Christian Short Stories

God Wants Me Here
By Web Ruble

Web writes: "I come from Aberdeen, Wash. (back when Hector was a pup), and the area is sports nuts. This story, although fiction in that I have changed the name of the player and the specific town, is one I ran across in my years of observing and writing sports as a newspaper reporter. There actually was a player in the Aberdeen area (but not Aberdeen itself) who was the inspiration for this."

He broke into a slight grin as he held the basketball over and behind his head at the top of the key. Other players swarmed.

Tarvi Sulknoz – a beefy 6-foot-6 senior and looking more mature than the other high school players – stared down the Centralia Tigers on the latter’s home court amid tumult, boos and rude whistles of the home crowd. He held the ball the final seconds until Danny Wolverton got open almost underneath the hoop.

Instead of launching his spinning-ball, behind-the-head hook shot for which he was known, Tarvi saw Danny and zipped him the ball. Danny tried to be Joe Cool and just kiss the glass with a layup. However, the ball rolled around and out.

Now thoroughly disgusted, Tarvi bounded the lane, retrieved it, and slammed it home. Buzzer. Game over. Instead of winning by 3 points the Elma victory was by 5.

Elma, a much smaller school playing away from home, took the regular season-ending win in stride, and coolly strode off the hardboards.

However, Tarvi had to push his way through hecklers as he tried to drift to the showers after scoring 26 points, ripping 15 rebounds, and making 10 assists -- almost a record.

It wasn’t an easy sashay. Hecklers were rude and shoving. They called him “goon,” “thug,” “show-off.”

Meanwhile, Martin Mitchell, an Aberdeen Daily World reporter at the scorer’s table was saying, “Wow! What a player! He’s terrific and such a gentleman. I’ve never seen him get angry until that last play. And he does what he does with such ease and class.”

“Well, Charlie, I guess you’ve said it all,” said a reporter from Centralia Chronicle.

“Er…uh, the name is Martin,” Mitchell said.

They shared laughs and then Martin waxed pensive, thinking about Sulknoz’ regular season performance and some of the quotes he was credited with:

Once, down at larger Aberdeen after having won a close one 42-41 in January, Sulknoz heard a teammate singing, “Aberdeen, Aberdeen. Creepiest town I’ve ever seen . . .”

Mitchell had just walked into the locker room -- a witness. Sulknoz responded by walking over to teammate D. Smith: “Shut up. That’s not very Christian of you . . .How would you like it if one of their players were saying that about us? Hey, this is THEIR house.”

In another incident, when Aberdeen’s neighbor Hoquiam had lost a tough one at Elma, Mitchell had heard an Elma Eagle say, “There may be flies on those Grizzly guys, but there ain’t no flies on us. . .” He also heard Sulknoz’ reply, “How would you know, bugwit?”

Mitchell also recalled Sulknoz’ own fans taunting him up at Olympia, “Dunk it! Dunk it! You can do it.”

Sulknoz -- who had been told by coach Ted “Da Claw” Durnam to never slam dunk the ball because it was really against the rules (in those days) -- responded by scoring a soft layup.

Never a show off. Always polite. Moreover, he always had something good to say about the other team. He always urged fellow players “Show respect for the other guys. Like fame,” he said, “victory is fleeting . . .only temporary.”

A terrific player and a gentleman. A do-goodie. A class act. That’s what Martin Mitchell thought. He mused, “Surely, he’s the type of player a Christian college would want. Perhaps even drool over.”

Well, Mitchell even said so in his “Morning After” column: “Sulknoz is university quality but doesn’t get much press. But certainly several small Christian colleges will come calling.”

He was correct. Almost immediately Sulknoz heard from a couple of nearby two-year junior colleges and then Seattle Pacific, a small Methodist-connected four-year college which had a top small-college basketball program and according to a recent sports department brochure, went for “Christian athletes.”

Sulknoz, however, dawdled.

He visited there but also went up to Seattle University, a Roman Catholic university in Seattle which played Division I, had become the next thing to a national power. Seattle U. had worked to get showdowns with big universities like the University of Washington.

Sulknoz continued to hem and haw -- too long.

Seattle University, in the meantime, was hot after some other prospects and became not terribly welcoming. Sulknoz, sensitive and reared in a loving Christian home, was used to being treated kindly and with kid gloves. He then returned to Seattle Pacific, which told him, “We’d love to have you . . .but we can’t help much financially. We’re small with a tiny budget and we’ve just spent our last scholarship dollar.”

Hmmmm. What to do?

His father, Bronco, then advised Tarvi to forget going Christian, and concentrate on playing for a big university where there would be scholarship money for a top player. “You’ve got the makin’s. You could still be a Christian, of course, and we would expect you to keep your standards,” his father had said.

Quite early one soon morning, Tarvi hit the road.

He first surfaced in Missoula, Mont., where he visited the University of Montana, which was on a roll to become a power in the mountain West. He worked out with the basketball team for a couple of days and left town.

He surfaced again after a week or so at the University of Kentucky, the No. 1 college-university basketball power in the country.

He worked out with the sensational Wildcats for a few days. Then, once again, he vanished.

Coaches and sports aficionados at the two schools were a little bewildered.

A Kentucky coach did some research and found out that the home town newspaper for Tarvi Sulknoz was the Aberdeen (Wash.) Daily World and that the reporter who mostly covered him was Martin Mitchell. The coach spent a dollar or two, calling Mitchell on the phone: “Hey, you are sports writer Martin Mitchell? . . . You are familiar with a high school star in your area by the name of Sulknoz?”

“Oh yes.”

“Well . . .he surfaced here at Lexington, worked out with our hoops boys. We really liked him. Had plans for him. Not the sharpest knife in our drawer. Probably need some tutoring. Told him so. We expected him back the next week, but he never showed. What’s the deal? What happened to him?

Mitchell said, “I dunno. You’re the second person to call me. Heard from the coach at the University of Montana a few minutes ago. I didn’t know what to tell him, either. I just don’t know. But I’ll tell ya what . . I’m going up to Elma this afternoon and I’ll try to find out. Call ya back.”

Mitchell checked his notes. Sulknoz didn’t live right in Elma but on a “stump ranch” several miles up Bear Creek Road near the tiny town of Whites.

He cruised his 1955 Chev beater through Elma and Whites but first missed the turnoff. He had to backtrack. And then go east again. Finally, he found it.

‘Twas a narrow track winding through some alders. Bear Creek Road grew smaller through a Douglas fir forest. It ended in a clearing , and there, between two crude wooden crosses, stood the log-cabin Sulknoz home.

Not well prepared, Mitchell winged it. He marched to the cabin door. One knock and he was welcomed in by Tarvi’s mother, Helen.

After introductions, he asked about Tarvi. He was in luck. Tarvi was there. They sat in front of the fireplace as Helen served tea.

Mitchell explained that he had received phone calls from Montana and Kentucky, and said coaches in those places wondered what happened to him.

“Well, I didn’t think they liked me,” Tarvi said. “So I came home. Hitchhiked.”

Mitchell sighed. Then he felt compelled to ask, “Well then, are you going back, or going to try some place else?”

“No,” Tarvi said.

“I have a job in Elma at Nichols’ Tire shop. My girl friend, Betty, lives in town. We’ll probably get married soon. And we’re active in my church. Fame and money don’t matter much. . . You see, I found out through prayer that right here is where God wants me.”

(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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