smiles, and a loud cheering bench showed me that they weren’t going to lose the lead, while blank faces and arguing with referees was a sign they might be vulnerable.

Each time a player fell down, I would jump out of my seat, weasel my way between players, and wipe up the wet spot left by the player. Sometimes, the referee would even look directly at me and point to the wet spot.

One night, after sweeping up a really big wet spot, the referee looked at me and asked, “Hey, do you do houses or apartments?” I responded, “Of course. Cash only though!”

Another night, the ball was wedged between the backboard and the rim, causing an awkward pause in the game. I assumed the referee or one of the girls would jump up and poke it out of the rim, but about 30 seconds had passed and no one had done anything. Fifth-year guard Rahshida Atkinson then yelled, “Isaac! Get the ball!” So I jumped up and released the ball from the rim with my hand and received a round of applause.

I quickly sat back down, feeling like I was overstepping my job description.

I had plenty of flattering interactions throughout the season. One referee told me that I was the best sweeper in Ontario University Athletics, and I even had the pleasure of goofing around with the mascot when they would come, grab my mop, and help clean up the court.

These were just some small anecdotes of my vital, yet often unnoticed, position with the Blues events staff — a true honour.

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