The visiting team bus made a final sharp turn into the Poolers’ camp parking lot. It was old and squeaky, and the weathered, treadless tires groaned on the hot tarmac as the big, dark vehicle eased to a stop. The single front door of the bus opened wide, and the team Mustangs basketball players and coaches started pouring out into the afternoon heat. They wore their black-and-red warm-up T-shirts and carried their gear in sports bags. The shirts were fairly new, but the bags had obviously seen better days. Some were patched together with different-colored thread, and some were missing the team’s emblem, a mustang’s head blowing off steam through its nostrils. A couple of younger players carried big mesh bags full of basketballs, and others lugged plastic water bottle carriers and warm-up cones.
They were here for the game.
The Poolers’ camp looked brand new compared to their own. It wasn’t really that much newer, but it had recently been renovated. They were two of the first camps in the area to have established teams of their own. But they were very different from one another. The Poolers were the first basketball camp in the whole country to have an outdoor swimming pool installed for the players to use. In fact, that was how they’d
gotten their name. They also had rich, retired professional players donating money and help, so they always secured the best coaches and boasted the most modern facilities.
The Mustangs, on the other hand, had no such resources. That established the gap between the teams, and over time the Poolers had become much more successful, and therefore more popular, and attracted more kids every summer.
Today, the Mustangs players looked like they were already defeated. Their shoulders were slumped and they kept looking at the ground as they trudged across the parking lot and through the big glass doors of the reception building. They entered the big waiting room, where they were greeted by the Poolers camp administrator. The kids looked small and out of place in the bright, white-and-purple-decorated room, full of trophies and pictures of famous players hanging on the walls.
The administrator led them through the large, automatic glass door on the other side of the room, and into the camp grounds. She turned up the wide walkway, and the red-and-black group went along with her to the open-air courts at the top of a small hill. There were three full-sized courts, side by side, and camp employees in white-and-purple shirts were already milling around, assembling the portable stands, players’ benches, cameras and shot clocks around the middle court.
To the side of the courts were two smaller buildings, serving as locker rooms for the home and away teams. The Mustangs occupied the ‘Away’ room, and started getting ready for the warmup on one of the side courts.
An hour or so later, it started getting dark. The small stands were packed with local fans, all dressed in white and purple, eagerly waiting the start of the game. The players, coaches and referees were ready, the floodlights were turned on and the court became as bright as daylight, despite the clouds of small flying insects drawn to the lights and buzzing all around them.
The referee tossed the tip-off, and there was a deafening roar from the stands as the game began. Not that the home team needed extra support. The game was such a mismatch that the Mustangs were already trailing by a huge margin at the end of the first quarter. The Poolers players were flying up and down the court, dominating the game in offense and defense, as if they were adults playing children. But they weren’t. Almost all the players on the pitch were under sixteen years old, plus maybe a few seventeen- and eighteen-year-old camp counselors, who also assisted the coaches in practice sessions. Some of the Poolers were simply much better, and soon they started to humiliate their opponents with tricks, slam-dunks and exaggerated passing of the ball, like many youngsters often do, to show off.
At halftime, both teams went to their locker rooms, but they came back out quickly, as if they all wanted to get the game over with as soon as possible.
They had no idea what was about to happen.
The Poolers started their warmup at the same time as the Mustangs, but the teams looked very different. The Mustangs, clearly already defeated, were not putting much energy into the warmup layups, while the Poolers pranced around as if it were a circus exhibition game. Until one of the Poolers attempted a slam-dunk, and grabbed the bright red, steel hoop.
As he touched the rim, the air cracked and sizzled, and the blast threw sparks high up into the dark, summer night. A split second later, the boy went flying six feet away and crashed to the ground. One of the floodlights died, and the others slowly faded away.
The player lay on the court floor, not moving. Others stood around him, glancing at the hoop, hands on their heads in disbelief. The crowd cried out in panic—the boy’s family already jumping onto the court and running toward him. The camp’s medical staff hurried to tend to the electrocuted player. Somebody was screaming for an ambulance, which was parked nearby in the camp’s parking lot.
Not far away, the person who had rigged the floodlights cable to the metal hoop watched from the shadows, careful not to be seen gloating, but barely managing to hide their smile.