Saturday, February 02, 2008

Foul

[When Sunday Scribblings prompted us this week to write about foul I considered writing about on lunchtime at Mad River Glen when we kept getting brief breezes of a foul odor form the next table over. It was body odor unlike any I had smelled before, causing me for the first time to reach for words to describe it: reek, miasma, fetid. That's the one - fetid! But other than that, there was no story, so instead I give you this.]


"Foul him! Foul him!" From where I sat in the bleachers I could clearly see and hear the coach yelling to one of the players on the court. "Come on! Foul him now!"

In basketball there are accidental fouls and there are fouls committed on purpose. The coach wanted a foul to slow down the momentum of the game, to put a halt to the other team's run of scoring.

There's just one problem. Just as a pitch in baseball can only be called a "ball" by the umpire, in basketball a foul is only a foul if one of the officials sees it. The high school boy in home-team white was committing foul after foul, but wasn't getting caught. Finally, he launched himself at the other player, and swung his arms wildly, contacting the other player in a blatant and visible foul. This time, the ref saw and called him on it.

I don't remember the rest of that game but I remember the player telling the rest of us kids later that he had almost run out of ways to try fouling the opponent.

I watched a lot of basketball when I was in high school. I grew up where no matter how athletic the kids were, they tended toward lankiness, with bodies that big football players could snap like a twig. The kids in our town often had some speed and moderate height, so basketball was where our hearts lay.

I can clearly see the high school gymnasium, with its precious wooden floor on which we were not allowed to step unless it was with sneakers that had never stepped on dirt. Except for the teachers who could walk to the middle of the floor in polished loafers. (That always annoyed me, that kids had one set of rules to follow, and the adults had a different set.)

That gymnasium was probably the largest inside space in town; it certainly held more seats than anywhere else I remember. The upper tiers had row after row of red built-in benches and several aisles of steps that we ran up and down in P.E. class or for sports team warm-ups. The metal struts that held up the roof were painted red, and so were the railings along the walk of that upper area.

On the floor level were large doors that pivoted down to reveal folding bleachers that ran the whole length of both sides and along one end. I spent a lot of time in the bleachers at the end. That's where the high school band sat, to play pre-game, and between quarters, and sometimes during longer time-outs. We had a great view of the game but you couldn't take your eye off the action for even a second because if a loose ball came your way, it could do damage to your face (or to your expensive band instrument) before you knew what happened.

I never played basketball, myself, other than messing around in the driveway at home where Daddy put up a hoop for us. That was less than ideal because the driveway, although smooth cement, was both curved and sloped. So shots taken from "uphill" tended to be thrown too hard and shots from "downhill" often fell short. And loose balls had to be stopped quickly because they went directly downhill into the road, right at the intersection.

I was never a great athlete. In fact, I was barely a good athlete, and at some sports I was downright lousy. Team sports were just not my thing, although I gave some of them a try. There were others in my family, however, who were better athletes, and three played basketball.

My older brother was built to be a basketball player, and he did play. His middle name was William and the mother of one of his friends called him "Wilt the Stilt" after Wilt Chamberlain who, at the time, was in the height of his career. One of my uncles had played basketball. He played on the varsity team all four years of high school. And my mother played basketball. Although the basketball she played is nothing like you will see in the WNBA today.

You see, my mom played basketball in the 1940's, when rules for women's basketball were designed to keep it more ladylike, less rough-and-tumble than for the men. Among the things I remember her telling me is that there was no dribbling. And I remember reading that you were not allowed to try to grab the ball from another player. So to move the ball from one place to another, you had to pass it. As I understand it, the pass was often a bounce pass.

Now my mom was not one to take the rules at face value. When she was in school (a public school), girls were not allowed to wear trousers or they would be sent home to change into skirts or dresses. I'm told that she managed to get every single girl to show up one day in trousers. Faced with sending at least half the school population home, the "authorities" gave up.

Mom had played basketball with her brothers and other neighborhood boys, and she played by boys rules. The restrictions of the girls' rules chafed. Being a creative person, she found a loophole. She would bounce the ball in the direction of a teammate, and then, without touching the ball, she would run along side it with arms outstretched, guarding it. It was not technically illegal, but it certainly wasn't a standard technique. People started warning the other teams about her, to "watch out for" her. She didn't let that stop her.

In 1979, the Carter administration issued a "policy interpretation" for Title IX, which resulted in some new opportunities for girls in sports, at least in my town. I remember thinking about Mom and those old-school rules when my high school finally added a girls interscholastic basketball team.

At first the high school administrators were disappointed at the attendance and complained at the expense of hosting games. They were finally convinced to charge admission and sell popcorn and sodas just like at the boys' games. And you know what? When people were asked to pay for the event, attendance picked up. I guess they thought that if we were charging for it, it would be worthwhile. Just like the boys' teams.

15 comments:

The Literary Prostitute said...

It's moments like that in history that make us realize how worth it is to fight for what's ours. Very enlightening post.

sister AE said...

Thanks, TLP.

Redness said...

Excellent peek into your history! You write so well I could hear the squeak of the shoes on that floor the whole time I was reading! Fantastic as always, Thank YOU!

sister AE said...

Thanks, Redness. I'm glad you like it. By the way, your piece on foul cracked me up!

myrtle beached whale said...

Excellent read. I enjoyed your take on the prompt.

sister AE said...

Thanks, mbw.

paisley said...

thanks for the little window into your world....

gautami tripathy said...

What is it with basketball? Many have written about this. One of my favourite sports too.

Thanks. I loved reading this.

fouled up, have you?

sister AE said...

You are welcome, paisley.

Hi, gautami, and thanks.

David said...

foul: the reason they call chickens this is because of the way they smell

sister AE said...

If only it were that simple! Thanks for visiting, David.

Clare said...

I loved this -- I really felt the history and the sense of excitement in it. I could smell the gym and hear the cheering in the bleachers. And your mom's technique of guarding the ball was fantastic!
:)

sister AE said...

Hi, Clare. I'm glad I took you there.

LittleWing said...

ohh, the gym... you have written just as it was.. and women's basketball... awesome.... never knew abt the rules via the 40s... yes, the wba has come a long way...

sister AE said...

Thanks, LittleWing. Glad I could take you there.