War Minus the Shooting

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”

― George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell 1903-1950

Dallas Arts District. Kids love the reflecting pool. The water is less than a quarter inch deep.

Oblique Strategy: Turn it upside down

Again, I was exploring the depths of my hard drive archives. I found this entry from October 16, 2002. It concerns my youngest son, Lee, who was nine years old.

Lee called me at work – he was home from school and a friend, G. was at our house. He wanted to know how to type on my computer. I gave him quick instructions on how to start up Word, how to save his work, and how to print it out when he was done. It turns out he and G. have an idea for a new sport, which they call Foondball, and they wanted to type out a list of rules.

When I came home I found my desk littered with sheets of notebook paper covered with crude drawings of athletic fields and different dimensions, markings, and goal layouts.

On the screen was their rules for Foondball:

Foondball

  • The game can only be played with 6 to 12 players.
  • You may use your hands to throw the ball and your feet to kick the ball and the goalie may use a hockey stick to block shots taken by the strikers.
  • The goals are at opposite ends of the playing field the field is 75 yards in length and is about 25 to 30 yards in width
  • The winner of the most rounds wins the match there are three rounds lasting 20 minutes and 5 minutes of rest between rounds
  • In the case of a tie the winner will be decided by a 10 minute overtime if no winner is decided then it is a draw
  • The goals are about- 6 to 7 feet high and 10 to 11 feet wide
  • The game begins with the thrower throwing the ball and the whacker hitting the ball the seekers catch the ball if the seeker on the whackers team catches the ball he may keep running to the goal if the seeker on the throwers side catches the ball he may run it back and try to score
  • Each goal is worth two points
  • If there is a foul the ball goes to the place where the foul was committed and thrown from there.
  • If a foul is committed within ten yards of the goal the person whom the foul was committed against gets to take a free shot he can throw the ball into the goal or he can kick the ball into the goal
  • If one team wins the first two rounds of the game then they automatically win the game
  • At no time during the game is play ever supposed to stop unless a foul is committed
  • There is a ten minute half time in between the 2nd and 3rd round
  • If a person scores on a foul then the goal only counts as one point
  • After a goal the team that scores is to throw the ball and play resumes
  • Helmets are to be worn
  • For each team – 1 goalie, 2 whackers, 1 seeker 2 throwers
  • The goalie may never come out of his 10 foot box
  • If a player is on concrete he may dribble the with his hands
  • The player may throw or kick the ball to one of his fellow teammates

Someday, maybe, kids will dream of glory on the foondball field, and trade photos, cards, and stories of who their favorite whackers, throwers, and seekers are.

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The Green Wave and the Ragin’ Cajuns

Well, I’m standing on the corner of Lafayette state of Louisiana
Wondering where a city boy could go
To get a little conversation, drink a little red wine
Catch a little bit of those Cajun girls dancing to Zydeco

—-That Was Your Mother, Paul Simon

Sometimes I think I went all the way from Dallas to Lafayette just to use that bit of Paul Simon. It’s one of those songs that always sits only a hare’s breath beneath the surface of my conscious mind. But that’s not why we are here, we drove down from Dallas to watch Lee play Rugby. He’s on the Tulane Rugby team, a club team, and he’s here in Lafayette to play the University of Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajun Rugby Team.

I know very little about rugby – I watched some a handful of decades ago, but don’t remember much of anything. It didn’t take long to pick it up though. It was fun to watch the kids play. There seems to be three aspects to the game – the scrum, the weird out-of-bounds plays where players lift each other up for no apparent reason, and the running around.

I have spent so much of my life driving kids to practice or sporting events and sitting on the sideline watching the games. It felt totally natural to drive Lee from our hotel down to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette intramural fields and to stroll the sideline while he and his team played a spirited, but ultimately meaningless, game.

One thing about rugby, though. It is the only sport I know about that actually encourages unsportsmanlike behavior. The language used by both teams and the referee crew was amazingly obscene.

The people from long ago that played rugby said the best thing about the game is that both teams would party together after the game. Since this is South Louisiana, that means food, and the other team, the home team, provided bar-b-que. They had a big smoker trailer going on the other side pouring out blow smoke and delicious odors all day. The ribs were pretty damn good, but the local, artisanal sausage (three varieties – hot ‘n spicy, geen onion, and smoked) was absolutely amazing. I have to find out where to get some of this stuff.

Laissez les bons temps rouler

In the scrum - Tulane Green Wave versus the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

The out-of-bounds throw in. I really don't understand exactly what is going on here.

The running around part of a rugby game.

That's Lee, running around on the right side of the picture.

Lee

Lee, jumping into the play

Lee, pulling the ball loose.

After the game, local food provided by the other team. It doesn't get any better than that.

Kansas and Baylor

I am an American male – so therefore, I am a sports fan. And I admit it. I like to watch sports on television and live. It’s an entertainment, beauty and skill… it’s a demonstration of man’s abilities to exceed his putative limitations… and it’s something that there is no way to know the outcome ahead of time.

Now, I do believe in cheering for the teams that represent the city that you live in. Here in Dallas, there is an extra lift in the steps of the folks on Monday after the Cowboys win the weekend before – and that is a good thing. Otherwise, though, I try my best to avoid the trap of rabid fandom, of believing that the winner or loser of a sporting event is important beyond the game itself. I try, but I am not always successful.

The one team that I am an admitted fan of is the Kansas Jayhawk Basketball team. I feel that is my right, as I did graduate from there and it is a team with support, future, and history that deserves and rewards this fandom.

I thought of all this Monday night as I wasted too much time watching the Kansas/Baylor game on television. It was a home game for the Jayhawks and Allen Field House was rocking – they said on television that the crown noise was at 114 decibels. Kansas was ranked seventh in the nation and Baylor was third and undefeated.

It was not a very good game for anyone other than Kansas fans – KU pretty much stomped all over the Bears, the game was not in doubt after the half.

Photo by Nick Krug from Kusports.com.

Thinking about it, I remembered about another Kansas/Baylor basketball game, in 2007. It is impossible for me to get tickets to home Kansas games, but living in Texas enables me to see an away game every now and then. At that time Nick was a KU fan too and we drove down to Waco. I wrote about it in my blog back then:

February, 2007

Rock Chalk

Hey, over here!
Have your picture taken with a
reclusive author!
Today only, we’ll throw in a
free autograph! But wait,
there’s more!
—-Thomas Pynchon, The Simpsons

When I went from high school to college I knew nothing about basketball. Actually, we played basketball, but at ANS it was played outside, in the tropical heat, on a concrete court with no spectators and no players over six feet tall. Once I arrived at KU I was convinced to buy student tickets to the basketball season, though I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.

It was amazing. The excitement and the sound were something I had never experienced before and have never experienced since.

In those simpler days tickets at KU were twenty dollars a season and, though some hardy souls would hang out to get better seats you could walk up at game time and sit in the rafters of Allen Field House. What I liked the most was the ebb and flow of the games – how one team would eke out a lead and then the other would go on a run. The whole thing was driven by emotion, fear, and confidence. Those were only kids out there, after all, and were obviously susceptible to the foibles of us all.

Several months ago, Nick and I noticed that the KU Jayhawks would be playing a Wednesday evening game in Waco against Baylor and before Christmas I bought a pair of tickets from their web site. Late January seemed a long time in the future, but time flies and here we were. Nick skipped soccer practice to get out of school a bit early and I took a half day of vacation. The trip was easy – I have made that drive to Waco a thousand times but I was worried about parking. I shouldn’t have given it a second thought – the basketball fanaticism in Waco isn’t as strong as I feared (not too surprising, given their sordid recent past) and parking was not only plentiful and close, but free (I’ve lived in the big city too long… free parking is a rare treat).

The game was, as expected, a blowout win for Kansas. The facility was beautiful, though not nearly half full. There seemed to be as many Kansas fans as Baylor fans in the place. With home tickets so difficult to get, KU fans do tend to pack in the visiting arenas. Near the end of the game the “Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant was really obvious, especially around our seating section. A Baylor student behind us shouted, “But what does it mean?”

For Christmas, Candy ordered a KU basketball for Nick. When it arrived, I noticed that half the ball was covered with white leather. “That’s not a ball for playing,” I said, “That’s for getting autographs.” Nick decided to take the ball to Waco and see if he could get someone on the team to autograph it. Now, I know nothing about getting autographs – didn’t even know if it was possible. After the game, we fetched the ball and a black sharpie and walked around the arena. In the back was a steep driveway full of television trucks and littered with thick cables. At the top of the driveway was a couple of long-haul buses, idling, air brakes hissing, their cargo holds open and full of athletic bags. There was another family standing there, two kids, one with a ball like Nick’s, the other a poster.

“This must be the place,” I said, and, sure enough, one by one the players came hiking up the driveway, each carrying a pizza box. They all looked exhausted, most limping, but were very friendly and accommodating to the three kids that wanted autographs. A couple of walk-ons were first and they seemed really happy to have someone ask for an autograph. Then the starters started coming out and signing Nick’s basketball. A center, Sasha Kaun, from Russia, signed and Nick said, “I’m used to tall players, there’s some high school players almost seven feet tall, but his hands were huge. When he took the pen out of my hand I couldn’t believe how big it was.”

We stood out there for almost an hour and collected autographs from all the players on the team, plus Danny Manning, and head coach Self. It had worked out perfectly with the players stringing out over time, in no real hurry to board the bus, and only three kids standing there. They were quiet but all did talk a little; they kept asking the kid with the poster, “Where’s me?” so they could sign in the right place.

After the last signature we hiked back to the parking lot while the bus pulled out. When I was in school I had a Center from the basketball team in my 7AM Analytical Chemistry lab and he would be so worn out during the season – arriving back from west coast games and going immediately to class for the next day.

We had it a little easier and made it home around one in the morning.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any of the pictures I took of Nick getting the ball signed. I wasted most of this evening digging through my backup files… I’m afraid they are lost. I had good pictures of him with both Danny Manning and Coach Self.

This was in 2007, the team won the national championship the next year. The championship team’s signatures are all on the ball except for Cole Aldrich.

The Autographed Ball

Nick was a fan of Kansas Basketball for his whole life up until his senior year in high school. Over time, he built up a nice collection of Kansas Basketball memorabilia with the autographed ball as the most prized item.

Then he applied for early consideration to Duke University. For those of you that don’t know American Basketball, Duke is another of the elite Basketball schools.

I was in Seattle on business and on a plane flying back when the decision would come down on whether Nick would get into Duke or not. When I arrived home, I looked in my office and there was a pile of Kansas stuff that Nick had hauled out of his room and heaped up on the floor. The signed ball was on top.

So I knew he had got into Duke.

Taylor to Robinson for the HUGE slam!! #kubball on Twitpic

Other Blogs:

Baylor needs to hit somebody. Observations from their trip to Lawrence

Jayhawks Get All The Ladies

Baylor’s Undefeated Season Ends in Kansas

Sunday Snippet, Corner Kick

I was playing half the games. I’d play the first half, and then I’d sit down so that Wilma could get her turn. Wilma was a big girl; sort of shapeless. Nobody else could ever remember her name. I don’t know if she was a little slow in the head, or maybe only really, really, shy. At our age there isn’t much difference between the two. I don’t know why she played soccer. Probably her parents made her – like most of us. During the games she never even kicked the ball. She would stand around looking miserable, usually with her arms crossed. I guess it should have made me mad that I had to sit on the bench while she stood out there, useless, but I didn’t care. That’s probably why the coach always made me sit instead of any of the other girls.

You see, this was a recreational league. The rules said that everybody got to play at least half of the game, no matter what. Our team really sucked. All the girls that were any good had left a year earlier – they had gone off to play in the select leagues. That is where the teams get to choose who they wanted and the girls’ parents paid thousands of dollars so they could practice every day and go to tournaments in Europe and stuff like that. That’s not what we did. We were the girls nobody wanted.

We played on terrible fields in some rundown city park in some scary neighborhood. The girls on the select teams got the good fields, the ones with lights and smooth, level, grass.

The weather was always awful. It would be cold and rainy at first, then in the summer it would be so hot you couldn’t even think straight. The ground would dry out and split open like a tomato in the sun. There would be these big cracks and if you stepped in one, even if you didn’t break your ankle, all these crickets would come swarming out. It was really gross.

One game, the first one of the spring season, was really cold. It had been raining for days, the field was a muddy mess and the temperature wasn’t much above freezing. There was this big brown puddle in one corner of the field and Brenda tried to kick the ball when she slipped and fell in. It was weird – she completely disappeared. Who knows how deep that puddle was but for a few seconds there was no Brenda, only that brown water. Suddenly she came out, shooting up and out like a rocket. Brenda was a tough girl, never took anything from anybody, but she came out of that cold water crying like a baby. Her mother wrapped her in a blanket and took her away sobbing. She went home.

Some of the girls teased her about it the next week, but I didn’t like the look of that cold brown water and I knew how she felt.

Our coach last year, coach Barracha, would make us roll around in the mud before the games. He said, “I don’t want you girls afraid to get your uniforms muddy.” He had named the team River Plate. The other girls couldn’t understand why we were named after a plate. It seemed like an odd name to me too, but Coach Barracha was from Uruguay and I found that was the name of a famous river, and soccer team, from down there, so I guess that was OK. Coach Barracha was way too serious for our team. We lost every game and only scored two goals all season. At first he would get madder and madder every week until he finally gave up. When the season ended he didn’t even come to the Pizza party.

I was happy because I figured with no coach, there would be no team and I wouldn’t have to play this year. But then all the parents got together and convinced Eleanor’s Dad, Mr. Wiggins, to be the coach. That was terrible. Mr. Wiggins, like Eleanor, to tell you the truth, is kind of crazy. He renamed the team The Blue Squealers, which has to be the most embarrassing thing in the world. After giving us that terrible name, he pretty much did nothing. I guess that was all right; we weren’t going to get any better no matter what he did, and I guess he figured he might as well cut his losses.

With all the good players going to the select teams you would think that the other teams in our recreational league would suck as much as we did but no such luck. You see there were all these poor kids, these Mexican girls, who couldn’t afford to join the select league but still they lived for soccer. Their teams had Spanish names with the word futbol in them. They would beat the crap out of us, week after week.

Actually, when I was setting on the bench in the second half of these games I like to watch some of these girls play, even when they were thrashing my team. A lot of them were just small and fast and relentless, swarming and pushing, but a few were real artists. They could run and move and make the ball spin this way and that without even looking at it. Their game was a thing of beauty and for a second you could forget that you were sitting on a splintering bench in a run-down park watching kids trying to give a damn about a game that meant nothing.

Believe it or not, that year we had a good player. Really, her name was Missy Higgins. She was tall and fast and she said she had been playing soccer since, “I was in diapers.” Missy had been on a select team but now was faced with the humiliation of playing with us.

The girls talked about her all the time when she wasn’t around. They all said that she had been kicked off her select team because she had been caught drinking with some college boys while they were out of town on a tournament. That seemed to make sense to me, but I listen to the parents talk when I sit on the bench and I heard her mother say she had to quit select soccer because was having knee problems after a growth spurt and needed to get stronger before she could try it again.

At first I thought this was an excuse, because her parents must have been ashamed because of the drinking, but I watched her play and even though she was really good, a ten times better player than anyone else on the team, she was obviously in pain. She would grimace and groan, though nobody other than me seemed to notice. One game, she tried to make a sharp cut right in front of me on the bench, to keep the ball from rolling out of bounds, and her knees gave out and she tumbled onto the ground. I heard her mutter, “I’m a cripple,” as she pulled herself back up.

You would think that our team would be good with a girl like that but it didn’t really make any difference. First of all, soccer isn’t that kind of a sport. One player can’t make up for a whole team of suck. None of us could ever really make the ball go where we wanted it to. When we kicked it the ball would go squirting off somewhere else, usually spinning like crazy. It was kind of fun, trying to guess where the thing was going to end up. So we couldn’t actually pass the ball to Missy, even though we wanted her to have it and we tried all the time.

It didn’t take the other teams long to figure it out too. The other coaches would put two girls on Missy all the time, usually one big girl pushing on her from behind and a little quick one darting around in front. It must have been really frustrating for Missy, especially since that meant somebody else didn’t have anyone defending them, but good luck with that. When Wilma was playing the other teams would ignore her completely.

Missy tried really hard on defense, too, but it didn’t do much good. If the other team had the ball they would always kick it wherever Missy wasn’t at.

Still, Missy would usually score one goal almost every game. I remember her getting the ball and kicking a spinning arching shot that bent around the other team and sneaked in a top corner of the goal. The goal keeper stood there with her mouth hanging open. It was a thing of beauty.

In the end, though, all Missy could do is get us so we would lose, say, seven to one,

The time I sat on the bench I’d watch the girls on the other team, I’d watch Missy, and I’d watch the parents – our parents and the ones on the other team. Every game they would come trooping out of their trucks lugging their folding chairs and line up along the field. The other teams’ parents would bring air horns or wooden clacker things to make noise to cheer on their girls. They would jump up and yell at the referees and cheer for their kids. Our parents looked like they were waiting to get dental work done. They would clap halfheartedly at the beginning of the game but once the inevitable slaughter began they would go calm.

Sometimes, I would spot a little metal flask moving between some of the parents. Coach Wiggins hardly ever said a thing, though he would at least stand and pace through the game. He looked lost. I think I saw Brenda’s dad pass him that little flask once or twice, but I’m not really sure about that.

Wilma’s stepmother brought her to the games. Since Wilma played while I sat, I could watch her. I thought that her stepmother would at least watch or cheer a little, but she never did. She was a lawyer and would talk on her bright red cellphone or text away on her little Blackberry during the whole game. Some times she would do both; wedge her phone against her shoulder under her ear while she texted away with both thumbs.

Finally, it was the last game of the season. It was against the other team from the suburbs. They were called the DeeFeeters and they sucked almost as much as we did, though you would never know it from how cool they thought they were and how loud their parents would yell. They even had a father that would bring this big apparatus that had a tripod and a pole that he would crank up into the sky with a video camera on top. He had to film every minute like it was the Super Bowl or something. I hated those people.

Like I said, though, that team sucked almost as much as we did and even though they had scored two quick goals, they must have got lazy and Missy scored a goal and then Brenda tried to kick a pass and it spun and wobbled and bounced into the goal. The game was almost over and I was sitting on the bench getting excited that if we were lucky we might get out of there with a tie. You can have ties in soccer and it would be cool to not lose for once.

Well, there were only a couple minutes left and Missy was trying really hard and the other team kicked it past the line so we had a corner kick. Missy always took the corner kicks; she was the only one that could kick the ball all the way to in front of the goal. Missy went out and set everything up, Coach Wiggins always let her; she knew lots more than he did about what to do and what was going on.

From the bench I watched her take Wilma by the arm and move her away from everybody else, far away from where the ball sat by the little flag in the corner. It sort of made me mad; it looked like Missy was moving Wilma away from the action so she couldn’t screw anything up more than it already was. This wasn’t fair, no matter how bad and weird Wilma was she still deserved to be in the middle of things. It was strange though, nobody else was paying attention, they were all moving around and pushing against each other but I saw Missy saying something to Wilma, whispering in her ear. She was shorter and had to stand on her tip toes to get her lips close to Wilma’s ear.

Then Missy took Wilma’s shoulders and moved her – sort of almost pointing her in a certain direction, and then pulled her crossed arms down and making her hold them down at her sides. Then Missy walked across to the corner and took her kick.

I had noticed all year that Missy was getting stronger and her knees were hurting her less as the weeks went by. She ran up and kicked the crap out of that ball.

The kick arced up like a rainbow, going higher and farther that anyone had guessed, flying completely over the bunch of girls shoving at each other in front of the goal. It came curving down and, like a sniper shot, hit Wilma square in the chest. It fell to the ground right in front of her and for a split second Wilma stood there petrified, staring at the ball, but then she seemed to shake for an instant and stepped forward and kicked the thing.

Of course, nobody was anywhere near her and the goalie was completely out of position so the ball bounced a couple time and ran up against the back of the net. Everyone looked stunned except Missy who was jumping up and down and screaming. I couldn’t believe it, she knew exactly what she was going to do and she did it… perfectly.

I turned on the bench to Wilma’s stepmother, who hadn’t seen a thing. She was looking away and was talking into her phone.

“Um, Mrs…. Um… Wilma’s Mom?” I didn’t know her last name. “Wilma just scored a goal.”

She said something sharp into the phone, snapped it closed and then frowned and turned to me, “Oh God! What has she done now?”

“Oh, no, ma’am. It was a good thing. She scored a goal. I’m afraid you missed it.”

She stood there with her mouth hanging open, holding her phone in one hand and her Blackberry in the other, turning and staring at all the girls jumping and hugging Wilma in a big clump. I don’t think she ever really figured out what happened.

It would be a better story, I guess; if we had gone ahead and won the game, that Wilma had kicked the winning goal in our only victory. I’m afraid, though, there was too much time left and the goal really pissed the other team off and they scored three goals in the last five minutes and we lost five to three. I don’t care though, that goal was a thing of beauty.

I will always remember watching that goal from the bench. I think I would rather watch something like that than actually score an ordinary goal myself. It’s good to know that every now and then there is a perfect thing in this world. Also, as long as I live, I’ll think about and wonder what Missy said to Wilma when she whispered to her, standing there holding her shoulders, right before she kicked the corner. I wish I knew; I wish I had heard it.

That was my last soccer game. After the season I thought about what would be the best time to hit them up and one afternoon, when they were in a good mood, I went to my parents and begged them not to make me play another season. They went along with it, but I had to promise to sign up for band next year.

I’m thinking, maybe the flute.