PICK UP GAMES

PICK-UP GAMES

I’ve always been a pick-up player. I went to a big high school and a big university. I wasn’t athletically talented enough to compete on a varsity level. In the late 1950’s and 1960’s, with the exception of little league, there weren’t multiple levels of organized sports for kids. Only the very best players had the opportunity to compete in more formal settings. 

For the rest of us, through all levels of schooling, there were intra-mural sports, or whatever you could organize on your own. I found intra-mural competition entirely unsatisfactory. Games were almost always too short, the reffing was a joke, and the schedules were limited.

In the fifth grade I played one year of little league. I was the best player on a weak team. I was shocked at the level of interference from parents who cared way more about their own kids playing time than they did about the good of the team or the development of the players. I watched a parade of horrible pitchers (placed on the mound by bullying parents) sabotage all of our games. I didn’t feel sorry for the gullible, intimidated, and misguided coach who gave in to the parents. They were autonomous adults, weren’t they? Our team was 1-11 that year and I was so disgusted by the experience that I never played Little League again.

My favorite childhood team was Mrs. Kirschenbaum’s class in our self-organized fifth grade softball league. I organized a Friday afternoon league in which each of the four fifth grade classes played a twelve game schedule. We played our games between April and June. I kept the standings and posted them on the fifth grade bulletin board. We formed an all-star team that played another school in a neighboring town. This league was organized by and for kids. There were no parents or teachers involved. We did ask several parents to serve as umpires. We made the rules and even devised our own playoff system. The games were fun and competitive.

With basketball it was less necessary to organize a league because there were so many ways you could play the game. All you needed was two players per side for a good pick up game. On any given weekday or weekend, almost twelve months of the year, barring extreme heat or cold, all of the schoolyards and parks were filled with kids of all ages playing hoops. Typically a playground would contain about a dozen hoops and you’d find a different game at each one. It was too much of a luxury to play full court. There were too many players and not enough baskets.

When you arrived at the courts you would survey the scene and find both your age group and skill level. Most of the games were 3 on 3, winner stays on. As your game improved you could move up the hierarchy and play with the better players. You would have to earn this right as a lost game meant the whole team would sit. You could trace your improvement over a season by determining whether you improved your level. 

Again, there were no parents, teachers, or refs. You got on your bike, rode to the courts, played for a few hours, and went home. I don’t wish to overly romanticize this play landscape. Of course there were fights, interminable arguments, bullying, intimidation, and nastiness. But there was much more camaraderie, teamwork, laughter, competition, and joy. I learned to avoid the nasty courts. If you wanted to play basketball, you went to the playground and found, or even co-created your game.

Sometimes I regret not having played a varsity sport. I wish I would have had the skill, confidence, and intensity to try out for and make a team. I would have gained from the coaching, the toughness, and the discipline of a varsity sports setting.  But I do not regret the pressure, exploitation, and manipulation that is inevitably involved in playing environments that urge victory in front of demanding spectators. I remain ambivalent about organized sports. I love the spectacle, the spirit, the heroism and greatness, and even the regalia, just as I detest the ruthlessness and obsessiveness that form its dark side. I’ve seen these darker qualities emerge in myself as player (in city league softball and basketball as an adult) as coach (of a fifth and sixth grade team), and as a parent of a high school and college varsity basketball player. I always had the self-awareness to step back from the dark side, but it always lurked just beneath the surface. 

 

Comment

Mitch Thomashow

Thomashow devotes his life and work to promoting ecological awareness, sustainable living, creative learning, improvisational thinking, social networking, and organizational excellence. Currently he is engaged in teaching, writing, and executive consulting, cultivating opportunities and exchanges that transform how people engage with sustainability and ecological learning. In August, 2011 Thomashow became Director of the Second Nature Presidential Fellows Program. This new program is designed to assist the executive leadership of colleges and universities in promoting a comprehensive sustainability agenda on their campuses. Fellows provide executive consulting on climate action planning, long-range financial planning, organizational leadership, curricular implementation, and community investment. From 2006-2011, Thomashow was the president of Unity College in Maine. With his management team, he integrated concepts of ecology, sustainability, natural history, wellness, participatory governance, and community service into all aspects of college and community life. This included construction of The Unity House, the first LEED Platinum President’s Residence in North America, and the TeraHaus, a passive house student residence, as well as comprehensive campus energy planning, an integrated approach to growing food on campus, and a new academic master plan. Previously from 1976-2006, Thomashow was the Chair of the Environmental Studies program at Antioch University New England. He founded an interdisciplinary environmental studies doctoral program and worked collaboratively to grow and nourish a suite of engaging Masters programs, geared to working adults. Thomashow is the founder of Whole Terrain, an environmental literary publication, originating at Antioch University New England, and “Hawk and Handsaw,” a journal of creative sustainability, published at Unity College. He serves on the boards of Orion Magazine and The Coalition on Environmental and Jewish Life (COEJL). Thomashow is a founding organizer of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (CEDD), a national organization that supports interdisciplinary environmental studies in higher education. He provides ongoing consultation to the Sustainable Endowments Institute and their new Billion Dollar Green Challenge program. His two books have significantly influenced environmental studies education. Ecological Identity: Becoming a Reflective Environmentalist (The MIT Press, 1995) offers an approach to teaching environmental education based on reflective practice—a guide to teachers, educators and concerned citizens that incorporates issues of citizenship, ecological identity, and civic responsibility within the framework of environmental studies. Bringing the Biosphere Home, (The MIT Press, 2001) is a guide for learning how to perceive global environmental change. It shows readers that through a blend of local natural history observations, global change science, the use of imagination and memory, and philosophical contemplation, you can learn how to broaden your spatial and temporal view so that it encompasses the entire biosphere. His essay (2010), “The Gaian Generation: A New Approach to Environmental Learning” provides provocative new concepts for teaching about global environmental change. Another essay (2012) “Where You At 2.0” reasserts the relevance of bioregionalism for digital age learners. A recent essay (2013),“Sustainability as Turnaround” is a case study of his work as president at Unity College. with mandolin.png His new book, The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus (The MIT Press) provides a framework for advancing sustainable living and teaching in a variety of campus environments. It will be available in January, 2014. Thomashow is currently working on two writing, networking, and teaching projects. Improvisational Excellence suggests that improvisation emulates the patterns and processes of the biosphere. It’s a series of essays linking play, music, and observing nature to the paths of everyday living. It is the philosophical basis for Thomashow’s workshops on global environmental change, music and nature, and ecological perception. Wilson’s Library is a series of prose poems depicting extraordinary moments during the history of life on earth. Thomashow lives in the hill country of southwest New Hampshire in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. He loves to explore the fields, forests, wetlands, hills, and lakes of Northern New England where you can often find him on his bicycle. His recreational interests include basketball, baseball, board games, jazz piano, electronic keyboards, musical composition and recording, guitars, hiking, and lake swimming.