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Oct. 29 2009 - 11:37 pm | 37 views | 1 recommendation | 1 comment

Youth sports as cultural linchpin: Why a Hoosier sent her toddler to basketball camp

Organized sports starts so young these days, it’s amazing your child doesn’t emerge from the womb and fall straight into a pair of baseball spikes. Often, the assumption is that parents are starting their kids in sports so young because they believe the earlier they start their children, the better chance they have at going pro. Or, the better chance the parents have to network for the right playdates to get their kids headed toward Harvard.

Well, it’s not always the case that signing up your 3-year-old for organized sports is inherently a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s a way to impart culture, a way to show your child the important identifying markers of his or her ethnic group, even if his or her ethnic group, technically, in terms of categories listed on the U.S. Census form, does not exist.

For Amy Wimmer Schwarb, signing up her 3-year-old daughter Edie for basketball camp is as important a part of learning her Hoosier roots as heaping helpings of giant fried pork tenderloin sandwiches, the Indianapolis 500 and bitching about Daylight Saving Time. Schwarb wrote a great story for Indianapolis Monthly putting Edie’s fledgling basketball career in context the family’s decision to move back to her home state to Indiana from Florida so their girl could be raised in a good Hoosier way.

I, an Indiana native, am raising my kids only 15 miles from the Indiana state line. But that’s distant enough to make plain to me that no matter how much you try to impart the importance of basketball to your children, it’s just not the same as doing it in Indiana.

Rev. Peyton and His Big Damn Band want to take us all back to Indiana for some fried biscuits with apple butter. Oh, how I miss it.

From the article:

In this town, at age 3, your opportunities are boundless. A 3-year-old can take the floor at Sharp’s Gymnastics Academy, the northside gym that produced 2008 Olympic medalist Bridget Sloan. Likewise, at the IU Natatorium at IUPUI [note: your humble blogger's alma mater], 3-year-olds can take swim lessons, kicking and floating in water where Michael Phelps has set world records. At age 3, a child can seek instruction at the Pepsi Coliseum and learn to skate on the home rink of the league-champion Indiana Ice.

And then there is the Indiana Basketball Academy, where, beginning at age 3, children can sign up to learn dribbling, passing, and shooting—or, at least, what those words mean, and that you need to stay within the lines while doing them. The academy is owned by Tom Abernethy, a starting forward on the IU team of 1975–76— a stellar squad that, with Bob Knight at the helm, finished the season undefeated and won the national championship. At the academy, Abernethy himself—with assistance from other coaches on the staff—introduces the children to drills, tweaks their shooting form, and doles out candy at the end of practice.

Edie Schwarb’s parents do not, for the record, think she is a basketball prodigy. Her mother is five-foot-four; her father, five-foot-nine. She wears Stride Rites purchased on clearance at T.J. Maxx, and her “people” are not seeking any sort of shoe-endorsement deal. My daughter’s hoop dreams will, most likely, be short-lived. But she, like all other kids whose parents make them sign up for tee-ball or wear goofy outfits at dance recitals, is still malleable to the hopes and aspirations her parents have for her.

And this, truth be told, is what I have always wanted for my child: I want her to be a Hoosier.

Sure, everyone knows that Indiana loves basketball, like Texas loves football. But it’s hard to understand how much it’s really ingrained in the culture unless you’ve lived in the state, which I did from ages 12 to 24, a seminal time that has me calling myself a Hoosier no matter where I reside. Even as Peyton Manning — gasp, a football player, who’d have thunk it? — stands as Indiana’s athletic standard-bearer, and even as interest in going to high school basketball games isn’t what it was in the days depicted in the movie Hoosiers, basketball has a cultural grip on the state. It isn’t just something people do. It’s what they feel. That counts, too, for people who don’t like basketball — it’s so pervasive, you have to have feelings about it.

And it’s been that way since 1893, when Presbyterian Rev. Nicholas McKay returned to the Crawfordsville, Ind., YMCA from a trip to its facility in Springfield, Mass., with James Naismith’s just-invented game of basketball in tow, providing the perfect game for Hoosier small towns during the winter harvest break, and making Indiana the only state where basketball grew from the farm fields instead of the city streets, a rural connection that’s kept the game grounded even if its players increasingly are not.

From Amy Wimmer Schwarb:

Not far from where I grew up, near a northeast Indiana town called Mount Etna, is a basketball goal mounted on a backboard affixed to two old beams that rise out of a field. There’s no concrete pad beneath it, just a flat spot in the dust where a ball can find a good bounce.

I had never noticed it, despite its proximity to my hometown, until a photographer friend visiting from Florida snapped its picture as a sort of life-in-Indiana vignette. The hoop seems to grow organically from the Indiana soil; in fact, when corn is at full height, it disappears from sight. It is a reminder that—no matter how detrimental the advent of class basketball or how empty the gymnasiums on Friday nights or how distant the Milan Miracle—around here, still, basketball just is.

2598006053_bd201c0842In Indiana, it’s not a barn without a hoop on it or near it. Photo taken near LaPorte, Ind., by Don Kalkman (posted to Flickr).

So is young Edie Schwarb on her way to Hoosierdom? Given the copious amount of Indiana University and Colts gear in her collection, and her newfound ability to hit a jumper, it looks like she is. And someday, if she’s living out-of-state, she’s probably going to have the same urge to bring her kids back to Indiana so they can train in basketball in their training pants, and thus become properly imbued into the ways of being Hoosier.


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    About Me

    A youth sports blog written by Bob Cook. He contributes to NBCSports.com, or MSNBC.com, if you prefer. He’s delivered sports commentaries for All Things Considered. For three years he wrote the weekly “Kick Out the Sports!” column for Flak Magazine.

    Most importantly for this blog, Bob is a father of four who is in the throes of being a sports parent and youth coach in an inner-ring suburb of Chicago. He reserves the right to change names to protect the innocent and the extremely, extremely guilty.

    You can follow me at facebook.com/rkcookjr and twitter.com/notgoingpro. I'm endlessly fascinating.

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    You can see what I’m up to by following me at facebook.com/rkcookjr and/or twitter.com/notgoingpro. You can also become an official fan of Your Kid’s Not Going Pro on Facebook. I’m endlessly fascinating.