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March Madness: How “Air Jackie” Got Her Nickname 

The second day of spring ushered warm sunlight across Thornwell’s campus, with it bringing flowering blossoms that presented a vibrant burst of color.  Rhythmic jingles of chirping birds filled the air, ringing the proverbial bell of winter’s departure. But that was not the only rhythmic sound that could be heard.

Dribbling basketballs echoed between the buildings only drowned out by the excited (and competitive) shouts of teenagers from Thornwell’s A.R.C. program.

“I’m open,” yelled one boy.

“Down low,” bellowed another.

It was music to the ears of fourteen-year-old Jackie, who was the starting point guard of her former basketball team.  Without hesitation, she yelled out to the boys on the court.

She asked, “hey, can I jump in?”

The boys looked at her a bit baffled at her request. Standing five-foot-five, wearing jeans, blue low-top sneakers, and a wool sweater, you can imagine their surprise over her request.

“You can be on my team,” said Jason, the tallest player on the court.  “We’re playing twenty-one. Do you know how to play?”

Jackie smiled while tightly putting pulling her hair back, locking it in place with a hair tie.

“Oh yeah,” said Jackie with a knowing grin. “My brother and I have been playing for years.”

Prior to Jackie joining Jason’s team, they had already lost two games.  Nonetheless, the excitement over the March NCAA basketball tournament had inspired him to keep playing. People like cheering for the underdog, right?  To determine who receives the first possession of the ball, one player from each team had a shootout from the foul line.  This shot happed to be one of Jackie’s favorites. She knew she could make the shot regularly with ease, so she volunteered for her team.  While silently chuckling, the other team sent their best player to take the first shot.

A loud clang rang out as his ball bounced off the rim.

“Awe, come on,” huffed one of his teammates.

Slightly nervous, Jackie stepped up to take the shot.  She knew if she missed this shot, the boys may never pass her the ball during the game.  She took a deep breath and released the ball.  With the sweet sound of the “swish”, the ball sailed through the net, avoiding the rim completely.

“Ohhhhhhhh,” howled every player on the court, giving Jackie immediate respect from her teammates.

Being the shortest player on the team, Jaquie was designated point guard by the boys.  She passed the ball to Jason, who made an easy layup.

“One nothing,” Jackie said.

With her next possession of the basketball, Jackie quickly dribbled past her opponent, leaving him chasing behind her.  She drove the ball all the way to the rim for another easy layup.

“Two nothing,” she said while receiving high-fives from her teammates.

Every time Jaquie made an expert play, the surprise would appear on the boy’s faces, leaving them wondering where she learned to play so well.  When the game came down to the final point to be scored, Jackie dribbled the ball towards the basket, drawing two defenders to cover her.  Quickly, she noticed that one of the defenders left Jason wide open. She sent a bounce pass between the two defenders, once again hitting Jason right in the hands for an easy layup.

“Game over,” Jason said with enthusiasm, as he walked over to congratulate Jackie. “That was an awesome pass.”

“I’ve been playing twenty-one with my brother for years, and he never goes easy on me,” Jackie said with a big smile.

“You can play with us anytime we’re out here,” Jason said.  “And I want you on my team.”

Jackie scored seven of the twenty-one points, one two-pointer, and several assists.  She unexpectedly made some new friends and gained the boys’ admiration.  As Jason snatched his water bottle from the side of the court, he had a great idea

He announced to the court, “we should call her Air Jackie.”

They all agreed it suited her. The nickname once given to NBA legend Michael Jordan is the ultimate compliment for a basketball player.  Jackie blushed over her new moniker.

“Thank you,” Jackie said.  “I had a lot of fun today, thanks for letting me play.”

Before heading back to their cottage, Jason said. “We’ll be playing again this Saturday at two if you would like to play again?”

“Yes! You’re on,” Jackie said.

Jackie started walking back to her cottage, hearing the fading sound of the boys dribbling the ball as they walked away.  Jackie’s joy in the moment brought on a few tears.  She wiped them away as she entered her cottage, then walked back to her room and opened her closet door.  She reached for her blue high-top sneakers that rested on the floor.  Picking both shoes up with one hand she thought.  “Those boys are just lucky I wasn’t wearing these shoes.”

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