Every day I drive by baseball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, etc. … and for the most part they are empty. Even before Coronavirus, the athletic fields of today aren’t as populated as they used to be.
As a kid many summers ago, 10 to 20 of us would gather around 9 in the morning and choose up sides and play ball. Some days I was a chooser, other days chosen.
Remember hand over hand up the bat to see who get first choice, three fingers at the end of the bat counts as a whole hand and you get first choice.
We played until lunch. Most of us spent a quarter at the local corner grocery for a small Bluebird pie and a drink. Then back to the field until supper.
My mother made me take a bath before dinner and I was so dirty I had to scrape the ring of dirt around the tub (no shower).
Bats never broke as long as we had a screw and electric tape. When the baseball lost it’s cover, electric tape. If we needed a new ball, we would send out Wilber, the best thief in the crowd, and in a short time we had a new ball.
My best friend, Grubby, called so because he always had dirt on his body. With 10 brothers and sisters and no bathroom in their home, he was a dirty kid. Grubby could not play infield or outfield, could not hit, so he was the catcher for both teams. No glove, no face mask, no protection. He always was bruised, lost a tooth or two, and broke his nose at least once. With a house full of kids, I doubt if his mother noticed.
In the fall we played football in the asphalt school yard. With a half-inch or more of snow, it was tackle. No snow we played touch football. No one ever got hurt that I remember.
We hardly ever had a football so a rolled up tee shirt became our pigskin. Nobody cared because everybody wanted to play.
We played basketball outside in winter everyday. We never had nets on the hoops but we took that for granted. In fact, the hoops back then did not have a place to hook a net. We taped the nets on when we had one, which was seldom. Played many times with gloves on our hands, but nobody missed the games.
There were fights almost every day but being children of blue collar families, that was expected. There were no adults coaching, no equipment to speak of, no uniforms, but a bunch of us showed up every day and we chose up sides and played.
I would not trade those days for the modern era for anything. I also think out of that era some very good athletes emerged. I remember Larry Miller, great basketball player at Sabina and recent inducted in to the Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame, told me he rode his bike from Sabina to Port William every day to play basketball with the Hooper brothers, Butch and Bobbie.
That might have been the end of the “chose up sides” period. That might have been the early 1960s, My era was long before that, in the late 40s, early 50s. We had very few TVs, if any, and certainly no video games.
Maybe if I would have grown up today, I would join the couch potatoes, too.
Tony Lamke is a former coach. He has researched the history of Clinton County sports and writes a periodic column for the News Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.