Rogers: Why noon ball should stay
Special to the Daily
We moved to our new town, Eagle, around Thanksgiving 1999. My wife took me out back at our home up Brush Creek Road and shook a finger at me.
“Next life or next wife. We’re not moving,” she said. We’d moved across the country every other year for the past decade, northern California to Michigan to Illinois to New York to San Diego. Finally high country Colorado. She might have crossed her arms. I’m sure her jaw was set.
The kids needed to be from somewhere, a true community. The boy would start at Eagle Valley Middle, the girl at Eagle Valley Elementary.
And so the family rooted, for the next 18 years anyway. A big part of that community for me was noon basketball a couple of days a week, which I should tell you wasn’t only about the basketball. The pickup games themselves were a smaller part, a much smaller part, looking back.
I’m gone now, the kids grown up and leading their lives in the East and West Coasts, the son with sons of his own.
But back then, I played a lot of ball and saw a lot of Coach E and then Trina, PE teachers who knew my kids and knew my wife, the school district nurse for four, five downvalley schools, including these two.
I wasn’t this stranger, some stray “adult man” a student might encounter in the shower. The schoolkids, at least then, were better supervised than that.
Typically, I didn’t see kids at all unless they filed out at the end of PE, before noon ball, and then later filed in, signaling the end of our time that day. Always with their teachers.
The players were dads, sometimes a mom or two, uncles, cousins, people who came through the same schools. People we didn’t already know were rare. Coach E told me stories about my son in youth league baseball — “best eye I’ve seen” — and was my giggling daughter’s PE teacher at a delightful age when she and her friends giggled a lot.
Some years, the rec district charged us, some not. I don’t recall it as a big deal. Some years we had a rec district employee with a clipboard and keys to the gym. For many years the executive director played most days. Good jumpshot, solid fundamentals.
What I don’t remember, even after 9/11 and the years when school shootings seemed to pick up, was being viewed as a suspect or a security risk. More the opposite, if anything. These were our kids. We’d be the first to protect them.
I wasn’t a menace in those years. I was Ben’s dad, or Rachel’s dad. I played noon ball with my son’s and later my daughter’s classmates for years afterward.
The ties across ages, ethnicity, income — all that means nothing on the court — well, those extend as a network through a whole communty, binding us into something more special, which means everything. Lives were shaped for the better. My life was shaped for the better.
Maybe this isn’t recognizable under flourescent lighting in a boardroom or the district superintendent’s office. Maybe it’s a bit messy now for them, like actual life, like a family, a true community.
But back then, no one was pretending noon ball was hard to manage. A set of keys, a clipboard with a list, a cash pouch, a pen. This isn’t complicated. It also wasn’t necessary. It was just us.
I watched the recent Eagle Town Board meeting on the school district’s bid to kick the basketball group out of the gym that several government entities teamed up to build. One condition was that the noon ball players could play there, not a buyout clause.
It was great to see people I played ball with over the years represented in the Zoom audience and on the Town Board, too. Nostalgia sunk in like some of their clean shots, swishes, laughter, sometimes competitive juices flowing but friends afterward. Some people alluded to all the connections made through this game, and I recalled those anew, too.
The school and rec district officials made a certain amount of sense. It’s not the people, but the situation. Times have changed. Can’t look at safety the way we did in the old days.
Well, fine, I thought, just lock the doors I remember being there to lock. Lock the lockerrooms, too. They were locked plenty of times when I took part.
I learned the gym was renovated recently. Considering the litany recited, the emphatic concern raised as if noon ball could tip into a “situation” at any minute, you’d think the practical step then would have been to add some security measures to the construction.
But the renovation left the gym less secure? There’s a head-scratcher. How could that be? Wasn’t this the key issue, after all?
It does seem there’s a fairly simple win-win solution here. One that doesn’t require treating members of a community as security risks, that tracks in the spirit of how this spacious gym got built in the first place, and reflects the true Eagle, the one I remember.
Complete the renovation with doors and locks, maybe even dispatch a young man or woman with a set of keys and a clipboard for an hour a few days a week. This isn’t impossible. It’s not even complicated, though maybe some common sense might be required.
Don Rogers was the editor and later the publisher of the Vail Daily and Eagle Valley Enterprise until April 2016. He’s currently the publisher of The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and oversees the Sierra Sun and Tahoe Daily Tribune on the north and south shores of Lake Tahoe.