Putting Sports in Perspective

Commissioner Hanksmall

Commissioner Hank

I woke up the morning after the Super Bowl realizing I had to deal with a real crisis.

The new, probably large, house going up in my neighborhood which I wrote about earlier? No, I was just a bit saddened when more than 60 years of history disappeared in under 45 minutes, leaving only an empty lot where once a house had stood, but I had written about the inevitability of change and here it was happening right in front of me.

The fact that Tom Terrific had not been able to lead the Patriots to another NFL championship? Really, I am over that and am already looking forward to next season.

This was a real crisis because when the Super Bowl ran long because of the power outage (obviously they should have had a muni supplying electricity to the stadium), I lost any chance to see Downton Abbey that night. Sure, I could talk with the best of them around the water cooler about the football game, but not only was I going to be lost when the subject of Downton Abbey came up, it was very likely that before I could find another way to see the episode, most of the secrets would have been revealed. Did Bates get out of jail? Would Ethel manage to prepare lunch without embarrassing her employer or herself? Would Lady Mary stop being irritating and actually do something productive besides looking gorgeous and wearing clothes really well?

Of course, like many Lexingtonians, I am interested in sports, especially youth sports. The day before the Super Bowl I had spent five hours being the Commissioner of LBYH In-House Hockey, an 11-team, 187 player, inclusive league for kids between the ages of 5 and 11. Everybody gets equal playing time and coaches are evaluated mostly on how well they can bond with players and parents rather than their won-lost record.

I followed that with a short nap and then headed off for four hours of announcing at the LHS varsity hockey games. “Good evening hockey fans …” I once figured that I sit through something like 140 hockey games each year.

Of course there is baseball in the spring and summer, but here I stick with T-Ball age players. In fact, I spend most of my time with Pre-Ball which is for players between the ages of 4 and 6. And let’s not forget football in the fall.

So with all of that, I must be nuts about sports, right? Well, sort of, but not in the way you might expect.

Sports does touch kids’ lives and it can teach valuable lessons. But all too often I see things I would rather not see. Coaches who act out. Parents screaming about just about everything.

I forget who won and who lost almost as soon as the game is over. What I remember are the good plays, the flashes of brilliance, the displays of sportsmanship. The player who scores the first goal ever. My son slept with his trophy for weeks after he scored his first. A tiny goalie realizing that the pucks do not hurt because of all the padding and that she can stop them. Matt in his wheelchair propelling himself around the bases will be with me always. I wake up sometimes thinking “What if I had been so stupid that I denied Matt his chance just because he was in a wheelchair?” And then I remember that it all came out all right and I smile.

A few seasons ago, the LHS varsity hockey coach pulled up to the varsity for the last game of the season, a player who had spent his high school career on the junior varsity. The player would get to be a varsity hockey player even if only for one game. Then his teammates combined to feed him the puck so that he could score his first varsity goal.

I have no memory of how many games the team won that year. But that bit of magic told me all I needed to know about the coach and the team. They were all superstars as far as I was concerned.

The funny thing is that the kids care mostly about playing rather than about the score. Years ago a team I coached won a hockey tournament. The coaches were feeling pretty good about themselves. Obviously we were just about the best human beings around. Then I felt a tug on the hem of my jacket and looked down to find a tiny third liner with tears in her eyes. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Do we have to stop playing hockey now? she demanded.” That little third liner didn’t care about the trophy in her hand. She didn’t understand won or lost. What she cared about was playing the game and now the season was over.

The fact is that no matter how good a Lexington player is, there is a nearly 100% chance that they will make a living doing something besides playing professional sports. So take it easy, enjoy the game, forget the mistakes and the bad games, and remember the good times.

Years ago I was the starting pitcher in a baseball game. We were mercy-ruled after the other team scored 21 runs in a single inning. While it was true I had struck out nobody, neither had I walked anybody nor had I made any errors or thrown a wild pitch. Even better I had made no fielding errors and my ERA was still zero because there had been no hits. All runs were scored on errors. And it was only the first inning.

The funny thing is that while I have played on some good teams over the years, that is the team I remember best. I still see the guys I played with. And we are still kidding each other about just how awful we were that day and just about every other day.

So most of my job has become figuring out how to let kids just play the game. I want everybody to have a chance to play the game, no matter what game it is, and I hope all of us can join in to make that happen. Not just with sports, either.

 

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