These days, it seems that concern for our children’s safety during sporting events doesn’t stop at their physical well-being. Their delicate mental health is also being looked after.
Last week, I rode down Murdock Avenue and stopped at Weaver Park to catch an inning of a Little League game. As I watched the pitcher wind up and deliver his best stuff, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of something: sound. No one was chattering. No “Hey, batter, batter … swing!” The stands were eerily silent, and the coaches weren’t audible from my seat beyond the right-field fence.
I asked another fan about the quiet and was told that the league had agreed, years ago, to disallow such chatter and taunting, whether from the players or the stands, so as not to intimidate the young ballplayers. Somehow, though, the game lost some validity, or edge, for me. I’d never been to a baseball game where there was no “intimidation.”
I couldn’t help letting this new circumstance take me back to my own “traumatic” youth. Summers were full of baseball games and sleepovers. Riding bikes to see movies at the new mall, more than two miles away, that had twin theaters! Ice cream-and-watermelon bellyaches and peeling sunburns. Holding hands—and breaking up with—Janice Bacon (who had the audacity and keen, insightful, pre-teenage clarity to get her friend Lori Williams to tell me we were no longer “going together”). The pain I thought would never end lasted about a week, until I started going with Lori Williams.
The days were sunny and hot, and the nights were filled with fireflies and star-speckled skies. Growing up on the west coast of Florida, I was lucky enough to have an abundance of natural resources—lakes and woods and the beach—just a mile or so away. We never stayed inside during summer vacation. Never! Some unwritten law decreed, “From the last day of school until the first day of the following school year, all kids must live outside (at least until dark)!” But once school began, it was back to the house.
Granted, there was no MTV, no DVDs, no Sega, no Xbox. Computer games didn’t even exist; we had to make our own fun. We couldn’t stay inside working a joystick to entertain our friends. So we used imagination and craftsmanship. When you live near woods, there are a lot of things you can make with Mom’s best kitchen knife. Admittedly, spears and other weapons of that sort probably weren’t the safest things we could have come up with. And getting Mom’s best kitchen knife (now all tarred and gummed up) back into rotation with the rest of the cutlery was always a covert operation requiring some sensitive sneakery.
Besides everyone growing an inch or so, a whole lot of life played out during our 10 weeks of summer vacation. The more adventurous sort, among whom I numbered myself, might even sport a scar or plaster cast as the school year began. Braces on teeth and new eyeglasses came back to school with their humbled owners. As the years passed, changes in zip codes and maybe even in the number of family members living in the house grew more and more common.
Of course, things were easier back then, right? But who’s to say whose time was easiest—or safest?
These days we outfit our kids in so much protective gear that there’s hardly any call for alarm when they hit the door and say they’re off to play with the ATV the kid down the street just got. Safety has become paramount, and everyone’s wearing helmets and pads for everything. I recently saw a young biker wearing his helmet inside Toys “R” Us! What’s with that?
Sure, the skate park on Cherry Street is concrete, but with the gear some of those riders have, the “blood factor” goes way down. Our skateboards (circa 1969) had metal wheels and ball bearings that pretty much tattered if you went off the pavement for any reason, leaving you to come up with $10 for a new one. The board itself was durable but so thick that there was little chance of pulling off the kind of slick maneuvers seen today. And back then, riders did without the padding: plenty of blood though.
After hearing my own parents recall their early days, I’ve concluded that every generation likes to think of its time as the finest the world has ever known. My dad wore a leather football helmet with no faceguard or mouthpiece until his second year in college!
Meanwhile, kids still dig having time off from school, and they still enjoy playing games. I try to teach my 10-year-old about the good and bad in people—that there will always be a winner and a loser in any contest, and the deal is to give it your best and then accept the outcome.
I also try to tell my daughter as often as possible that this is the easiest she’ll ever have it in life, and she should take advantage of it by going outside to play, but this profound paternal prophecy carries little weight. And when she opens the door to go outside, I call out: ” Be careful! Stay out of the street! And don’t go farther than my voice can travel!”
Oh well. The north Asheville Little League game I watched did have its share of excitement and skill … just less of a soundtrack.
[North Asheville resident Brent Robinson has a B.A. in mass communications from UNCA.]