On January 11th, my club team competed in the Women’s Hula Hoops National Cup Semi Final held at Neptune Stadium. This game was a featured Cork derby, presenting the opportunity for our Brunell Super League team to make history in earning a spot in the National Cup Final. In a sold out crowd filled with supporters from the North and South side of the Cork community stood my dad and oldest sister Eileen. Staring at them in the crowd, I could not believe they had come to Ireland for the weekend, solely to attend this game. As the seconds ticked down, our team embraced each other over the victory and quickly, the floor was filled with fans, young and old, all over the floor. In this crowd of people, I awaited my dad and sister on the court, still in awe that they were present to witness, and be a part of, history for the club that added such value to my Victory Scholar experience. After the game, my dad and Eileen proceeded to attend post game celebrations (shoutout to the Joshua Tree #NorthsideSwag) and, after a weekend of exploring my favorite spots in Cork, hopped on a flight back to Dunmore Pennsylvania and Washington DC to make it back for work in time on Tuesday morning.
Twenty days later, I stood on the court of the Irish National Basketball Arena, the venue noted as the home of Irish Basketball, prepping to play in the Women’s National Cup Final. As this Cup Championship was the first time my club team earned the opportunity to play in the Cup Final since its founding in 1984, this was a pretty big deal for the team and any supporters. With pre-sale tickets sold out, the arena was packed with fans from clubs of Basketball Ireland and of course, the Brunell community. Once more within the sea of supporters stood my dad, and my oldest sister Eileen…and a new addition, my brother Paul. This time, I really could not believe they were back to Ireland for this game just two weeks later (some called them crazy, I call them #family) While the outcome was not what we had hoped, facing defeat to the top ranked team in the Super League, I was still overwhelmed with gratitude for not only the opportunity to play in the national event, but, that three extremely important people in my life were present for it.
Perhaps the fact that I was able to be consecutively reunited with some my family 3500 away from home, in the country of Ireland, on a basketball court, was more than fitting for a family who’s upbringing revolved around sport consistently bringing us together (or driving us apart, as I am a very sore loser). From having countless times of playing, and getting beaten, by my brother, sisters, and my dad in backyard basketball (mom can’t shoot that well but has almost perfected the “stand backwards throw ball over head shot”), to attending countless of each other’s games as kids– that my dad was often the coach of–basketball was a building block of our upbringing, and turned into an inherent element of our family dynamic.
As time progressed and my siblings began to pursue college and their careers, the ways in which the game brought my family together only intensified. While my siblings were officially all out of the house, I was still in high school as the “only child,” and my parents attended every one of my games. Consistently, there were aunts, uncles, and cousins cheering me on in the stands too. When I reached hs milestones, I always had family to celebrate with (even when I competed on Scranton Parade day—tbt Maurzi) . Likewise, when I faced challenges, I had family to encourage me through the obstacles…or provide gifts to assist me—shoutout to Santa for boxing bag.
Consistently throughout my college career, with Patriot League games played every Wednesday and Saturday revolving around a league schedule of traveling up and down the east coast, I was lucky enough to have at least one member of my family in attendance (I do miss the feeling of anticipation after adding those names to the ticket list). When we versed a team close to Washington D.C, my sisters Eileen and Anna (and their manzz) were always present. When we faced a team in New England, my brother Paul and sister Maura always made extensive efforts to be my biggest fans. And of course, when we played Pennsylvania teams, the crowd would intensify with 30+ of my rowdy cousins and family friends. I still will never forget when my coach credited my team’s 25 point fourth quarter comeback to Bucknell to my family in the stands …#legends. I was, and still am, endlessly grateful of the way my family rallied in support throughout each phase of my career.
This support that my siblings and extended family consistently offered to me throughout my career certainly stemmed from my parents unwavering commitment to each one of us as we were growing up. Whether it was in the classroom, on the court, or simply in life, my parents were always there to encourage and challenge us to be the best version of ourselves, setting a standard of commitment to us all that we in turn, naturally upheld. While my mom and dad rarely attended the school’s parent teacher conferences (a true blessing…) they were present at each of our sporting events growing up. Ok, maybe not each and every sporting event. I do recall a few times scrapping around my hometown looking for rides from neighbors or reverting to my bike or feet for transport when my parents were catering to my older four sibling’s schedules of sporting events and piano lessons, and of course working to sustain our family and trying to maintain sanity all at the same time, that they had to miss one or two of my biddy basketball games. Turns out, they aren’t always that exciting anyways, and my parent’s road trips to just about every college game my senior season (a four-hour car trip one way) certainly made up for any absences. Mom and Dad, still unsure how you do it all, you are and will forever be true heroes, and superheroes, in my eyes.
These ways in which basketball has enabled my family to come together to support each other has provided ways for my family to create memories outside the basketball arena that extend beyond just the game and continue to influence our daily interactions. It has transformed simple games into family gatherings, and post-game conversations into offering life advice. Our experiences in numerous basketball arenas, from Notre Dame to Arizona State, to our local YMCA, has allowed our relationships of accepting constructive criticism and encouragement on the court to evolve into creating a shared dialect of trust and encouragement in school, the workplace, and most importantly, in life. Today, I have basketball to thank for allowing such relationships to develop within my family, and for providing me with 6 of the best coaches and teammates in and outside of the arena.
Sport brings people together in countless ways. While I don’t think one blog can express the entirety of its impact, it’s clear that for me and my family, it’s been physical and emotional, and all the rest. It has turned typical game nights into large family gatherings, and family texts messages into boisterous group chats filled with love and lessons. Sport has transformed basketball games in the Hart Center into family reunions (and apartment Karoake), and long car rides into joyous conversation. It has proven that a cup final basketball game, 3500 away with a 6-hour time difference, can turn into a family weekend trip to Ireland, (if we’re related). Sport has, and continues to, change my life!
I feel like I’m in the movie, Hoosiers.
-Paul Byrne Senior, post Semifinal
I can’t believe I’m sitting at my desk after 3-4 days in Dublin. Sports do change lives, and they’ve had an awesome impact on our group.
-Paul Byrne Junior, post CUP final