One subject that seems to connect many farm kids of my generation brings an enthusiastic response when two words are spoken: barn ball.
Before open gyms existed, kids sought a place to gather for fun and healthy competition when the weather didn’t set us free to play outside. Old barns everywhere in my childhood had an old basketball hoop attached to the wall or a beam, on a backboard if we were lucky. Rarely was there a net, not white and intact, anyway, but the hoop served its purpose well.
Since there were no referees, the elbows and gutsy moves to get to the hoop kept the game interesting. There was no trophy to be won, no write-up in the local newspaper; but in the end, bragging rights was what mattered anyway.
I was 14 when Dad had a concrete pad poured in our side yard and a hoop with a backboard placed. It came to be after the end of a long project of putting in free stalls in our dairy barn, but its existence wasn’t guaranteed. “I told the crew if there is enough cement left over to pour a pad, I’ll be ready for them, but don’t count on it,” Dad explained.
When the day came, I kept my fingers crossed and waited patiently. When the concrete truck backed into the framed-out spot, there was some major jumping for joy.
I spent hours of what was left of each day after chores, shooting and playing Horse if I could find someone to play. Even when dusk turned to dark, if I was in the zone and landing shots easily, it was hard to head inside. Having that patch of concrete between the house and barn felt like hallowed ground.
Back then, we were a winning basketball community, and I have no doubt that all the barn ball that had been played for decades is where the credit for success sprouted. Toughness and technique was born in those dusty old barns. The ball took all sorts of wild bounces on uneven wood plank floors, and that alone honed mad skills.
Boys had the benefit of taking it further. Organized sports for girls remained out of reach for my age group, and my class could have been powerful. But our love of basketball built strong fans.
It has been fun to watch my 6-year-old grandson take to the sport with fire in his belly. After school each day, he goes outside to the driveway court to practice his dribbling and his shots. “If I don’t practice today, some other boy is, and he will get better than me,” Brooks explained to me. So, even on chilly, gloomy days, he wants us to keep score as he practices his shots. His persistence is paying off, landing shots that surprise me and make me mighty proud.
This love of the sport has spilled over into following the playoffs, collecting basketball cards and football cards, which he carefully organizes with maturity beyond his years.
“I’ve already thought about what number I want to wear on my jersey, and I know what number my dad wore,” Brooks said to me yesterday. “But most of all, I just wanna keep getting better, and I know I can’t do that without practicing every day. Come on, let’s go shoot!”
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