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The Power of the Y, Part 1

by on February 14th, 2013

I am a child of the Woodson YMCA.  If I have parents, and an extended family, then people like Terry Armstong and Sue Lewitzke have to be included.  When I was a young boy, I was not a scout, or a church kid, or a hunting kid — I was a Y kid.  As far back as I can remember I was and have remained a Y person.  I suppose part of this writing comes from the fact that I do get fund raising letters from the Y, but another part of it is wanting to write about something that is not bitching about how much I dislike how the City does what the City does.

My Y lifetime goes from being in grade school all the way through to today.  When I was young my parents would drop me off, and as I got older, I worked at the Y.  I worked at the Y in many cities and states.  The Y (Sue Lewtizke) taught me to be a lifeguard, which was a profession I was able to do in high school and college.  The Y also taught me to teach swim lessons, something I love to this day.

But, I think one of the stand out things in my head about the Y was Noon Ball.  I was in Junior High, and me and my friend Bill had a day off so we went to the Y.  Bill and I were both mediocre basketball players, so we figured no one would be in the gym so we could play one on one.  It was far more than that of course.

We were playing all alone, just sort of running amok like little dudes will do in a large gym with no social pressure to stop us.  It was great. Then at about 11:40, the door opened and some older guys started showing up.  By older, I mean guys who shaved and drove cars.  I think, looking back these were guys in their 20s or early 30s, but all adult men seemed like my dad back then.

They had cool cut-off sweatshirts, sweat bands, and some had on knee braces and stuff.  They threw their bags down on the side of the court.  This was a revelation.  You see, Bill and I followed the social construct that had us putting our stuff in a locker, and locking it.  But, these guys just put their stuff on the floor in the gym.  It was so cool that they did that.  Changed my life.

They stood around talking, and Bill and I slowly and nonchalantly moved to the other end of the gym to see what was going on.  We sort of played, but really just stood there and watched.  They were talking grown up talk about stuff we did not understand, and it was cool.  They were stretching and laughing, and being cooler than Bill and I ever managed.

Their shoes were worked over.  They had on old gym shorts and random t-shirts.  Eventually about ten or so showed up and they got a little more serious.  One guy asked us, “Is it okay if we run here?” I had no idea what that meant, but I just nodded and stood there.  Then five of them took their shirts off, and they started playing basketball.  Real basketball.  Grown up man ball.

I was younger than 9th grade, because I was shocked by how violent it was.  They were running into each other all over the place.  I know I was young, because I did not know what a pick was yet.  I think I was just trying to learn to put the ball in the hoop at this point.

They ran up and down the court, and it was loud.  My gym in school did not have a wood floor, and I had never heard a wood floor like this.  It was hollow sounding, resonating.  The speed and the size was just scary.  This was grown men running, passing, dribbling, and running into one another.

I felt like that little kid in the Mean Joe Green commercial (if you are too young, just google it).  Bill and I just stood there, seeing basketball for the first time.

Even more than that, we were seeing adults doing something we had never seen before.  I had never seen my parents play sports, or really do much of anything recreationally.  So, seeing adults doing something like play — that changed my life.

To see Noon Ball at the Y was something.  Later on we would hear other kids talk about the Noon game, like some sort of pool hustler myth thing.  Bill and I felt like we saw something special.  Over the years we heard stories of this high school kid or that kid being allowed to run in the Noon game, and that always blew us away.  I think it was a kid named Chris Pellant from East that I heard about running in the Noon Ball game.  And that kid became an icon overnight.

The Y changed me a lot that day.  I saw basketball differently.  I saw grown ups differently.  And I felt like Bill and I were seeing something no one else had ever seen.  It was a good day to not be in Junior High.

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