Prehistoric legends: “PLAY BALL”

“[Trying] to survive Coach Yonge’s basketball practices was the toughest thing I’ve ever done.” Photo by Steve Johnson used under CC BY 2.0
By Prof. Jim Wilcox, Guest writer

All work and no play makes for a dull life.

I teach grammar. Before that

I edited newspaper and magazine copy. Before that

I played religious records at the Nazarene Seminary 10-watt radio station. Before that

I cooked steak and lobster. Before that

I took an oak tree stump out of the ground with a hatchet. Before that

I wrestled redwood planks in a lumberyard for a whole summer.  And before that

I played.

Playing is good. It’s harmless, healthy and humbling. Sometimes humiliating. Sometimes perilous.

I used to love playing — basketball, ping pong, Scrabble, the violin. You name it and I’d be on the phone, frantically calling all my friends to meet us at “the field” or “our driveway” or “the school.”

This predilection for recreation continued into my college years, where I was introduced to intramurals, foosball and “Buck Buck.”

And it was during my involvement with these games that I got hit so hard I thought I was gonna die, got so hot I thought I was gonna die, got pushed so suddenly, so blatantly I thought I was gonna kill, and twice felt my lungs take flight.

Because my parents didn’t drink much milk, I never truly fell in love with it until I discovered a few years ago that in the right hands and with the right add-ins, milk could become a delectable frosty Frappuccino.  It was because of this calcium deficiency in my formative years that playing certain games against certain body types broke certain bones with mortal regularity.

I broke a collarbone playing football, a wrist in basketball, a knee in the driveway, a wrist falling off a skateboard, an ankle in the front yard, two ribs in the backyard, a couple of toes playing tag after the furniture had been rearranged,  my uvula impersonating an elephant, and my retina blowing up a balloon.

But it was Coach Yonge who broke my will. My will to live.

High school is hard enough, and being a skin-covered skeleton makes it even harder, but trying to survive Coach Yonge’s basketball practices was the toughest thing I’ve ever done.

He swore at me. Nobody had ever cussed at me. I had been raised in the church…literally. I didn’t know any of the words he hurled at me, but I certainly became acquainted with quite a few during those three years. He liked to punctuate his tirades with colossal kicks against the bleachers. He could make those boards echo like King Kong drums.

One of his favorite pastimes was to put the ball at midcourt and make my skinny-twin and me wrestle for it. At least he knew that if he paired us with any other teammate, teammates with muscle or even flab, we would be crushed like so much Velveeta cheese. So he pitted brother against brother.

Neither one of us could climb the rope to the gym ceiling and we couldn’t do one pull-up. If we hadn’t cheated at counting pushups, we wouldn’t have reached even the minimum number he set for double-amputees. Our high-jump efforts ceased at 2’3”. When we ran the 100-yard dash, he put away the stopwatch and pulled out his calendar.

He put me on a weight-lifting regimen to beef me up and I lost weight, a rather frightening outcome when 77 inches of height was barely tipping the scales at 135 pounds. (That’s a BMI of negative-37.)

So after high school graduation, I began to play for fun again. And college was the most playful fun I’ve ever had. Just you wait and see.