This is the time of year that once was owned in large part by junior high school boys. That is, boys big enough to play men’s games, but not so big as to destroy the person they were playing against.
What made this possible was the fact that these boys could run at adult speeds without a great deal of follow through. One manifestation of all this was that the boys would play during every waking hour they could — between meals, between classes, between chores, between any immovable or immutable object they encountered.
The most obvious of these dichotomies occurred during football season. Boys, among other spectators, rimmed a football field. When one finally tumbled over a fence and began running toward the field, defenders of the permanent began to chase them, sticks in hand and swinging toward the offenders.
When one chaser would break off his route, other fearless ones would make a dash for the field and be chased by other stick-bearing defenders. As more pieces of humanity followed suit, there eventually became something that could almost be called a riot.
The action became so universal that boys played football with their caps, even in the margins of parks where a street light would reach part of the field. Over time, such repetitive action produced individuals who were adept at running through a field of defenders.
All of this energy-releasing activity ended when the schools funneled young players into molds that together produced a varsity team. Since the newcomers had less time to play varsity ball, they continued their ad lib ways and played before, during, and after regular football games, for example.
Nothing counted. Tackling was with arms. By the time the boys made the varsity team, they were spent of any enmity that could result in injury. The same could be said about basketball. Surprisingly, though, basketball, the sport that gave Indiana its flavor, was far less important than football. Baseball also was a minor, as they used to say, sport.
The big sport was track and field. When I entered high school, the chief sprinters were Jules Siegle, the longtime football coach of East Chicago Washington High School, and Wally Smoljan. Both ran the 100-yard dash in about 10 seconds flat.
Quicker speeds were considered impossible, which we have lately seen was a premature observation. Other sports — there were about a dozen for boys and another dozen for girls — had similar life expectancies. So we had nonstop sports on both sides of the aisle throughout high school.
It has been argued that one of the main values of varsity sports is that it binds the school body together. I’ll drink to that.