Clippings: Trying to play ball with today’s teens

Two weeks ago the Addison Central Teen Center in Middlebury almost had to close for a routine board meeting. The number of volunteers is so low that the director wasn’t going to be able to staff the center during the board’s meeting he was to attend.
So when my fiancée Mairead, who regularly volunteers there, asked me to help out, I said, “Sure, why not?”
Not only does  the center provide a healthy, safe atmosphere for teens, but it also offers a great opportunity to have fun. The center has a pool table, ping pong table, Foosball table and an air hockey table. What more do you need?
This was going to be great. Besides, maybe I’d find an audience to laugh at my jokes, which tend to invoke grimaces from my adult colleagues.
Thursday rolled around and I was pumped. “Today I’m going to cream some kids in Foosball!” I exclaimed to Mairead at 7 a.m.  She groaned and rolled over in bed, clearly less enthusiastic than I was.
I slipped into the office early, breezed through web updates and finished my interviews on time. When you have Foosball, pool and air hockey at the end of the tunnel, it’s easy to run the motors on high.
When 5 p.m. rolled around, I grabbed my stuff and headed over to the teen center. I hadn’t played Foosball in almost a year and I missed the game. It was something that I regularly enjoyed with friends in college. And hey, I wasn’t heading to the teen center to make any enemies.
Floating on cloud nine, I waltzed into the dark corridor in the basement of Middlebury’s municipal building. I said “hi” to Mairead, and immediately darted towards a group of teenagers “chillaxing” by the Foosball table.
“Anyone down for a game?” I asked leisurely.
“Nah, not me, but he is,” said one of the guys.
“Nice, let’s do this,” I said.
“I’m good,” replied my opponent.
“Excellent,” I thought to myself, this guy’s “good.” I’ve got myself some solid competition.
I pulled the table away from the wall, picked up the weighty little ball and wrapped my left palm around the goalie handle. Hunched over the table, ready to go, I looked up to face my opponent.
But he wasn’t there. He had moved to the other side of the room with his friends.
It dawned on me. “I’m good” didn’t mean he was a fierce Foosball foe. He meant: “I’m good doing what I’m doing, leave me alone, new guy.”
“That’s alright,” I thought uneasily to myself, “I’m down with the lingo.”
Two kids were wrapping up a game of pool, and I decided to head on over. The eight ball dropped into the corner pocket and the victor raised his hands in the air, sending the pool cue right through the ceiling.
“Do you guys want to play some cut throat?” I asked.
“Cut what?” responded the smaller of the two.
“Cut throat,” I said. “Three people play. Each person has a five-ball set. And you try to knock the other players’ balls in before they knock in yours. Do you want to play?”
“Nah man, I’m good,” replied the same guy.
The two friends went back to playing each other, and I headed over to Mairead and a crew of kids playing “Magic: The Gathering” — a card game based in mathematics that’s almost as old as I am (24). I’ve never played, and since all of the other kids were “good,” I didn’t want to interfere. But I did make friends with a great group of local teenagers and got a peak into their daily lives.
What’d they say?
It’s a secret. If I told you, they’d kill me.
I went back again last week and had a bit more luck. Mairead played Foosball with me while some of the kids looked on.
“They’ll warm up to the idea,” she said, “once they’re bored with the other games. They rotate, you know.”
I got my butt whooped in a game of pool by a young phenom named Isaiah and listened to 50 Cent songs that I hadn’t heard since I was 13. I learned about “psycho teachers” and the powers that different Magic cards possess.
With a lot of humility and a receding ego, I think I’ll find some Foosball friends after all. It might just take some time.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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