"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Youth sports: significant strides, change

I am delighted to still be writing about youth sports in Morris. In this winter that must be challenging for those with seasonal affective disorder, sports gives spice.
The most recent blast of (lousy) weather peaked on Wednesday, a day when no games are scheduled anyway. The schedule has proceeded. Our MACA girls hosted Sauk Centre last night (Thursday). Unfortunately that was a loss, 64-49. I will be posting about the Thursday and Friday games on Monday.
Wednesday's conditions seemed like a blizzard. I hadn't expected such severity, based on the forecasts. Forecasts can be maddeningly vague with words like "snow flurries" and "snow showers."
Wednesday's wind made the word "blizzard" seem appropriate. But strangely, on the morning after, I found I could back out through the driveway without having to shovel. Minnesota weather has lots of vagaries.
The Weather Channel is using both "flurries" and "showers" in connection to today (Friday). In other words, get set for something bad again.
Before this post starts coming across like Andy Rooney, let me get back on topic: youth sports. I don't know if you parents of today realize or appreciate it, but prep sports is wholly healthy and vital today. "What do you mean," you might be asking.
Keep in mind my long background and perspective. I have a black & white photo that shows yours truly along the football sideline in Alexandria, in my role as stringer for the Morris Sun Tribune, in 1972. This was when Watergate was just getting going. Chris Christie was ten years old (and portly?). I'm catching a pass that must have been lobbed to me by a buddy before the game started. I'm wearing a gaudy fishing hat. This was over 40 years ago! I have observed a lot over that time.
I was promoted to the high school pep band before I was really ready or qualified. We played tunes that today would be called "oldies." They were current hits then, like "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" I was in the high school marching band when its show tune was "Marcho Vivo." I can still do the fingering for the trumpet from that tune's signature line.
Boys tended to play brass, girls were attracted to flute and clarinet. If you were a girl who wanted to play the trumpet, you risked being labeled a "tomboy." Once girls sports came into being, there was a much straighter path to being a tomboy. Don that uniform, and go out there and see if you and your teammates can advance the length of the basketball court without being called for traveling.
Does anyone have a list of the original girls volleyball and basketball players for Morris High School? It would be neat having them get together in some type of program and have them share reflections on what it was like being "pioneers." I know Paula Fevold of my MHS Class of 1973 was a pioneer player.
Sports goes through eras and transitions just like all important institutions in our society. Up until the '70s, roughly speaking, we had a sports model that I would define in connection to the movie "Hoosiers." Sports wasn't just healthy participation. The players, male, were like gladiators representing the town in a parochial sort of way. (I'm still mystified why the Barbara Hershey character even attended the games in that movie - she was so sullen.)
Sports was like the lifeblood of the community, its reason for being. When the Morris High School basketball team of 1955 - no need to specify boys - made state in the one-class system, I'm sure many elements of that "Hoosiers" model were in place. The cheerleaders became celebrities. I'm puzzled that in "Hoosiers," we never got to meet them. But maybe that was an extension of the model: the idea that these "cute girls" were just off to the side as an inconsequential trapping, like the band.
I attended a couple MHS Tiger games when the old elementary gym, now razed, was in use. Until 1968 it was not the "elementary gym." (This was one of those gyms that doubled as an auditorium.)
There are no cheerleaders today. Once girls sports got going, band directors everywhere realized they couldn't have the band play at every game anymore. There were too many of them. The very tiny schools, like what we saw in "Hoosiers," slowly went out of existence like a series of dominoes.
So today, "Morris High School" has had the word "Area" wedged into it, which forced a change in the school song. We could no longer chant "M-H-S" in the early part, we had to wedge an "A" in there, which is not at all what composer Bob Schaefer would have intended. I'm bothered, coming from a musical family as I do, that this is even being done.
The solution might come someday when we may go back to the "Morris High School" name. I mean, why not? It's understood that we cover an "area" just like any comparable-size school.
Girls sports ended up being part of a broad evolution in sports offerings. Little by little, the "gladiatorial model" with its Gene Hackman coach, arguing with the local barber, was phased out and we got a far more participatory and egalitarian model. Along with that, that horrible one-class system for basketball with its inherent unfairness, was given the ax.
First we had the two-class system for a number of years. There was still lots of unfairness. The triumph of the new thinking came with the multi-layered class system - even more classes for football than for basketball.
Ten years from now, I might be writing about the death of football. That's still speculative. Any parent who honestly confronts the risks associated with football would have to pull their kid out. The old ingrained thinking remains too strong. These things always take time, just as with taking girls basketball and volleyball every bit as seriously as the boys teams for those seasons.
There used to be a strain within academia that looked down on sports for kids. There was some merit to this thinking, actually, when participation at the varsity level was so limited, when it was viewed as a badge of masculinity and popularity and when wins seemed to equate to glory for your town.
When I was in high school, only the "starting five" of the basketball team really seemed to be special, and we'd joke about the backups and "scrubs" only getting in the games when the outcome was determined. A coach would speak in a condescending way at sports banquets about those backups, saying these individuals "sure helped us in practice" (as if they could have no more value).
Well, we eventually saw the creation of full-fledged hockey, swimming and gymnastics to broaden opportunity. Perhaps we take the Lee Community Center for granted today. There was no such thing when I was young. Oh, and there was no FFA chapter when I was in high school: unbelievable.
Wrestling? Prior to girls basketball, it was the "other" sport, one that self-consciously flailed to try to get some attention and a sense of legitimacy. When the pep band showed up for a wrestling match, we realized it was political. Why would anyone want to come and watch this? It was boring and rather depressing - depressing to see how the losing kids got beat around. The incentive to lose weight in that sport has no positive justification.
When I channel-surf on Mediacom and discover a wrestling match on Channel 22 (from Iowa, most likely), I can't click away fast enough. Today Morris hosts a wrestling program with other towns which in the past had their own programs. The old District 21 wrestling tournament included teams from a number of small towns. That model is gone with the wind. I felt there were too many emotional rivalries in those days, or to be blunt: small town parochialism.
Those poor kids would be perfectly happy being friends with each other if they didn't wear different-colored uniforms and weren't forced to do battle. I remember a Morris wrestler who had to wrestle at a heavier weight class than he would have liked in the tournament - a really fine wrestler - and he just got killed (figuratively speaking) by a wrestler from Hancock. It was so unnecessary to see that.
The values surrounding sports seem much healthier today. Today when a Morris team loses in the first round of the post-season, the parents don't go home crying. They just figure their kids had been through a healthy experience, part of growing up. The parochialism of "Hoosiers" seems to be gone. At least that's how I view it.
Academic people seem far less inclined to pooh-pooh athletics as being regressive, primitive or whatever other such words you want to come up with. I remember an art teacher at St. Cloud State University, last name of Sykora, who went into an absolute rant about sports once. I'll bet you wouldn't hear this today, or if you did, this teacher might be reprimanded from above.
We can't predict what the future might bring. But at some point, I hope it doesn't include football.
Let's be futurists
What if the numbers drop off dramatically for football at the younger ages? We have heard about proposed legislation that would prohibit football for boys under the age of 14. There is no way you can make a rational argument against this.
Some have said such rules will "kill off football." Well, here's my little violin.
Football isn't likely to die a quick death, rather we might see the creation of regional "club" teams to replace our current model of a team for every high school. Costs might not have to be borne by school district budgets. Already we see some hockey players willing to commute long distances to be on a team. I don't understand it, but the rabid embrace of hockey is something I have never understood. There is too much intense contact in the sport. And it's cold.
Let's deconstruct a little
I can remember being present at many post-season athletic contests that had an atmosphere of pandemonium. I went along with it, except at my subconscious level, where I had reservations. What does all this prove? A group of five kids - the starting lineup for basketball - goes out there and outperforms a group of five kids from another town, using skills honed over countless hours of practice, and toward what end, really?
These skills will be of practically no value to these kids once they graduate. Also, much of these accomplishments can be attributed to innate skills or talent - we all know that. Some kids are born with greater strength and coordination than others. Why do we allow these kids to become gladiators, in effect?
Might the experience even be bad for them psychologically? Do they end up feeling used? Maybe they feel they aren't being rewarded well enough, considering all the "glory" they're bringing for their town.
I'll be more radical in my suggestions: Might prep sports be a relic of an earlier time, when the outlets for constructive youth energy were much fewer than today? Are we, in effect, viewing a fossil?
The regular season games aren't so bad. I remember Stan Kent, MHS football coach in the 1960s, saying he didn't approve of post-season playoffs for football. He said it devalued regular season accomplishments. He said winning the conference was a good enough goal.
I can remember the Hancock and Wheaton girls basketball teams filling our UMM P.E. Center for the post-season. The sound could be deafening. The pep bands challenged your eardrums. Morris girls basketball never had to worry about being any part of that.
Wheaton and Hancock reached incredible heights. I could see that running and pressing were major ingredients in GBB success then. No fooling with passing the ball around the perimeter and "looking for an open shot." This wasn't textbook basketball, it was hand-to-hand combat.
Thousands filled the P.E. Center and ate it all up. I covered a lot of it for the media. I figured that if this is what our school systems want, I should just shrug and accept it.
Hancock Principal Roger Clarke's (RIP) son played the "Batman" theme on electric guitar.
I think because of the four-class system in basketball today, emotions are more subdued and controlled. My, do I welcome that. We don't have a sense of towns being at war with each other anymore. Leave that to "Hoosiers."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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