Ayanna Woody worried constantly for her son. His favorite activity, in her eyes, was simply too dangerous.
Even wearing a helmet, there remained an obvious risk that a hard fall or brutal collision could cause serious injury. So, though they knew it was his passion, Zaahir Woody’s parents couldn’t continue living in fear.
“That skateboarding stuff just had to stop!” Ayanna Woody said. “His dad (Ronald Woody) and I were scared to death.”
So, how about football?
That was the eventual consolation. Yes, American football. Tackle football.
And, eventually, basketball.
“I didn’t like sports growing up,” said Zaahir Woody, who now stars for the Roy C. Ketcham High School football and basketball teams.
Through three games this basketball season, Woody is averaging 24.3 points, including 33 points against Ossining on Dec. 6. That follows a football season in which he snagged 41 passes for 639 yards and nine touchdowns.
“I had no interest in sports,” he said, “except skateboarding and playing tag.”
He picked up skateboarding when he was 8 years old and his parents initially supported it, even putting a skating ramp in their backyard. The problem arose when he became good enough at it to work in complicated tricks, the kind often performed by professionals in the X Games.
“He was never satisfied just being on flat ground and skating,” Ayanna Woody said. “He would always be jumping over stuff, sliding down stairs.”
Zaahir Woody frequently practiced kickflips, a maneuver that involves using the feet to flip the skateboard while airborne. There were rail grinds, too. (For the folks who weren’t already cringing: That’s when a skater glides down the railing of a staircase while atop the board.)
So, one can understand a parent’s concern. And, there was the close call. That time, Zaahir Woody said, when he was skating down a steep incline and couldn’t stop in time before sliding off the sidewalk and into the street. He was almost hit by a car.
He was sure to keep that a secret. His mom hadn’t heard the story until Tuesday. The look of absolute horror in her countenance suggests she still is mortified years later.
Zaahir Woody seemed to have a natural acumen for basketball, his mother said. He hadn’t played in an organized setting, just dribbling and shooting in a nearby park. And skating remained an occasional hobby. But, as an eighth-grader, when his family moved from Ossining to Wappingers Falls, skating was pushed even farther to the rear.
There weren’t any skate parks in his new neighborhood.
“That’s what really got me into sports,” he said. “I didn’t have much of a choice. Not being able to skate much, I looked at football and basketball as the alternative.”
Once enrolled in the Wappingers Central School District, Zaahir Woody began playing both sports. He soon would excel at football, becoming a game-breaking wide receiver who made routine the spectacular. There have been leaping catches in traffic, diving one-handed snags, and a number of acrobatic plays that left audiences in awe and opponents befuddled.
“Football is dangerous, no question,” his mother said, “but skateboarding was much more frightening to watch.”
As a basketball player, he broke through on varsity last season as a do-it-all swing man, capable of playing most positions. At 6-foot-2 with remarkable athleticism, Woody is able to score, handle the ball, rebound and facilitate.
He averaged 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game last season. Most of his damage offensively was done as a slasher, driving to the basket and absorbing contact.
He worked extensively on his shooting this off-season, studying the form and release of New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. He practiced his jumper and ball handling at Gold’s Gym over the summer.
Ketcham boys basketball coach Mike Paino described Zaahir Woody as “one of the best overall players in the section.” This season, the guard hopes to average 12 rebounds.
With Zaahir Woody’s burgeoning game, along with the contributions of key players like Jahri Mosley, Darryl Sullivan and David Henry, the Indians are expected to be playoff contenders.
Zaahir Woody said he was garnered interest from both college football and basketball teams, but isn’t sure which sport he prefers. If by season’s end he still is undecided, he said, the choice might be determined by a coin flip. (And he seemed sincere about that.)
Some aspects of football do help with basketball, he said. Having grown accustomed to making plays with defensive backs draped over him, his strength and concentration have improved on the court. It helps in rebounding, driving into the paint and finishing through contact.
He’s working on improving his shooting — and dunking
He needs to worry more about his defense, his mother interjected. Ayanna Woody, a San Antonio Spurs fan, said she cares most about the fundamentals.
“I get on him,” she said. “I tell him if you’re not playing good defense, you shouldn’t be allowed to shoot.”
Zaahir Woody said that she is “the loud mom” who can be heard from the stands during games, yelling instructions. Teammates get on him about that, too.
Still, watching her son shine on the field and the court, Ayanna Woody said, “is the best thing in the world. He’s respectful and works hard. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Or more relieved.
There still are a number of old skateboards strewn about on the porch of their home. But at least now when he mentions “the grind,” there isn’t a staircase involved.
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4