Elysian Fields, Papa Karl, sports and kids

Last Saturday, I found myself in the Elysian Fields, or at least a reasonable contemporary facsimile thereof.
The Elysian Fields was the realm after death where heroes romp, according to the ancient Greeks.
Baseball fans know that the Elysian Fields was a real place too, a park in Hoboken, N.J., just across the Hudson from Manhattan, where the first recognized baseball game was played in 1846: The Knickerbocker club of New York City took on a team simply named the New York Nine (and lost 23-1).
The Elysian Fields I speak of here was actually indoors and nearby, right here at Middlebury College.
Last Saturday, five Middlebury College sports teams were playing at the same time under one roof in the athletics complex: men’s basketball, women’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s squash, and men’s and women’s track and field.
If you like sports, as I do, this was paradise, sports heaven — hundreds of young people, competing out of their love of their games; many more than their number, spectators were there to support them and enjoy their strenuous efforts.
“Is this heaven?”
“No. It’s Middlebury College, in January, on a Saturday in the Field House.”
I had the good fortune three years ago of attending meetings with the architects planning the new field house. They said that one of the great challenges, and one that they were particularly enjoying, was building an expansive and congenial space that connected all the Middlebury indoor sports teams in adjacent venues.
The results of their efforts were on vivid display last weekend as people came and went, selecting from this smorgasbord of athletic options. It was a great afternoon for families — including my own!
My daughter Jane brought her two urchins, Dylan, 4 years old, and Carys, a year-and-a-half. They are lively, opinionated, and rambunctious little people, as children that age are likely to be.
Dylan wanted to watch only the hockey game between Middlebury and NESCAC rival Bowdoin, and refused in no uncertain terms to leave his seat in Kenyon Arena.
You have to admire Dylan’s taste in sports: the Middlebury women are ranked sixth in the country and perhaps moving up on the basis of their sweep of Bowdoin over the weekend.
He reminds me of his Uncle David (Middlebury, 2005) who when he was Dylan’s age was transported by the speed and action of hockey games, a delight which has never left him.
Carys, on the other hand, declined to remain in her seat there at Kenyon and only wanted to climb up and down the concrete stairs, an activity that exceeds her physical capacities. Her movements display enthusiasm but not stability, or safety.
So an SOS went out to Papa Karl, who was absorbed in the basketball game in the adjacent gym, Middlebury against Williams. Watching hoop is my greatest wintertime pleasure. This season is the 100th year of Middlebury basketball, and I’ve been around for nearly half of them.
This Williams game matched two of the top 15 teams in Division 3 in the country (there are over 400 D3 men’s basketball teams nationally!). Williams and Middlebury have played one another for much of that century of hoop.
Carys also showed very little interest in sitting still at the basketball game, even though her Uncle Pete was there, along with more than 1,000 other excited hoop mavens.
So the game for us became a moveable feast.
We wandered the corridors watching the action from behind the glass windows overlooking the court. We met many other little people moving from game to game with their parents and siblings in tow in the hallways and the spacious lobby.
At the halftime, Carys and I left the gym and made the short walk to watch the track and field athletes running and jumping and throwing in the new field house proper — the long jump and pole vault over here, the shot put and weight throw over there in the infield, the runners racing around the 200-meter oval.
A track and field meet can lead to a kind of sensory overload — such a festival of colors with Midd athletes in navy blue, Cornell in their bright red, UVM green and gold, Castleton solid green, Williams purple and gold, all against the bright green surface of the infield, the brilliant blue of the track itself, and the giant blue panther against the white south wall, all those athletes, all that dashing around. Irresistible.
After our track foray, Carys and I returned to the basketball game and our peripatetic ways. I was rescued when Jane and Dylan found us at a hockey period break, and I was left to stew by myself for the final minutes of the game as Williams reduced an 18-point deficit to just two before the Panthers prevailed, 70-66, a very satisfying win. 
I don’t know if all these kids who watched the games in the field house and wandered the hallways and concourse on Saturday will become athletes or sports fans, but they’re off to a healthy start.
And for those of us further along in our journeys, though earthbound, we got to experience the Elysian Fields, on a Saturday afternoon, in January. 

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