Growing up Sports
When I was growing up in Queens, we had no video games and no one I knew except for one kid watched TV during the day. We had sports.
From early in the morning until it was dark, we would be playing ball. There was baseball, stickball (the kind in the street and the kind using a wall as a backstop and strike zone), handball, stoop ball (you threw the ball against the stoop usually aiming for the right angle, and the other guy tried to catch it when it rebounded), punch ball, basketball, football, dodge ball, kickball and just about any kind of game having to do with a ball we could think of.
After breakfast, my mother would throw me out of the house and tell me to come home for dinner. She implied I should eat lunch elsewhere. At around 6 o’clock she would go outside and call me to dinner. You could hear her all up and down the block, and people would set their watches by the sound of her yell, much like a Moslem call to prayer.
This was a hold over from the Bronx, where all the mothers would hang out the window of the apartment and call their kids to come inside.
In the Bronx in the years after WWII, there were a lot of “Sheldons”. I once asked her why she named me Sheldon. She told me there was a hero in a romantic book (or movie, she didn’t remember) named Sheldon, and she just loved the name, thought it was unusual and wanted a ‘different” name for me. What she hadn’t considered was all the other mothers also read (or watched) that same thing and felt the same way. Hence, all the “Sheldons”.
Now since this was the Bronx after WWII, the Yiddish version of the name was what was heard all up and down the street. “Schlermie, come home”, “Schlermie, tatala, come to dinner”, or my case: “Schlermie, stop that…” and on and on. When the call went out, we all had to look to see which mother it was who was doing the calling.
My mother’s attempt to be different was somewhat thwarted. Her wish was eventually granted however, since the name “Sheldon” quickly fell out of favor and was generally not used again. All the Sheldons I have met were born in the Bronx during that time frame; except for some young black males who I met recently who are also called Sheldon (one spells it Cheldon). Why their mothers picked “Sheldon” is a mystery to me.
Back to sports.
We played all these games, mostly as pickup games with our friends or people in the school yard. There was only Little League for baseball and that was it. Our mothers and fathers did not drive us to games or practices nor was there any schedule, coaches or awards dinners with trophies. We just played.
In elementary school, the school set up a tournament where the different classes on each grade played each other in punch ball. My class was the punch ball champions of the 5th and 6th grades in our school. We were undefeated in two years. This gave us bragging rights but no official recognition or trophies. Bragging rights was fine with us.
We loved to play ball.
Football was not a big deal to us until Junior High. We played in the street and could catch and throw, but didn’t generally play tackle since it meant falling on the concrete.
My friend Sangy had dreams of being a high school quarterback, and his father, to encourage him, organized a group of us into a team. He coached us in how to tackle, block, etc. We had no equipment so we had to get our parents to buy us helmets, shoulder pads, shirts and of course “cups” and jockstraps. We thought it was hilarious.
Since we didn’t buy the equipment as a team, we were a motley group of all different colors and types of equipment. Never the less, we practiced and one day we were told we were going to play another team.
One of the local Catholic Schools had a Junior High age team and we were going to play them.
They arrived and we were impressed with their uniforms, coaches, etc. Their colors were red and white and they brought line markers and other equipment with them. They also had a cheering section of parents. Our parents had no idea we were in a game that was planned. Our only cheering section consisted of two girls who knew us.
Miraculously, our ragtag team won, much to the chagrin of the other team.
We were undefeated.
Shortly thereafter, my mother told me I couldn’t play because my grades had fallen a little. I did my best to obey her orders.
I went to practice just to watch. In fact, I was wearing white dungarees and had no equipment, expecting not to play.
Practice started, and the team broke up into offense and defense. The Offense was shorthanded. What could I do? I couldn’t leave them shorthanded. In the interest of sportsmanship and friendship, I was forced to help out. Surely anyone would understand that.
I joined the backfield.
After several plays, I borrowed a helmet, since we were playing tackle.
I must say, I did rather well, scoring several times.
When practice ended, I headed home. I noticed that my white pants were now caked with mud (it had rained that morning) along with my shirt, jacket and sneakers.
I snuck into the house, went upstairs and put the dirty clothes in the hamper, took a shower, dressed and hoped for the best.
Much to my amazement, my mother figured it out. How I don’t know. The usual punishment ensued.