For this entry, we have a guest columnist. This is a new feature of the blog that I hope to include from time to time. We have a fascinating, richly-diverse (if not “rich”) group of readers — people in far-flung places with all sorts of experiences and insights. The next logical step in making this truly “our” blog is to let some of you take the podium now and then. It’s strictly on a volunteer basis — no one is required to “take a turn” or anything — but I hope the wheels are turning in the minds of some of you. If you have an idea, you can let me know; or if I have an idea, I may contact you with a plea to write us a piece. That was the case for this entry: once I’d read the article, I asked its author if we could use it, and he graciously agreed.
The following column was written by the sports editor of The Perry Chief in Perry, Iowa. The author also serves as an AP beat writer for Iowa State University football, and occasionally, ISU women’s basketball. You know him as Mr. Brown Snowflake, whose real identity remains hidden to protect the innocent.
This column first appeared in the April 23, 2007 edition of The Perry Chief. On February 5, 2008, it was awarded second place for “Best Sports Column” by the Iowa Newspaper Federation from among 76 entries statewide.
Without further adieu, then, here is the work of our first-ever guest columnist:
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Neighborhood Sports
You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now, but time was the author spent hour upon hour playing sports. Either my parents planned exceptionally well or else the dice came up in my favor, as kids that were my own age or near to it were abundant in the neighborhood where I grew up. A bike ride of just a few blocks uncovered several other guys in my age group.
The result was a youth spent playing whiffleball, kickball, basketball,
football, maulball (often referred to, in those innocent days of the mid-70s to early 80s, as “smear the queer”) or any other variety of sports. An occasional game of “kick-the-can” or “bloody murder” might spring up, and if you could round up enough people (10 per side being the oft-desired but rarely achieved goal) a block-wide “capture the flag” might be undertaken.
Two-block long and lightly travelled Cottage Street served as a one-time home to kickball games, with Mr. Manual’s (correct spelling) pristine front yard an automatic out if the ball stopped in it. Of course, the older Mahan and Wilson girls always seemed to do just that,
and Mr. Manual would come out, chew us out and fetch the ball (we weren’t allowed on his little homestead, naturally).
The neighbor across the street from Manual (and next to my buddy Doug’s first house in the area) was, at the time, a certain Mr. Williams, a huge Oakland A’s fan who used to set up a cardtable with little paper cups and a cold jug of Kool-Aid for us.
When we outgrew Cottage Street we switched to Elm for whiffleball, with two shingles intentionally left to melt into the asphalt (where they remained for years) serving as home plate and second base. An old white oak served as first base, with a broken section of curb making a perfect third. And, as all could easily recognize, over the power lines was an automatic home run while launching one into Nelsons’ pool meant that not only were you out, but that you had to get the long-handled scoop to retrieve the ball.
We would wrap layers of black electrical tape around the thin yellow plastic bats and would also tape the ball (leaving the holes open, of course). The need for a catcher would often result in “ghost-runners” and “pitcher’s hand” was the standard order of the day.
On occasion the games would switch to the yard between Martins’ and
Eichelbergers’, but that was fairly rare, as were maulball games in my
backyard, because of the stone birdbath that, miraculously, no one ever collided with. Prized beyond all others was the 20×15 foot cement slab (complete with a circular built-in drain along one side) and 10-ft basket built by the one-time owners across from our backyard, the Ganeys. Mick had played high-school ball with Michigan and Iowa State coaching legend Johnny Orr and had put the court in for his kids, but as the years passed it really belonged to the neighborhood.
Long after the Ganeys had moved to Georgia the court still carried their name, despite the home changing hands two or three times. We used to shovel off the snow, squeegee the court dry, and play hoops in three layers of clothing in all but the worst of winter weather. A great 3-on-3 court and one that, even into high school, friends would drive across town to play pick-up games on. Thankfully the series of new owners never minded, and would sometimes turn on the floodlights for us.
Adolescence meant driver’s licenses and that meant a travelling circus. We even busted into the light box at the softball complex behind the high school and would turn them on and play ball until midnight. I guess the police figured — similar to when we did the same thing for full court hoops at Manners Park — that as long as we were in sight and sober we were not burning down the town, so they left us alone, though they would sometimes chase us off if we were too loud.
I think back to those times with Doug, Dan, Joe, Skybob, Iron Fran, Bill,
Fygar, Crewser, Bernandini and all the others and wonder where the days went. I know the answer, but looking around today I worry this generation won’t have such memories. I belong to what has been named “Generation X” or the “13th Gen.” Those of us born just after the Boomers (1966 in my case) and in the short years afterwards grew up just before the explosion of cable TV, video games and computers. My high school had three computers, the total power of which was significantly less than a Playstation.
For fun we played ball. Played catch, shot hoops. Spit chew and B.S.’d each other while punting a football. Yelled “Car!” and waited for the next pitch.
I cannot recall the last time I saw a similar sight. Two years ago in
Marshalltown I spent two hours on a beautiful sunny Saturday just driving around looking for something of the sort. Not a whiff. I have already done the same in Perry, with the same results.
Mr. Williams’ Kool-Aid would just sit there today.
Back to Fred: And there we have it! Many, many thanks to Mr. Brown Snowflake! This essay is particularly interesting to me because I was a country kid with only two others in the neighborhood, which pretty much precluded team sports.
Long ago on this blog we all told stories about places we played as kids. The discussion this time will certainly overlap with that, but we can also focus, as this column does, on the things we did there — the games, the activities, the building of treehouses, the lining-up of dinosaurs or army men (or both). . . .