Jerry Nelson: Don't count your chicks before you've made a basket

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

It’s been said that every undertaking is either a success or a learning experience. I hate to brag, but I’ve learned more than just about anyone that I know.

This quest for self-education via trial and error has been a lifelong, ongoing process. I was a child prodigy when it came to making stupid mistakes.

Some of my earliest and most indelible lessons were learned on the playground. For instance, one day when I was in second grade I decided that buckling your overshoes was for chumps. Why waste time on such a useless ritual when there were much more pressing activities at hand such as helping your pals construct the World’s Biggest Snow Fort?’'

When the bell signaling the end of noon recess rang, my buddies and I raced toward the school building. It’s not that we were eager to resume classes; it was simply our habit to run everywhere at all times.

As we traversed a large, slushy puddle at Warp 10, one of my overshoes suddenly detached itself. Momentum made it impossible for me to stop, so my unbooted loafer dove deep into the slush and instantly filled with icy water. The rest of the day you could hear me coming due to the “squish, squish” sounds made by my saturated shoe.

The lesson was clear: an object that’s in motion tends to stay in motion until it meets a counteracting force such as a slush puddle. Also, a guy should probably buckle his overshoes.

I managed to fumble my way to the threshold of my teen years, that time of life when the most important issue in the universe is your current facial zit count. I had to use an adding machine to tally my acne volcanoes.

In a cruel twist of fate, my teen years were also when the opposite sex suddenly became infinitely fascinating. But even I knew that there was nothing vaguely attractive about a gangly hominid whose voice would abruptly warble by several octaves and whose face looked as though it had recently had a close encounter with a cheese grater.

I noticed that girls – especially the pretty ones – seemed to be attracted to guys who played on the school’s sports teams. Logic dictated that I would have to become a standout athlete if I ever hoped to speak to a girl.

That was my sole motivation when I tried out for our seventh-grade basketball team. I didn’t particularly like basketball, nor did I fully understand the game’s rules. But I was prepared to do whatever it took, so long as it would make it possible for me get a chance to maybe talk to one of the cheerleaders.

Our basketball coach, Mel Schrader, was a mild-mannered science teacher by day but a fitness fanatic on the court. He insisted that we perform something called “wind sprints,” which involved sprinting back and forth on the court until everyone on the team was thoroughly winded. I couldn’t see the point of this. How could Mel expect a guy to make a basket when he’s panting like an over-the-hill racehorse?

After driving us to exhaustion with his pointless fitness drills, Mel finally got around to teaching us about the subtle nuances of basketball. Boiled down to their most basic elements, they were 1.) get the ball, and 2.) throw the ball through the hoop.

There was also a lot of stuff about other things such as fouling and double-dribbling (and not the kind that involved a hanky) but getting the ball to go through the hoop was Mel’s primary obsession.

The 1970 Sioux Falls seventh-grade basketball team.

In yet another cruel twist of fate, the basketball hoop was affixed at an altitude of some 10 feet. I was short and scrawny, with arm muscles like pencil erasers. The only way I could make a basket would be if I miraculously acquired the ability to fly.

Some of my classmates had undergone growth spurts. They towered over me and could simply hold the ball above their heads as I frantically leaped for it like a Chihuahua trying to reach a doorknob.

I rode the bench for the entire season. Mel ultimately took pity on me and put me in for the last four seconds of our final game. As I trotted onto the court, I hoped that one of the cheerleaders would be impressed enough to talk to me later. Because I was looking toward the cheerleaders on sidelines, I missed a pass just as the buzzer sounded. My only chance at athletic glory was thwarted by inattention.

And so, I learned yet another lesson: don’t count your chicks before you’ve made a basket.

Jerry's book, "Dear County Agent Guy," is available at and in bookstores nationwide.