BY SPENCER MATHESON
The Rusty Toque | Issue 1 | Creative Nonfiction | July 2011
I recently re-visited my old elementary-school park, where all that mattered was sports, and where my premature mettle was tested everyday. Even after moving on to high school, my core group of sport-fiend friends would continue to make our old elementary school our proving ground. When we made our various high-school sports teams, we would dare team mates to come play “us” on our “turf”.
But since I moved on from the town where my high school and elementary schools are, my old turf has been transformed. Most parks and rec. or city officials would tell you major improvements were made. I would tell you all the character was sucked out.
Part of the home-court/field/diamond/whatever advantage was knowing the strange little quirks (often gross deficiencies) the playing surface had to offer. The two football fields looked normal enough. That is, if you weren’t aware of small ditches that ran horizontally through them, invisible to the naked eye but a disaster to your stride when stepped in. Our baseball diamond infield was more of a rough gravel. This isn’t the worst when there is some kind of upkeep. If not, weeds the size of celery stalks gobble up any ground-ball like a Gold Glove shortstop. There was no outfield, there was an outmarsh. Built with sheer incompetency in mind, the diamond was downhill from the rest of the plot of the land on the school. It held onto water for days after rainfall.
The basketball court, however, was on a completely different scale of sad. The pavement, apparently carbon-dating to the mid-to-late Paleozoic era, had a network of cracks that had caused slopes to develop. They weren’t bad enough to rule out playing on the court, but bad enough to make you alter your defense. In fact, so cracked was the pavement that the hole of cement that held the pole which held the backboard and net had loosened. This meant that part of our pre-game ritual was violently shaking the pole until both backboards faced each other. We assumed they were mysteriously misaligned after nights of probable underage drinking (having extensive experience in said field).
Because of the pounding those backboard hinges took, over the years they started to either loosen, rust, or break completely. The maintenance it took to repair was simple, and brief. And since the general disrepair of the school’s park and fields suggested they would never fix the basketball nets, doing it ourselves only made it more of a home court. I mean, I’m sure the school board tried. As a younger kid, I remember actual mesh on the rims, an idea so foreign and exotic for that place it seemed more like a half-remembered dream. We sympathized with the school; the chain-link mesh we bought and hooked in was stolen the first night we forgot to unhook it and take it home.
From then until now, the absence of mesh is really the only similarity between the courts. Newly paved, cemented, new stanchion and rim with rust-proof metal. White backboards replaced the faded graffiti, and bright white lines on the court replaced the decade-old ones. The baseball diamond was irrigated and re-seeded and its gravel replaced with sand, and the football field was levelled and re-seeded. All of these luxuries, and they still couldn’t keep mesh on the rims.
Seeing the improvements for the first time was more shocking than I anticipated, despite my friend’s warnings. It was like that feeling you get when you go back to a house you used to live in, and being shocked at what awful taste the new tenants have. But this was stranger, like returning to a dilapidated shack of a house but finding an expansive mansion, yet being thoroughly disappointed. In the end, it’s probably a good thing. My friends and I mostly moved on, playing sports indoors and less frequently, so the kids today might as well have the best they can get. Besides, I’ll remember the school park as it was for me and how it started my lifelong obsession with sports.
SPENCER MATHESON completed the Certificate of Writing along with a BA in Kinesiology at The University of Western Ontario.