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Karl Lindholm: Noon hoops and howling at the moon

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Posted on June 9, 2016 |
By Karl Lindholm



I begged my kids to come to Middlebury sporting events with me.

When a dad takes his kids to a game, he’s a good dad. If he goes by himself and leaves the kids at home, he’s borderline selfish.

My son Peter often agreed to come along to basketball games at the college, and I rarely missed a home game. He would bring a Harry Potter book with him, and, when things got too noisy and intense in the game, he retired to the Lawson Lounge, and read in peace and quiet. He especially despised the buzzer that signaled time stoppages or otherwise punctuated play. It made him jump in fright.

Lucky for me, Peter fell in love with basketball in the seventh grade, just as the college team was becoming terrific in hoop. We thereafter have shared a passion for Panther basketball, getting to know the players and exulting in their success.

Peter, who just turned 21, is a wonderful athlete, though not blessed with great natural ability. He earned every minute of playing time he enjoyed on the Middlebury Tiger basketball and baseball teams.

I once told a friend that Peter was on the high school basketball team and he asked, “Do you think he’ll play in college?”

I said, “Absolutely. Every day.”

And he has.

He’s not on the Middlebury team — he’s not a player at that skill level — but he loves to play pick-up basketball. He’s about my height (which is to say, not that tall) and has inherited my speed and jumping ability (or lack thereof). He does have a pretty nice outside shot — that may be his modest inheritance from me.

Pete plays “noon hoops” in Pepin Gym nearly every day — three to five days a week when school is in session and whenever he’s free and there’s a game during vacations and the summer.

I played noon hoops till I was in my 50s. I too loved pick-up.

Peter’s passion thrills me and fills me with nostalgia. I was on organized school teams through college, but I had the most fun later, especially in my 20s and 30s, in less formal play, finding a game wherever I happened to be. When my life was full of obligations and challenges, hoop was a refuge.

One of my most striking memories was attending a national conference in New Orleans and playing three days of fast pick-up games late in the day on the roof of the Holiday Inn — being all sweaty and exhausted and exhilarated, having lived completely in the moment, for an hour or so.

This was 1995 — I was 50. In my dotage now, I miss nothing more than the opportunity to get in a good run up and down the basketball court.

The noon hoops crowd at Middlebury College these days, as then, is a motley crew of various ages (from 18-68), shapes, and abilities — faculty and staff members and some local regulars.

I asked Peter why he likes playing with these old guys and not with his student contemporaries, and he said, “I know there’s always a game, Dad. I’m busy and I don’t have to time to call people and set something up, or go to the gym and see who’s there. There’s always someone as good as I am for me to guard.”

So Monday-Wednesday-Friday he plays at noon with the old guard.

Then, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, there’s an “invitational” noon hoops tilt, this one involving coaches and other members of the athletic department. Peter plays in that too; it’s a faster game and students are generally not invited to join in.

So this is a high honor, and I’m proud of him for it, for it means that he has embraced pick-up hoops’ pristine ethos, which in essence is, “Don’t be a pain in the . . . neck, don’t hog the ball or shoot too much, don’t call too many fouls, don’t complain — just play.”

Good rules for living.

Peter likes to write poems. He had this one in the student arts magazine, “Blackbird,” this spring:

 

The Faculty Game

In Pepin Gymnasium time backpedals

stumbling clumsily over its worn hightops

as the ball advances towards it.

 

The clock reads 12:00

but the year could be 1975, 1998, or 2003.

Old men grunt and stomp and sweat

as they did when their bodies were lithe and young.

 

Time looks on with a grimace

as it nurses a pulled hamstring.

 

They once howled at the moon outside of bars

And wrapped their arms around soft bare shoulders

Before stumbling down sidewalks

In shiny black shoes.

 

On the court they danced, speaking

in subtle tongues.

The pick and roll, the drive and dish,

they lived and loved.

 

And then they watched

younger versions of themselves

rise as they fell

into the comfortable cradle of fatherhood.

They dance now, but slowly, around Legos

and loose leaf sheets of spelling homework.

 

They teach the tongues now,

in gruff tones bereft of beauty.

There’s enough beauty in the game already.

and time packs up its fragrant gym bag

and heads home. 

Editor's note: Peter Lindholm himself wrote column about noon hoops for this newspaper a couple years ago. Click here to read it.

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