A basketball birthday

. February 19, 2013.
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If you’re like most parents, you probably spend a good bit of effort planning your kids’ birthday parties. You want these special days to be memorable for your child. Fortunately, there is no shortage of fun activities in Ann Arbor. Many of us have been to Zap Zone or Chuck E. Cheese’s for our own son or daughter— and probably for somebody else’s kid, as well. I love these places. I’d go back again and again (some say that I’ve been zapped a few too many times, or that I’m not playing with a full cup of tokens). Right before our daughter Molly turned ten, however, she told us that she wanted to try something a little different, but couldn’t quite put her fi nger on it. What could we do that all her friends would enjoy?

My wheels started turning: What if we flooded the basement and held epic sea battles? Nah, cannons can make a mess. How ‘bout we dig giant trenches in our backyard and hunt for mastodon
bones? Don’t be ridiculous. The kids would all fight over who gets to work the backhoe next. There had to be something easier. That’s when we discovered that we could have her party
at Crisler Arena during a Michigan Women’s Basketball game. 

We saw the birthday party promotion on MGoBlue.com, a product of the Michigan Sports Marketing Department. This seemed to be the perfect idea for Molly. The package includes twenty tickets in a special reserved section, pizza, cupcakes, and beverages (plus plates, napkins, and candles). They also put a special birthday message up on the scoreboard and give you a mini basketball, autographed by the team. All this for $150. That’s very competitive compared to many of the birthday venues we’ve been to over the years.

Now for the truly amazing part: Katy Jackson of the Sports Marketing Department does all the work! She organized it, procured all the comestibles, and got us into our special seats. All we
had to do was send out the invitations.

The Game is On

Game day: as we settled into our seats, Katy gave us the pizza and drinks to hand out to the kids. Ten feet in front of us, the Michigan players executed their warm-up drills with finesse. On
the other end of the court, the Golden Eagles of Marquette did the same. (We could take these jokers.) Then, it was time for cupcakes. Then it was time… Wait, what were those TV cameras for
behind us? One of the girls had noticed that Big Ten Network was televising the game.

Hold everything! “Can we get on TV, Mr. Keen?” Fortunately, Katy stepped in and was actually able to move us right behind the Michigan bench—in full view of the cameras and everyone’s living room out there in TV Land. Do I really need to mention here that the kids were just a little psyched? 

By sitting right behind the bench, we had a nice close up of the players and coach Kevin Borseth. Coach Borseth is a smart and intense teacher of the game. And when I say, “intense,” let’s
just say that you don’t want to be right in front of him when the ref blows a call.

That night, Coach Borseth was getting pretty worked up as our Wolverines fell behind, still trailing at the half. We could see, however, that he was not about to give up. Neither were the girls
at our birthday party. Whenever Marquette went to the free throw line, our kids all screamed, “Noonan!” (For those of you who don’t know what this means, rent the movie Caddy Shack sometime.)

Smiling in the Second Half

When the second half started, our yelling and the coach’s persistence and intelligent play calling paid off. Michigan battled back to take the lead. Now here’s the moment that really impressed
me: with just a few minutes left, and the Wolverines with a three-point lead, the air was filled with tension. Marquette had just called a timeout, and Coach Borseth pulled his players into a huddle. What did we see on their faces? Not strain, but smiles. He actually got them to laugh at whatever he was telling them. Game on, the Wolverines took the court and then proceeded to blow out the Golden Eagles in the waning moments. Our birthday party went nuts.

After the game, the cheerleaders came over to Molly and her friends and posed for pictures. The pep band, who had been rockin’ us all night, played the Victors and the Yellow and Blue. It had
been a fantastic experience, but now it was time to head to the exits.

Of all the parties my wife and I have planned for our kids, this one was certainly amongst the easiest. Where else could we take this many 5th-grade girls and let them scream their heads off? You
might say that we got to have our cake, eat it, and get a victory, too.

Jim Keen is a free-lance writer and life-long Ann Arborite. He lives in town with his wife, Bonnie, and daughters, Gabbi (13) and Molly (10). He is the author of Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He can be reached at mya2@annarborfamily.com