Calumet Roots

No matter what sport, park league ball games were tops

2013-11-10T00:00:00Z No matter what sport, park league ball games were topsBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist nwitimes.com
November 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As sports become more sophisticated, they employ increasingly more gadgets. Sometimes the gadgets are prosaic.

For example, even an ordinary gadget, when confronted the first time, can be paralyzing.

Our gang played with a football that I provided. It came from my uncle, who was the star running back for the Hamilton Flashes in Chicago. The Hamilton Flashes played in a league of independent teams, all within Hamilton Park, which was located at about 72nd and Eggleston Street.

Each park within the city of Chicago had its own league. Toward the end of the season, the teams often played against each other for some level of championship.

The Hamilton Flashes was the football version of a group that competed in all sports. For example, the Flashes had a basketball team that, by Indiana standards, was not much. Its baseball team, however, was first-rate. In fact, a top-rated Chicago park league player would easily have been a standout on a minor league team, and the Chicago parks sent many a player to the major leagues.

A park system team, regardless of sport, was a major draw in the neighborhood. Until late in the game, the football teams did not have stands for spectators. The onlookers would just stand on the sidelines and, as the crowd grew larger, move with the team’s play.

It’s hard to believe now, but the park league games sometimes outdrew the Chicago Cardinals, a south side team, and the Bears, a north side team. The park leagues often had strong influences on other high school sports.

For example, when I first began to play in high school, the player who received the ball from the center had to be five yards deep, and when he went to throw a pass, he had to be fading. The professionals, however, could run the ball right up to the line of scrimmage, jump, and throw a pass to a receiver not very deep in the backfield of an opponent.

In basketball, when I began, the seams of the ball tended to be raised somewhat and only through time did they flatten out, and then evolve into a smooth spheroid. A few other changes occurred with time.

When I began, there was a very developed key that the pivot man exploited to his advantage. That pattern eventually changed when the parallel lines that were tangent to a circle disappeared. As for defenses, a player could jump up and swat a ball away from the basket with impunity.

When I first started to play, there was no center line that the dribbler had to cross within a certain amount of time. In fact, in our gym, there were two lines and the rule applied to the first only.

As for the footballs mentioned above, the pros came out with a version whereby a regular filling station hose could be used to pump up the ball. This required a ball that would receive air similar to the way a tire receives it. Finally, that system got simplified to what we have today, which is the use of a needle and resultant surface that is flat.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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