Looking back, it was my fault really. I mean, it wasn’t directly my fault, but I suppose I put the events in motion that led to the eventual outcome. If asked in person, though, I would probably deny this. Because it wasn’t really my fault…just my idea. I guess that’s what I get for trying to be creative.
We all sat in a circle on the old gym floor in our sweaty practice uniforms, each of us scribbling a phrase onto a tiny slip of paper. “Lack of communication.” “Complacency.” “Others’ expectations.” “Lack of hustle.” It was my senior year of high school basketball and our underdog team was making its run for the school’s fourth consecutive women’s basketball State Championship that season. In contrast to the teams of previous years, our team was undersized and inexperienced—we weren’t even projected to win our conference, much less the state title. To combat these overwhelming odds, we relied on great coaching, pure willpower, and the tacky little team bonding/motivational activities that we came up with.
The activity we were doing on that day had been thought up by—you guessed it—yours truly. After finding out that I and the other two seniors were supposed to come up with a bonding activity for the entire team and coaching staff, we panicked and scrambled to think of something. I remembered a documentary I had seen on ESPN the year before where a basketball team wrote down obstacles on blocks of wood and then burned them in a bonfire as a symbolic gesture of overcoming those obstacles. It was perfect. I mean, who doesn’t love a dramatic physical metaphor? Being the clever little turd that I am, I announced to everyone that we would all write down obstacles that might impede our way to victory, share them out loud, and then physically destroy them. The other players and coaches were all for it and I felt pretty proud of myself for suggesting such a nifty idea.
It was only after we’d shared what we’d written out loud that we realized we didn’t really have a way to destroy the pieces of paper. Just tearing them up and throwing them away didn’t seem good enough—we needed a grand gesture, one that would suggest absolute victory over the “unsound fundamentals” and “lazy defense” that threatened our season. One senior suggested going into the woods behind the school and burning the papers and I’m certainly glad I nixed that idea, otherwise I’d probably be blogging from prison while doing hard time for second degree arson. No, fire was a little too dramatic. But then it hit me: If not fire, how about water? How about the bathroom…the toilet? Ooh, yeah that was good. Banishing adversity down the toilet, sending it to the sewers to rot with the other crap down there, flushing failure down the drain. It was perfect.
My eight teammates and I, along with our two female assistant coaches, charged into the bathroom pumped and excited (and I think that I should also add that we were half-delirious from our grueling two and a half hour practice.) Our other three male coaches (including our head coach) waited patiently outside for us to do the deed. All eleven of us girls crowded into the tiny, ancient bathroom of the auxiliary gym. I led the charge with my fellow seniors and we dumped the paper slips into the toilet to a chorus of whoops and yells as our teammates crowded in behind us to try and witness the much anticipated moment of the flush. We did a countdown.
That’s when I first felt the water hitting me in the face. And the arms. And the legs. I heard screaming and running, saw limbs flying. Thuds and more screaming. I couldn’t tell where the water was coming from because it seemed to be coming from everywhere. I turned around to see one of our assistant coaches take off out the bathroom door, followed by a hoard of my screaming teammates all stumbling over each other and covering their faces as water spewed up from seemingly every direction. When enough people had cleared out so I could move, I flung open the door of the adjacent stall and beheld the source of the water. The toilet in this stall had been knocked completely sideways off of its foundation, and where it had once attached to the floor, an unabated geyser of water was shooting up all the way to the ceiling.
As best as we’ve been able to reconstruct it, here’s what we think happened: The stall we were flushing the obstacles in had been too small to fit everybody. In order to get a better view of the little ceremony, our biggest post player, a 6’3 Division I bound athlete, had decided to stand on the toilet in the adjacent stall for a better view. Following her example, our 6’1 assistant coach had also decided to do the same thing so that she could take pictures for the team Facebook page since our coaches compulsively documented every team activity that we ever did. Now, I’m not really a physics person, but I think that as long as they were both standing on the toilet, the weight was distributed evenly and everything was fine. But for some reason one of them stepped down—to this day, we still don’t know which one did—and it incidentally put all of the weight on one side of the toilet. Please refer to the image below that I got off of Google that seems semi-relevant to what I’m describing:
The uneven weight caused the toilet to totally rip out of the floor and thus the water in the pipe below began to shoot out everywhere. We’d tried to flush failure down the drain and it had only spewed up from another.
But in the moment, all I knew was that we had destroyed a toilet and I’d better get the heck out of there. As I and the other two seniors made a break for it, I remembered the waterlogged little pieces of paper still floating in the other toilet that had been so symbolic to us. Now I’m not superstitious about stuff like that, but I’m a little stitious, so I thought it’d be best not to take any chances. “Flush it!” I yelled at my fellow senior who was closest. “Flush it, flush it!” I watched her run as if she were in slow motion, fearlessly braving the unmerciful spray and by Jove, she reached out and flushed those damn obstacles down the toilet. After that we were out and back into the gym where we all subsequently fell on the court, holding our stomachs with laughter as it hit us how ridiculous we were. Our male coaches stood at midcourt looking sternly perplexed as the entire team literally collapsed and writhed on the court, howling with laughter, ignoring inquiries about what happened.
But then the coaches headed for the bathroom. This alarmed me and brought me to my senses, and as I turned around I saw the tail end of my last teammate’s jersey disappearing through the door. They were gone. I figured I’d better follow suit. I grabbed my backpack and without even changing my shoes, sprinted out into the freezing night air. We looked like a bunch of maniacs, nine high school girls sprinting across a deserted campus at night, wearing sleeveless jerseys and shorts in thirty degree weather, yelling like banshees as we hauled ass down to the regular gym and the locker room. That was the fastest I think I’d ever seen some of my teammates run. I remember thinking to myself, Wow if we all ran this fast during games we’d be undefeated this season.
The locker room was a flurry of jerseys flying into the hamper, shoes being thrown off, people sliding on the slick tile floor as we all desperately tried to change and get out of there before our head coach came back. It was every woman for herself now. I remember a few of us stopping at the gym door, peering out into the parking lot, and then running like lunatics to our cars when we saw the coast was clear. I shoved my car into drive and sped all the way home, still laughing the whole time. When I got home, my mom had asked me how practice was, to which I replied “I think we flooded the auxiliary gym.”
If you want to know how much trouble we got in, the answer is so much. So much. Pointing out that it was an accident and appealing to the stupidity of the two largest people’s decision to both stand on a rickety toilet at the same time didn’t seem to mitigate anything for the team. We got a very serious talking-to and were each forced to individually apologize to the janitor who had to repair the toilet—an encounter probably more awkward for him than it was for each of us. Although I will say, as time has gone on, the incident has become a great story and a running joke—the fact that we did go on to miraculously win the State Championship that year definitely helped make it a “look back and laugh” scenario. The true test for this was when we were in Home Depot once as a team (like I said, we did weird, tacky bonding activities) and our coach asked us all jokingly what we should buy. I suggested a new toilet and there was an instant of silent tension until our head coach burst out laughing and everyone else followed. But this whole story just goes to show you how trying to do something meaningful can result in the destruction of private property. So just a tip, if you ever have to pick a bonding activity, just do trust falls or freeze tag or something.