An early Christmas story from Dallas

A common saying people reserve for small towns often goes something like this: If you blink, you’ll miss it.

You could say this about Dallas Academy.

Dallas Academy is a tiny private school north of the city, in the area next to White Rock Lake. The school has all the amenities of modern schools; it’s just exceptionally small. The main building is probably the size of a local restaurant and hides behind a curve on the road and several trees, obscuring it from view.

On Friday, I sped over to Dallas Academy and, of course, had to break and swerve to make the turn when I finally caught the glimpse of the school.

I was there to write about a miracle victory.

***

At about 10 a.m. that day, I got an e-mail from my editor asking me to do a story about this team. As someone new to this job, I knew nothing about Dallas Academy. It’s sort of a general rule about all the work I do as a newcomer to high school sports coverage: I know nothing.

Anyways, in the e-mail, he wrote that their girls basketball team defeated another team that I know nothing about by one point. This mattered because Dallas Academy hadn’t won in EIGHT years.

It gets worse.

Last year, Dallas Academy lost to another private school team 100-0. The coach, Jeremy Civello, talked about how proud he was that his team battled. However, he decided to cancel the rest of the team’s season.

Soon, the story made national headlines.

Good Morning America shot a feature of the team from their home gymnasium, as did the Early Show. A player told me Ellen almost invited them on to her show. Nike sponsored them, giving them a free trip to the NBA All-Star Game. They got the opportunity to sit close to LeBron and Paul Pierce.

I had no idea any of this happened until Friday morning, when I got that e-mail.

I called the school’s principal, who said the team was leaving to go back to the tournament in 45 minutes. So that’s why I sped over there.

I parked in the back of the school, next to two small school buses reserved for the athletic teams, and walked around to the front door.

They were all gathered in the office, in a completely comfortable manner, as if they were a family settled around a fireplace.

They tried recounting what happened on Thursday night. They couldn’t quite do it. Laughter interrupted every single thought.

Four girls began talking at once, then the coach interrupted them and then the principal wanted to say something and then another girl wanted to make a comment about the coach’s husband and he started laughing and then another girl who couldn’t make it to the game said how she couldn’t believe it when one of the players texted her to say they won.

I have never seen a group of more joyous people. You probably don’t believe this, and that is natural.

People in sports often go overboard to describe the routine. Announcers call three-pointers and dunks “unbelievable.” Dick Vitale anoints North Carolina players who average seven points a game “special.”

The over-usage takes away the luster. Miracles don’t mean as much when any comeback victory fits the mold.

So when life intersects with sports and something really is “special” and “unbelievable,” those descriptive words don’t fit.

Friday brought forth that kind of situation. That room was filled with literal bliss. This was your favorite song, the first time you hear it. This was a feeling that transcended words.

But I had to describe it.

My job was to recreate this feeling and put it into 400 words so the miniscule number of people who still read newspapers could experience the joy present in that room.

I tried to describe it. But I know I didn’t succeed. Hemingway couldn’t have. Well, he probably could have. Mere mortals, though, couldn’t.

So instead, I give you the attempt and wish you all could have sat in that glorious room for just a few minutes.

***

DALLAS — Nine victorious girls, a coach and her husband and the headmaster sat in the main office of tiny Dallas Academy on Friday, cramming into small couches and chairs and spilling out onto the floor.

They teased Jeremy Civello, the husband and last year’s coach, for leaving the game early. They recounted how half the boys team met them at Schlotzsky’s afterwards and dog-piled them as soon as they got off the bus. They repeated the word amazing, with major emphasis on the “UH,” often between long bouts of laughter.

If you want a concrete image to describe satisfaction, it was this room.

Dallas Academy defeated Johnson County, 34-33, on Thursday, the school’s first victory in eight years.

The girls laughed freely, the way one would laugh at graduations or weddings, because they could now forget the past. They could forget about the losing streak and last season’s infamous 100-0 loss.

“We had just been waiting to win one game,” senior Teodora Palacios said. “We broke it.”

Given the team’s record, nobody saw this coming, particularly after the first quarter.

Dallas Academy trailed, 9-0. Then the Bulldogs caught fire.

They pulled within seven in the second quarter, and then Lauren Oelke made a half-court shot at the halftime buzzer.

“When I made the half-court shot,” she said, “I lit up.”

Oelke, new to the team this year, scored 31 points, more than double her career high. She made a free throw with under a minute left to give her team its 34-33 lead. From there, they waited for what seemed like an eternity.

Senior Jackie Alas held coach Deanna Civello’s hand on the bench. On the court, the five girls made a stop and then dribbled and passed until the clock ran out.

“That was the best minute they ever played,” Civello said.

When time did expire, Civello said she had never seen her players’ eyes that wide. And of course, the girls screamed. They screamed, expressing an achievement they hadn’t experienced in high school.

“Everybody there watching us,” Alas said, “was like ‘why are they screaming? They won by one point.’ But they don’t understand. We haven’t won in five years.”

As soon as Alas finished her thought, they all reminded her that it had been eight years, and the room erupted with deep laughter again.

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