Valley Voices

Larry Patten: Ice cream and sweaty women: win-win!

Fresno State’s Alex Furr, left, drives around Cal Poly’s Ariana Elegado in the first half of their season opener at the Save Mart Center last November.
Fresno State’s Alex Furr, left, drives around Cal Poly’s Ariana Elegado in the first half of their season opener at the Save Mart Center last November. Fresno Bee file

Soon, I’ll tell my wife I’m leaving her.

She’s resigned to the inevitable change in our relationship. After all, what could she do to prevent me from wearing my Bulldog sweatshirt and watching young women pound the Save Mart hardwood?

It’s that time of year! For 16 home games through March 2016, I’ll occupy my plastic-fantastic seat in section 122. I’ll be cheering my favorite team: Fresno State women’s basketball!

I hope you claim a favorite team. Maybe touchdown fever rages through your gridiron heart. Others go giddy with the crack of the bat at Beiden Field or Margie Wright Diamond. So many sports! But I’m a women’s basketball guy.

About 10 years ago, a dear friend gave her husband and me Christmas presents: tickets for a few basketball games. We were hooked! Great to support our alma mater! (OK, my abandon-wife-at-home side enjoys yelling at sweaty women rocking and rolling on a court. Now you can think less of me.)

But there’s more ...

▪ Cheap tickets! ($75 for the season.)

▪ Fresno State ice cream! (Rocky road rules.)

▪ Spending time with best bud, Michael!

▪ We’ve met swell folks in Section 122!

Even when Fresno doesn’t win, it’s a darn fun time. I lied. If they lose, I’m miserable for days.

I enjoy the team because the women usually stay for their entire collegiate “career.” Too many of the men are here and gone, lured by paychecks in professional sports. Why play more college ball when the NFL or NBA offers you zillions? I could tell another lie and say I wish as many women as men also earned zillions as a pro, but I’d rather we weren’t a culture of cash, greed and the seduction of ESPN fame.

But enough social critique ... since this year one of my nicest basketball relationships will end.

Even my wife feels sad for me.

About six years ago, I attended the team’s preseason ice cream social. It’s an opportunity to mingle with players. For a shy guy like me (really, I am), it’s easier to shout encouragement from Section 122 than approach a young woman I don’t know. So, I wandered about, staying to myself.

Then freshman Alex Furr greeted me with a wide smile. In a slight Texas twang, she said, “I’m Alex. Who are you?” Gazing at my gray hair, paunch and ample wrinkles, Furr cleverly didn’t mistake me for a fellow student.

We began a friendship. Since then, on Facebook (with cheery comments) and sometimes after games (with me saying brilliant stuff like “Great game, Alex!”), we’ve kept in touch. I agonized when she was hurt early in her sophomore year. Injured a second time, Alex missed the 2012-13 season. But she returned to the lineup, plays tough defense and can launch a deadly three-point shot. The year 2015-16 will be her last season.

Alex has graduated and is working on a master’s degree. Smart woman! But she’s one of many smart, dedicated students I’ve admired, like Chantella Perrera, Tierre Wilson, Hayley Munro, Jaleesa Ross, Rosie Moult, Taylor Thompson, Alex Sheedy and Bree Farley. And more! Once high school stars, they learned Division 1’s faster, tougher game. They became a team, while remaining remarkable students ... and athletes.

The season starts in early November. Get your tickets now ... but wait!

What if your basketball IQ is zilch? First, players wear uniforms with numbers. In the program, just match the number to the player. Simple! White uniforms are worn for home games, but fans should wear red. Here’s more:

▪ When Bego swats the ball from an opposing player ... cheer!

▪ When “Q” steals the ball from an opposing player ... cheer!

▪ When Alex hits a three-pointer from the parking lot ... cheer!

▪ When Toni snags a rebound while “enemy” players foul her ... cheer!

▪ When Mo, Emilie or Brittany get a bucket ... cheer!

▪ When Coach Jaime White shouts at a referee for temporary blindness, pause for a moment of disgusted silence for all referees, and then ... cheer!

▪ When a new player makes a spectacular play ... cheer! (Then find and memorize her name in the program).

Now you’re ready! You can visit me in Section 122 and thank me in person. I hope you watch a game or 10 this season. Win (hooray!) or lose (agony), they are fun to cheer.

I’m sure your spouse will understand if you spend a couple of hours with a bunch of sweaty women! And sometimes, OK, I do bring my wife.

Don’t forget some sweet Fresno State ice cream!

See ya at the game!

Larry Patten is a United Methodist clergy, a writer, and barely passed Dr. Phil Levine’s poetry class at Fresno State. He maintains www.larrypatten.com and www.hospice-matters.com. You can contact him at larry@larrypatten.com.

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