Ever drive by an empty ball field and wonder if anyone ever uses it?
I don’t mean the pudgy bar crowd once a week on long summer evenings. I mean kids, during the day, without adults, picking teams, grabbing the handle of the bat to see who goes first and making the out-of-bounds fit the number of players. On long summer days we would change those boundaries as we lost players to paper routes, music lessons and and the calls to supper. We’d loose the right fielder, then the center fielder, then the shortstop and second base. When we lost first base the game became pitcher’s hand. Plays at the plate were always argued because when the batting-team had to supply the catcher, they never really tried.
You don’t see kids arguing anymore at the plate. Don’t see them picking sides. Don’t hear their mothers calling. The same is true for football games, where the sideline was an imaginary marker between two sweatshirts thrown on the ground, that seemed to bend and wave depending on whose side you were on. Or hockey, where boots were goals that slid and there was always “no raising”.
I had this conversation with a friend from the Raleigh-Durham area. He noticed the same thing was true for basketball courts. He blamed it on air conditioning and video games. I’m sure there’s some truth there. Demographics probably have some impact. There were just more kids when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. We never thought if it as the “Baby Boom”, it was more about “Available Players”. It seemed like there was always someone in the subdivision looking for something to do. Society has changed too. Parents don’t send their kids down to the park or to the vacant lot, unsupervised, for an hour, let alone the whole day.
I guess I don’t know the answer, to the question of where the kids are. But I see the impact of their absence from the fields. In Minnesota it means a kid playing hockey in Phoenix or Tampa Bay gets about the same amount of time on the ice as kid from Minnesota. They all play or practice, inside, under the direction of an adult, wearing full compliment of overprotective gear and jerseys with their names on the back. We still flood rinks and cut grass in vacant lots, but now it’s out of nostalgia, or to make sure we are not violating the public nuisance laws.
The kids are not just absent from the ball fields and rinks, they are also gone from the woods and rivers. We used to ride our bikes, while trying to hold on to our fishing rods, down to the Mississippi River. Now we live on the Northshore of Lake Superior, an area where people drive from hours away to come to hike, canoe and boat. But I know adults who have grown up here that have never set a boot on the Superior Hiking Trail, or seen the Northshore from the surface of big lake or dipped a paddle in the Boundary Waters.
A group of us came together to try to change that in a few kids lives. To introduce them to outdoor challenges, to show them their strengths and weaknesses, to help them learn how to get along with others and to realize their purpose in this world through getting outside and dirty.
We called our group “Arete”