The death of shirts and skins

John Grindrod Guest columnist

John Grindrod Guest columnist

Certainly, there’s no dispute that how both the young and the old play their games has changed over the years, from my most active playing days in the late 1950s through the first half of the ‘70s to now. As for today’s youth, that means, sadly, a whole lot less unorganized play without an adult in sight and a lot less time spent outdoors, from what I can observe.

Now, despite the paradigmatic shifts in how people now pursue their recreation, there are still some examples of the games people play that look the same to me when I see them as they ever have.

I had that very thought not long ago when I was working in Dublin just outside of Columbus doing a cleaning inspection at a recreation center. While I was checking the track that runs above the basketball court, unfolding below me was a game of full-court, pick-up, five-on-five basketball.

Of course, the participants were young, high schoolers I surmised. You won’t find old dudes playing even half-court basketball much less the full-court version. As I paused and gazed below, I thought of my own youthful times when that would have been me as one of the 10 while playing at the YMCA. Those were the times when I could sprint in short bursts and make cuts relatively effortlessly for extended periods of time during those wonderful days, long before age and arthritis, the two dominant “A’s” in our aging lives, robbed me of those abilities.

One thing I noticed is, unlike those games of my youth, where, in all indoor gyms, one side wore shirts and the other side went shirtless, something done so that passes could be delivered to teammates rather than opponents, below me were 10 players who all wore T-shirts of different colors.

The No. 1 rule I noticed below me, one that hasn’t seemed to change since my playful days, remains in place, that the ball is only to be relinquished reluctantly in pick-up games to a teammate, since there are no coaches standing on the sidelines ready to take a player out for shooting too much. Nonetheless, I did see one player try to execute a full-court pass to someone he thought was a teammate but was actually an opponent, who picked off the attempt to distribute the ball in democratic fashion.

On the way back down the court, I heard the player who threw that pass say to his teammate wearing the same type of black T-shirt as the opponent, “Sorry, I thought that was you.” From above, I instantly thought, well, had someone old-schooled you on the whole concept of shirts and skins, you’d have been spared that errant pass.

I suppose the practice of one side pulling their shirts off has gone the way of other recreational pursuits of my youth. I can remember that no summer day on the 1500 block of Latham Avenue could be brought to a successful conclusion without an after-dinner game of hide-and-seek in the gloaming shortly after the street light came on.

Nowadays, I just don’t think games of hide and seek are happening any more than the regular games of freeze tag and Wiffle ball that we played on our block. I also wonder whether games of croquet are ever played or whether there are the requisite three boys anywhere that know how to fold a couple old towels to use as faux bases and play a game of hotbox.

And, on my boyhood Latham, in the fall under deep blue cloudless skies when crisp temperatures had pushed aside summer’s heat and humidity, while fathers burned their piles of leaves in the gutter, thus producing a top-five aroma on any sane Midwesterner’s list of favorite smells, young boys, unfettered by the weighty responsibilities that would come later in their lives, paired off and sought to throw the perfect spiral.

I simply don’t see the outdoor games being played that dominated my youthful times, ones played pretty much every day when school or assigned chores didn’t intervene.

And, as for other sights that may very well have disappeared along with all those front and backyard neighborhood games, well, I can’t recall any recent sightings of kids drinking the most satisfying water imaginable, that which comes out of a garden hose with that slight aftertaste of rubber, the perfect elixir for a warm June day, nor have I seen for decades any boy riding his bike with a Rawlings glove dangling from the handlebars.

Surely, there are practices, I suppose, that are rarely seen rarely anymore for good reason, such as frying those eggs in bacon grease in that cast-iron skillet. However, on a recent visit to a rec center in Dublin, I ruminated about so many vestiges of my past now gone and lamented the demise of the shirts and skins of my yesteryears.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]

John Grindrod Guest columnist Grindrod Guest columnist