October 25, 2002

Memories on Melody Lane: An ode to the sports played in my backyard in my youth

There is a underground phenomenon called backyard wrestling. Its spawned by the rise (and now slow decline) of professional wreslting. Kids and young adults trying to become the backyard version of the Rock, Triple H, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The WWE is trying to discourage this, but to no avail. All I have to say is, they're wimps compared to the tackle football games the neighborhood kids and I played growing up. No, sir, no touch football or silly little flags. We played without pads, and the only rules were that we only stopped playing when my mom said so, and that only happened when night was faliing. My backyard isn't anything special. Its sixty feet by twenty feet of playing surface, with the rest of the backyard serving as the "stands" with a gently upsloping rise. However, growing up, it was the site of many a sporting moment. The first memory I have of sports in our backyard was when I got a football from my neighbor for Christmas when I was seven. The kids in the neighborhood came over the next day to play in the backyard, and we began a decade long history that still evokes fond memories from my friends and myself. Generally, we played the big three sports: football, baseball,and basketball. Thanks to everyone in my neighborhood getting cable, and a little inventivenss on my grandfather's part, we used old TV antennas as field goal posts, basketball poles, and baseball fences. We had to make sure to paint them a bright color, so if you were walking around the backyard late at night, you would not run into the crossbar and get closelined. But the highlights were the "unusual" sports. Since it was my backyard, I generally chose the sports. We've played rugby, field hockey (with plastic baseball bats and cardboard boxes from my mom's job), soccer (with those foam balls), even bicycle polo! Once, back in the summer of 1986, my friends were over at my house watching Gaelic football and hurling on ESPN. A little research at the library, and later that afternoon we were playing it. Granted, the equipment we used were not high calliber. Old antennas and gym sets served multiple purposes. Old tarp and blankets served as backstops in goals, as well as old boxes. Matresses were salvaged to serve as mats for high jumps and pole vaults. Thanks to my granddad being a bit of a pack rat, I had plenty of material to use to turn my humble backyard into a multi-purpose sports facility. The crown jewel of the backyard was the summer of 1984, when the Summer Games were going to be in Los Angeles. However, I just had to have my own version. It started afte school let out, with an opening ceremony consisting of a cookout and badmittion tournament. The road in front of my house served as site for track events and cycling, with the velodrome between two manholes. Swimming was held at another house, but team sports were in my backyard. Team handball, volleyball, tennis, badmittion, baseball, basketball, soccer, rugby, and so on were part of the two month long celebration. Baseball was a bit tricky with part of the backyard going uphill, but we managed. Dead centerfield consisted of two big pine trees that only one person has hit a (plastic) baseball over. We didn't use real baseballs, but with a bit of electrical tape from my grandad, plastic bats and balls served well enough. Soccer started after watching the 1982 World Cup. Thanks to the local discount stores selling hard foam soccer balls cheap, we created the rough and tumble game of backyard soccer. No fancy skills, just shoot at the goal and hope the goalie misses it. Nowadays, kids don't play sports outdoors like they used to. Either they are living out their fantasies on video game consoles, or looking down their nose at improvized equipment. If they don't have the best equipment, then they'd rather do without. Where once the road in front of my house served as a compainion field to my backyard, now you might see kids riding their bikes once in a while. But back in the day, life was never dull around the 'hood. My grandad, God rest his soul, always managed to help[ me construct the stuff we needed for our games. It might not have been pretty, but it served a great purpose in my life.

posted by jasonbondshow to commentary at 01:49 PM - 0 comments

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