Because my wife Janie and I were both teachers and had our summers off, we used them to travel all over the country with our kids. I put over 100,000 miles on an old, orange Volkswagen camper van and then traded that in for a mini motor home that we drove to the ends of the earth. We avoided the crowded RV parks and campgrounds. When we were roaming through big cities, I often parked overnight in a church parking lot or on a nice, peaceful street.
A number of years ago we were traveling up the east coast and driving through Atlantic City, N.J. It was late at night and I steered down a quiet neighborhood avenue and pulled my van over for the evening. When the sun first peeked over the horizon early the next morning, I peered out the window and discovered I had parked next to an aging high school that was slated for demolition. The large building complex was located on a huge block of land and surrounded by construction fencing.
The high school was in some disrepair but it didn’t take long for me to realize its architecture was beautiful and it must have been a real gem when it was built. The cornerstone was dated 1919. Although destined for the wrecking ball, I could see this school had been treated with tender, loving care. I couldn’t have been more intrigued if I had accidentally parked next to the Grand Canyon. I had to see this place. I woke up my oldest son Mike, who was about 6 years old at the time, and we began looking for a way into the venerable, ancient structure.
We had no trouble finding an open door and spent the next couple of hours walking through what once had to have been a wonderful institution of learning. I found myself stopping at different points in the school and trying to visualize the students and teachers who roamed those hallways for so many years. When we got to the second floor, I discovered the basketball gymnasium and was immediately captivated. It was built in the style of an early era. The architecture reminded me of the Celina Fieldhouse or the old Lima South High School gymnasium. The seating was located above the basketball floor and the surface down below could almost be mistaken for a swimming pool. It was a large gym with seating in the thousands, an astronomical number for that age. While Mike ran up and down the aged gym floor, I sat high up in the wooden bleachers and tried to imagine what basketball games played there must have been like.
If a genie had suddenly appeared and granted me one wish, I would have blown it by asking to see an actual basketball game from the 1920s or 30s. How different would that basketball game look compared to today’s competition? There was a jump ball at center circle after every score. Jump shots were unheard of as players used only one-handed and two-handed set shots with their feet firmly planted on the floor. The play was slow, rugged and team point totals rarely reached the 30s. Teams often traveled with their own officials. A basketball player from this generation would hardly recognize the game.
But an athlete today would recognize the look in those competitor’s eyes, and admire the heart and passion the players displayed. Today’s competitor would be able to relate to the ecstasy and joy winning produced in the victors and the pain and disappointment etched on the faces of the players who lost the game. Those attributes cross generational lines and bind athletes of every age.
I think a lot of today’s young athletes miss that point. They forget there are people sitting in the stands today who may look like they could barely walk the basketball down the court now, but who know exactly what is in the hearts and minds of the competitors in the game. They know because they have been there at one time and have never forgotten those feelings. They know because their lives have no doubt benefited from the lessons learned during their own athletic experience.
What will our game of basketball look like many generations from now and will a time traveler from this age be able to recognize it? Probably not, but let’s hope our culture is able to keep the whole athletic experience in perspective, a difficult challenge. And let us also hope that their participation is still providing young men and women with the opportunity to profit from the real rewards of competition.
So ends another year of these columns for me. Thanks again to Ross Bishoff and Jim Krumel for the opportunity. And a special thanks to you, our readers.
(Email Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org)