#40 (Do it for the girls of ‘19)

January 1998

It was my freshmen year at Okay High School, and I’ll never forget the feeling of that jersey flying towards me, tossed by the coach who’d watched me bust my tail to earn it.

The way it smelled.

The way it felt.

The number.

#40.

November 15, 2011

My six-year-old daughter walked in the house clutching a necklace with a small silver S at the end.

“Daddy,” she said. “They had an A for Akeeli, and an S for Sloat, and I picked S because I’m a Sloat now.”

I smiled and I cried.

Present Day

In Okay, Oklahoma, the State Tournament is spoken of in either hushed tones or rabid screams. It’s discussed quietly amongst former players and coaches who remember vividly the years of 1997 and 1998, when both volleyball and basketball teams made it, with volleyball bringing home the gold.

The signs still stand, proudly proclaiming through paintball stains and 22 years of age: Home of the Lady Mustangs, State Volleyball Champions, 1997.

In more recent years, the three year run of the basketball team to the State Tournament still stings a bit for the players, less for the coaches; but for the fans it is held as the most fun we’ve ever had in Oklahoma City.

The steal.

The shot.

Hayden Erb immortalized for all time in a moment of frenzied celebration.

In Okay, Oklahoma, the State Tournament is a proper noun. It is given the reverence and respect it deserves, for it is truly a magical time for our young athletes who strive to get there. We don’t make the required number of appearances for it to be taken for granted, however many that number may be.

And Friday morning, come hell or freezing weather, the Okay Lady Mustangs are taking us back to the State Tournament. They will show up in Shawnee, Oklahoma with the thunder of hoofbeats and the roar of fans who love them. They will be backed by a head coach who vividly remembers that State Championship game in 1997, because she was there, hoisting the trophy proudly above her head, wild with adrenaline and victory. She’ll be backed by the coach who took her there.

The Lady Mustangs are not driving to the State Tournament as the favorite to win it all. They will face opponents with better players, bigger athletic budgets, and the ability to recruit. However, they will face no one with bigger hearts, and they will face no one with a more appreciative fanbase.

They will take on the Chisholm Longhorns with a fire in their gut and grim determination in their hearts. Win or lose, they will leave everything they have on the floor. And we could not be more proud. Go get them, Lady Mustangs. Bring back the gold. Do it for the volleyball girls in ’97, the basketball boys in ’98, the volleyball girls in ’11, ’12, ’15, and ’16, and the basketball boys in ’15, ’16, and ‘17.

Do it for the girls of ‘19.

My fourteen-year-old daughter walked into the house and announced that the volleyball team was getting new jerseys.

“I got number 40,” she said. “Cause that was your number.”

I smiled and texted my brother.

“Number 40 is back.”

#40.

I carried that number through my entire high school career, and then my younger brother carried it through his, but that’s getting ahead of the moment.

The whistle blew, the clock stopped, and at that moment, my coach knew we were beaten. He motioned down the bench.

“Sloat! Get in there.”

My knees were jelly as I walked to the check in table.

I got a feeling in my stomach that I only got again right after my wife started crying when she walked down the aisle to marry me. The referee waved me in, and I stood under the goal for a free throw attempt by the other team.

He missed, and I leapt for the rebound…

Somehow I managed to grab the ball and knock it out of bounds with my knee. Thirty seconds later I checked out of the State Tournament, one rebound and one turnover forever recorded in the annals of Big House History.

To date, I am the only direct-line descendant of my father to play in a State Tournament game. I have never let my brothers forget it.

But on Friday, all that will change.

Twenty-two years later, a new freshman named Sloat will be getting on the bus to go to the State Tournament. A Sloat wearing a number not unfamiliar to the name.

#40.

Blonde hair, appropriately nervous, and if she takes after her old man at all, when she gets the chance to step onto the court this weekend, she’ll probably screw up. She’ll never forget it though…or the team that got her there.

She’s a lot prettier than I was, that’s for sure.

Let’s go, Lady Mustangs.

Take State.

#GetTheGold

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Travis Sloat

Travis Sloat

Husband to Alicia and father to four kids: three imports and one domestic. English teacher, writer, hunter, and fisherman. I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.