The three “Ahs” terrorized my eighth-grade year.

Brianna, Farrah and Lana ruled my gym class. Natural athletes, they preyed on those of us who flinched from dodge balls and used softball mitts to cover our heads. I was their prime target — especially after a sadistic gym teacher put us on the same team for her volleyball unit.

I managed to slink through unnoticed until the final game of the unit’s final day. Somehow, our team was unbeaten (most likely because the “Ahs” would shove everyone else aside to reach the ball). But this last game, we faced the real possibility of defeat: The score was tied. And it was my turn to serve.

“Don’t you dare f*$# this up,” Farrah hissed.

Praying feverishly, I served the ball. It went over the net (a first!), and we got the point.

Unfortunately, you have to win by two points in volleyball.

“Do it again!” Brianna yelled.

“Or we’ll beat you up,” said Lana.

More prayers. Some deep breaths. A serve … that went … over … the net.

We won! And I swore that once I became an adult, I would never play volleyball again.

It’s a promise I’ve kept. Now, though, I get to experience the “Ahs” in a whole new light: While watching my youngest play youth sports.

What is it about youth sports leagues that bring out the crazy in parents? The screaming from the sidelines; the yelling at the referees; the comments on children’s different levels of athleticism?

Saturday, our basketball team played a highly skilled, highly competitive game. The two teams — made up of 12- and 13-year-olds — stayed within one or two points of each other for the duration of the game. At the final buzzer, the game tied. We went into a 2-minute overtime. In the final second, our team lost.

The kids played amazingly well. It was the kind of contest you hope to see at a professional game. I would have paid money for it.

But the atmosphere the entire game took me right back to eighth-grade gym. I halfway expected one of the “Ahs” to appear, all grown up but still really scary, and scream, “Don’t f#$& this up!”

We were all a little rattled. The big boy kept score and had to endure an onslaught of “What’s the score?”; “How much time is left?”; “Did you get that point?” from the parents in the crowd. The woman behind me kept screaming “Defense” as loudly as she could and stamping her feet on the wooden bleachers. Coaches and parents screamed at the refs and at other parents.

Yikes! We all came home jangled. The big boy worried he’d done something wrong with the scoring. The little one felt his team had failed. The husband and I just wanted some quiet — and were awfully happy that no one had come to blows.

In an effort to bring some balance to the household (and some peace to my own frazzled nerves), I decided to inject a little “sweet” into our evening. I love the cadence of baking: The pace of measuring, kneading, rolling and resting. Plus, I figured the kids deserved a special treat.

I pulled out this recipe from the lovely Molly Wizenberg and made a batch of tiny cinnamon rolls. Butter-, cinnamon- and brown sugar-laced, the rolls are tasty eaten straight from the oven. They’re even better slathered with cream cheese frosting. They were on the table about three hours after we got home from the game. And after one or two, perspective returned.

It really is just a game. And the only “Ahs” I have to endure now are the ones I hear when my family eat these:

rolls in pan, baked

“Ah” Cinnamon Rolls

  •  1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached flour, divided
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup packed golden brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

Combine the milk and 3 tablespoons butter in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on high until the butter melts and the milk is warm (120- to 130-degrees).

Pour the milk and butter mixture into the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Add 1 cup of flour, the sugar, egg, yeast and salt. Using a paddle attachment, mix on medium for 3 minutes.

Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Switch to a dough-hook attachment. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour and mix on low until combined. Continue mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Lightly grease a large bowl with vegetable oil. Turn the dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place it in a warm, draft-free area and let it rise for 2 hours.

After 2 hours has passed, punch the dough down. Divide it in half.

Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. Coat a 9x13x2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray.

rolls filledWorking with one section of dough at a time, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rough rectangle. The dough should be about 1/8-inch thick. Spread 2 tablespoons of softened butter on the dough, then sprinkle half of the sugar & cinnamon mixture on it:

Beginning at one long side, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. With the seam at the bottom, cut the cylinder into 1/2-inch-wide slices:

rolls cut

Place them cut-side up in the glass baking dish, then repeat with the other half of your dough:

rolls unbaked

Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free area. Let the rolls rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes. They’re done when they’re golden on the tops and bottoms.

rolls doneRemove from the oven and immediately invert the baking dish onto a rack or lined baking sheet. Let the rolls cool for 10 minutes, then turn them over and carefully pull them apart.

Eat as is, or ice with a mixture of 4 ounces cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 cup unsalted butter and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, all beaten until smooth.

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