Friday, December 17, 2010

On the Place of Sports in Society

My husband an I have made a conscious decision to avoid over-involvement in extracurricular activities for our family members.  That is not always a popular decision.  We do understand that as the kids get older, they will want to participate in more things, but family must always come first.  A person could make themselves crazy trying to support each child in a multitude of various activities, and we've decided that is not where we want to expend our time and emotions.

Because of this, there are some who suppose we don't like sports.  I am not going to answer for Joe, because, well, I'm not him.  But for myself, I LOVE SPORTS!!!  I was a huge tomboy growing up and would sneak away from my household chores any chance I got to ride bikes or play football or basketball with the neighborhood boys.  I thought it grossly unfair that girls could not play football in those days.  There was a stage when I even wanted to learn to box.  I had a thing with "tough" in those days.  It was my number one goal.

My family watched the Seattle Seahawks and the Sonics regularly and I joined in these pursuits.  I think it was during my sixth and seventh, maybe even eighth grade springs, that the Sonics did especially well.  I took it quite personally (must have been the final moments of the final game of the1980 playoffs) when that big Milwaukee Bucks center, Bob Lanier, grabbed Jack Sikma in an obvious and horrific assault, and threw him down, risking the foul and its ensuing free throws rather than let him score the pretty much guaranteed lay-up.  In the process Sikma's collarbone was broken and so went Seattle's chance for the rest of the playoffs.  I think they did beat Milwaukee, but they couldn't get past the Lakers without Sikma.  Sigh.  Can you tell it still rankles?  I can still see clear as day, Denny Wilkens, with his satiny collared shirts and light colored jackets, pacing the sideline hollering out cues and reprimands.

I remember one series, one of the final games was the same night as our spring skit night at school.  I remember huddling backstage (in the stairwell to the church basement, where we had our "stage"). Someone had a small radio back there that we took turns passing around getting updates and sneaking in a few minutes of the action. I think some of the parents in the audience were probably doing the same, sneaking out to the car here and there rather than watching the skits.  Exciting times.

We got to several Sonics and Mariners games throughout my youth, with various church groups, I think.  It was fun to try to force our way down to where the Sonics came onto and went off the court, trying to get an autograph or at least touch the sleeve of a warm-up suit.

One special highlight occured during one of the Sonics' playoff bids. The upper grades from our school were at the Sea-Tac Airport for a field trip.  The tour guide mentioned that if we were cooperative so that we could finish our tour on time, she would finish off the tour by leading us to the gate where the Sonics were expected to land that afternoon.  We were all very good. We got to the gate with plenty of time to spare.  I still have the two postcards I had purchased with probably 6 or 8 autographs scrolled around each.  It was wild.  Here we were, all us little grade schoolers, amidst the throng of fans with signs and banners and other fan paraphernalia.  We were like rats in a maze, winding our way around all the grown-ups to get to our favorite players.  "Gus Williams is coming!" or, "Hey, there's DJ," (Dennis Johnson). They were everyone's favorites, but there was Jack Sikma and Fred Brown, Paul Silas, Wally Walker, Johnny Johnson, and Lonnie Shelton...They were all getting off the plane and wending their way through the cheering fans, patiently signing autographs and visiting a little.

I don't have much time for baseball.  Just too slow moving, I guess.  And although I enjoy watching and playing football, I especially love basketball.  There is something about the sound of the sneakers squeaking on the court, the bouncing of the balls, the ref's whistles, the calling among the players, the bullhorn for a timeout or substitution, the pep band rowsing the crowd.  It's the whole thing.  I was reminded of this yesterday when I was out and about visiting an older member of our congregation with a friend.  Before we left, the friend I was with was trying to find something on the TV that the woman wanted to watch, scanning channels with the remote.  I was not paying much attention, but even while still visiting with the elderly woman we were visiting, I was instantly filled with a mini-adrenaline rush when the channel flipped briefly to a basketball game.  Even without looking at the TV, the sounds were all there.  I knew it was basketball and wanted to turn and watch.  Good thing I didn't have the remote.  The other ladies may have lost me for a time.

But we don't have a television in our home.  So we can't follow our favorite teams.  Actually I stopped following sports after I left home for highschool.  When one lives in Wisconsin, it takes a bit of extra effort to follow the Seattle teams.  I tried to check the scores when we had current events.  But that's just not the same as watching and hearing the games.  I love the Superbowl, but have only probably watched it two or three times in the last 20 years.

I was always in sports in highschool.  I wasn't a star player and our school had a pretty competitive sports program.  I generally made the teams, but also, I generally sat on the bench.  Some years if I didn't want to sit on the bench or didn't make the team, I played inter-murals.

I almost always went to the basketball games in high school.  I was blessed to attend a Lutheran prep school and so lived right on campus in the dorms.  Some kids found dorm life restrictive, because of all the necessary monitoring the dorm staff has to do to keep track of all those kids.  But having been raised to appreciate privileges when they come, I reveled in the freedom of being able to be involved in things on campus.  All I had to do was sign out that I was at the game.  And then walk across the quad to the gym. And there I was.  In the middle of the crowd, singing the national anthem and the school anthem, rooting for my team, following the lead of the cheerleaders, singing along to, "We will, we will, rock you," with the pep band, being a part of something bigger than oneself.

And that brings us back to my current stand on school sports. I've heard all the talk about being part of something bigger than oneself.  About learning good sportsmanship and teamwork.  About keeping out of mischief.  I can understand all that.  I can also remember the good clean fun I had both participating in and cheering on my sports teams.  But there comes a time when....

It is just too much.  When middle school and junior high kids have to miss family time to be in sports, it's too much.  When young kids' sports come before church and church activities, it's too much.  When parents don't have time to help their kids with homework or their Sunday school or confirmation homework, but they spend hours traipsing around for sports, it's too much.  When families have no possible time slot available for a family meal, it's too much.  And when volunteers are solicited to help with these things and parents feel obligated to help out in order for the "oh-so-beneficial" program to continue, the family unit is put under further strain by that one more obligation, yes, you've guessed it, it's too much.

I do want my kids to be in sports, but at the high school level, not younger.  I do want them to experience the thrill of being part of the team, of being cheered on by adoring fans, or of being an adoring fan.  But at this point it's hard.  We have small (and medium) children at home.  Those kids need homework help and chores monitored, and supper and bedtime on a schedule.  They need the stability of home life.  They need mom home when they get off the bus.  The bigger kids are ready to stretch their wings and be a bit more involved.  So how do we balance everything?  How do we set limits and decide what things are priorities?

Right now we've allowed the older kids one extra curricular activity a year.  They also have choir and band, which I consider academic, so we allow them, even though they also involve a bit of evening time.  We have chosen to be frank with the teachers, that if there are non-school-day activities, our children may be unable to participate.  Sometimes that may even mean a lower grade.  But the way we see it, the grade is not as important as the stability of the family unit, nor is the risk of a lesser grade reason to forgo the musical opportunities altogether.

We do have a son on the cusp of being a driver.  A daughter will follow closely on his heels.  We anticipate that this will help somewhat with the transportation issues involved in extracurriculars.  Or it may just add to the general confusion of raising a large family.  That remains to be seen.

Each family has to find its own balance.  But I do wish there was not so much societal pressure to do everything.  I wish the sports programs did not begin at progressively younger ages. I wish the younger kids could just be kids without so many "opportunities."  All the opportunities easily become temptation for parents to take on too much.  I wish more parents perceived that they do have choices in these matters.

And sometimes, sometimes, I wish I could watch the Sonics play.

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