These days kids don't seem to do much on their own.
Driving around the countryside and around town last week my wife commented how few kids were outside playing.
It was sure different when we were kids, we both agreed.
We didn't even see a lot of kids shooting off fireworks in the middle of the day on Thursday. Too hot, I suppose, although it was a pretty mild day.
Of course, today kids, and some of their parents, are preoccupied with I-pods, I-pads, I-phones...Indeed, the Is seem to have it these days. At the risk of sounding like a grandfather, which I am, back in my day you played outside to entertain yourself. And, no, I didn't walk to school two-miles in the snow, bare-footed, uphill, both ways. I'm not that elderly. Yet.
But back then, kids would often turn a regular holiday into an even bigger event. And they didn't even need an organization full of parents outfitting them with uniforms, top-of-the-line equipment and iced-down coolers of Gatorade to get it done.
They organized it themselves. Imagine that!
Here in Rolla, I recall in high school and a few years after high school we would regularly go to Lions Memorial Field for a Sunday afternoon of no-pads, tackle football. Back then, you wanted to get on the same team with the Hines/Evans brothers. They were, from the oldest, Stan Hines, Rick Evans and Russell Evans.
Stan was the running back, Rick was the quarterback and Russell was the receiver. They were pretty much unbeatable together. Being a friend of the family, I was often the fullback on that team, which was a big break from having to line up against them.
On Thanksgiving we would go over to Lions Memorial Field in the afternoon for the annual Turkey Bowl game.
Business picked up the longer the Turkey Bowl was held. And by the end of the Turkey Bowl's run there were so many guys showing up that instead of going endzone-to-endzone, we divided the field in half and went sideline-to-sideline and had a single-elimination tournament.
I'm sure Stan, Rick and Russell were usually the Turkey Bowl champs.
Way back in the early 1970s, when I lived in Monette, Ark., I remember at least one Fourth of July where we held our semi-regular two-on-two basketball tournament.
Several times during the summer about 20 of us sixth- and seventh-graders would throw a couple of quarters into the pot for a two-on-two single-elimination tournament – winner-take-all.
My regular playing partner was my best friend, Gary Mask. Now, Gary was about as short and wide as me. We were more suited for tag-team wrestling, which we also did as kids with much more success than basketball (undefeated).
But our true love at the time was basketball. As I recall, Gary was partial to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the Milwaukee Bucks while I pulled for Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and the L.A. Lakers. I even had a finger roll at the time.
Each kid would alternate hosting the tournament games.
Gary's home basketball goal was a rubber bike tire nailed between a couple of tree branches.
My dad wasn't a basketball guy, so when I begged for a basketball goal in the backyard he built one. He erected a huge metal pole, about 10 inches in width, and welded a thick, medal backboard to it. When he cemented the post in the ground, my goal seemed to be about a half-foot higher than regulation. And when you used the backboard it made an awful clanging sound, something I'm sure our neighbors really loved hearing when I'd be out there at midnight practicing.
Needless to say, Gary and I seldom had homecourt advantage. The other players usually decided on another venue. Rex hosted the most of them – his goal was above his paved driveway.
Guess Gary and I never figured out that if we split up and got on a team with one of the better players we'd have a better chance at winning the pot. But we always chose to keep trying together. Consequently, the two best players in the neighborhood, Rex Matheny and Mike Burgess, seemed to always pair up and win the money.
But it really wasn't about the money; it was about the competition, and after every loss Gary and I would meet on a front porch, figure out what went wrong and put in place a new strategy for the next tournament.
Yep, back in the day you didn't have to look far to find kids riding their bikes from house to house to get some type of game going.
And, no, it wasn't snowing, it wasn't uphill and we were wearing shoes.