At first glance, I’m certain my son sent me to the wrong place–These are grown men! I study the grissly faces to see if there’s any chance my 15 year old is among them, only to discover that this is indeed the location for high school intramurals. (I had no idea that my “David” lived his days among such “Goliaths.”)
Once inside the gymnasium, I further realize that intramural basketball is a beast unto itself. Despite the qualified elders with whistles, a sense of chaos prevails. There are no coaches, less rules, and more unbridled expression of…whatever wants to be expressed–howling, hooting, and tickling for example.
Though I’ve witnessed it only on film, inner city street ball comes to mind. There are no uniforms here to order alliance. There is no evidence of fans or any place for them to gather together if they were here. And yet, the room is littered with loiterers. Girls on cell phones, girls with strollers, boys and girls together, girls and girls together.
I’m impressed (and surprised) to see that there is even a girl or two on each team. I marvel at the tenacity of these young women–willing to mix it up on the court at a time when their friends are on the sidelines primping.
When Audrey gets in the game, the plot thickens. Street ball segues into West Side Story, transforms into Fame, and settles into Harlem Globetrotters. The chemistry between her and the lead player (on the opposing team) shifts the whole game.
I have to restrain myself from smiling. This isn’t one of my romantic comedies. In fact, I am under strict orders from my son–not to do anything that would bring attention to me—or more importantly, to him.
Unlike the JV or Varsity teams (or even the Freshman one) the code de rigeur here is—coolness—expressed, by not expressing, any bit of seriousness for the game. It’s only intramurals, you know. Thus any skill a player possesses must be deftly applied with an air of ambivalence.
The girls shine at this, and it makes me sad. I have no doubt that were they on a court with other girls, there’d be none of this giggling, or half-ass shooting, or uncommitted defense. I know Audrey from her preschool days, and she’s as tough as any guy on either team.
From time to time, they all let slip the veneer of their teen indifference, and the unconscious play of children returns. When Audrey guards my own son, she doesn’t hold back. They were preschoolers together and attended the same tiny elementary school up the hill so there’s no need to pretend that anything else is going on.
(This time I don’t hold back my smile.)
I decide that I like intramurals , that I even prefer it. It’s light-hearted. Once the kids loosen up, they really seem to be having fun. Sure, there are winners and losers, but it’s not the point of the “play” like it is in the game that’s going on in the gym next door where you have to pay to get in and you have practice over the holidays and you have to ride buses hours away.
There are no big stars here, and thus no falling stars; no heroes who feel lost when their short-lived glory lies behind them. Intramurals is for those with a life-time commitment to “play” and thus prepares these kids for the future—when one has to lower one’s standards of performance to have some fun, and to stay healthy.
My eyes are drawn to the referees that fill this room. I wonder what brings them onto the court. Some are retired teachers, others are active in the school, yet others work outside it. You can tell they really know the game. You can tell they like it. Even with knee braces, they take some shots at the basket when the night is over.
They blow their whistles a lot too, but no one ever seems to get mad at them. There is an unspoken understanding—We’re here for you—We’re here for each other.
My own son loves the game. Any game really. Last year he made the freshman team, but this year he decided against going out for JV. It might have something to do with the reality that there are a thousand kids at this high-school—some with beards and barrel-chested bodies—while he hasn’t finished growing yet.
I’m happy that practices aren’t decimating family life, that we can actually share dinners together, and that there’s plenty of time for my son to keep up with his workload from school. Driving down to one game a week is manageable and actually enjoyable. It’s sports light–for the whole family.
Intramurals didn’t always exist at this school. Some warm-hearted soul wanted to create a place for kids who liked to play when they didn’t make the team.
But there are kids here who would surely qualify to play on any team. They each have their own reasons for choosing intramurals instead. I’d like to think it’s because they have an internal sense of balance—knowing that they want to have fun without giving up every minute of their life to a game that can be taken too seriously.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate excellence or admire it. I just don’t like its cost, and I don’t think it’s for everyone. Which is why this mom is especially thankful for all those who make intramurals happen—here at my son’s highschool–and everywhere else where it’s a choice for kids who want to play.