(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Monday, July 25, 2005

Get Your Kicks

I suppose I also could have entitled this "I Get No Kick From Champagne" after the Cole Porter hit "I Get a Kick out of You," and I should be quick to point out that when I'm speaking of kicks I'm not speaking of a slang reference to sneakers (that's trainers for my readers across the pond). And before I continue on this rift, I need to state that this post is not about soccer, about which I post from time to time.

No, it's about kickball. It's making a comeback.

Yes, the kickball that you played on an asphalt playground in elementary school is now more popular than ever, owing, to some degree, from the fact that people who once played it in elementary school are now playing it as adults. There's even a World Kickball Association, and, yes, the kids are still playing it in elementary school.

I have ambivalent memories about playing kickball. I discovered it in second grade, at a time in my life when I went to a new elementary school and was finding my way there. I wasn't a bad athlete then (it was only in post-adolescence that I discovered that my feet wouldn't move as fast as my brain told them too), but I wasn't a veteran of the school, and I wasn't included in kickball games in the early fall. Thankfully, we had a good second grade teacher, and she assigned the ball to a different kid each day so no one could hog it. Early in the school year, on a day the ball was mine, I was bouncing it around the playground when one of the biggest kids, the kid who frequently got into trouble but the teachers didn't dislike because he was charming (and those peers who didn't envy or even admire his skill hated him for it; I benignly envied it -- he was somewhat hard to like, but much harder to dislike), came up to me and told me that the ball was needed for kickball. I told him fine, but I had to be included in the game, and he said "Of course" and I was a regular in the game ever after. At any rate, it was fun because you could play it on asphalt without getting hurt, and you could kick the big ball far. In a sense, it was the only game in town. The field adjacent to the school was more a rock refuge, it sloped sideways, and it wasn't the easiest to play football on. Baseball was out of the question, because most kids couldn't throw the ball with any sense of where it would end up. There was a serious risk of bodily injury in the national pastime.

We took our games seriously, as second grade boys were wont to do, because our worlds were small and at that point in the world one defined himself the best among his peers not through the speed with which he did math problems but through how far he could kick the bouncy red ball or how well he could hurl it. There were some good athletes in those games, too, but while they were good you could tell at that time they were good within reason. No one was doing anything supernatural with the ball the way a future professional athlete would, and none of the players became a star athlete in high school (some did play on varsity teams, but never as the headliners). They would become, later in life, a paper salesman with a drinking problem, a paper sales executive without a drinking problem, a jeweler who had kicked a drug habit, a corporate trainer, a couple of divorce lawyers, a PhD from MIT, and a few guys, to borrow from "Animal House", whose whereabouts are "parts unknown." (Don't try to guess my occupation; I didn't list myself among the participants).

Still, back then, every game counted. We rushed out to recess and after lunchtime, and we bristled when the bell rang and we had to shuffle back into school. Look back, it didn't mean much -- it meant almost everything.

I don't know what lessons I recall from those days. Perhaps the adages "95% of life is all about showing up" and "possession is 9/10's of the law" come to mind, but I can't say, as some coaches have, that I learned about character or could predict who would become what because of the way they approached the bouncing rubber ball. Many of those who didn't get chosen still turned out fine, and some who starred didn't. In the end, it was just another kid's game.

So they're playing it again, the weekend warriors are, and good for them. I hope that they get great enjoyment from this game and that they stay in shape as a result. Too many people are out of shape these days, either failing to find the time to exercise or failing to find something that intrigues them. For men over 40 who want to live into their 80's the answer is simple -- you don't see many overweight men who are in their 80's. Get your kicks in if you must -- you'll be better off for it.

And, when you catch the biggest jerk in the league in a rundown, hit him hard with the red rubber ball. It won't hurt much, because it's hard to throw it with much on it, but nail him just the same.

For old times' sake.


Blogger Amateur said...

In my neck of the woods, we used to call this soccer baseball. At least, it sounds like the same stupid game!

10:04 AM  

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