When hoop dreams were uncomplicated

Whether you love or loathe college basketball, you have to be impressed with the organizational skills required for the presentation of March Madness. What you may not realize is that all the TV coverage is only one part of a huge system. The National Collegiate Athletic Association is running playoffs in Division I, II, and III for men and women. That's six tournaments, each with an intricate web of teams, ticket sales, hotel rooms, airline flights, and myriad other details all crammed into a short, inflexible timetable.

The logistics would rival a UN peacekeeping mission. Maybe one day the Secretary General will tap the NCAA for help in bringing order to some global hot spot. But I often wonder who's really benefitting from the pervasive influence of "controlling legal authorities" at every level of amateur competition?

Anyone who saw the movie "Hoop Dreams" is aware that kids with basketball talent are now being targeted in junior high school by scouts and college recruiters.

I was fortunate in reaching my athletic peak before the system got so intense.

During the winter of 1963-64, some classmates and I won the 5th-grade city basketball championship.

There wasn't much fanfare. Our team showed up on Saturday mornings at the high school gym, and every week produced another victory. We didn't have a coach, and I can't remember how we decided on substitutions, but nobody ever got upset.

Tactics were basic: Everybody ran around until someone felt like taking a shot.

It wasn't until about 8th grade that I realized basketball uses designed plays. By then my interest had waned, which was probably for the best. I'm not sure I could have altered my spontaneous style of play to fit the structured approach.

At a soccer game last year, a fellow parent pointed out to me that having so many leagues available for every kind of sport means kids nowadays seldom get opportunities to supervise themselves.

Part of growing up used to involve picking teams, agreeing on rules, and figuring out how to settle arguments without having an adult in charge all the time.

Arranging our own transportation was also fun. I enjoyed bicycling en masse to various fields for school softball games.

And if that sounds quaint and outdated, my uncle once told me an even better story from his childhood in the 1920s.

One day he and a few buddies got ambitious and rode their bikes the entire distance around San Francisco Bay.

Circumstances are no longer conducive to such freewheeling athletic adventures.

What I enjoyed most about that 5th-grade championship was that we achieved it pretty much on our own.

I also have one vivid recollection of an almost perfect moment. Somebody tossed the ball to me while I was standing on the free-throw line, and I quickly put up a shot that swished through the basket.

I'm glad nobody was taking movies, so there's no conclusive evidence to dispute the excellence of my scoring prowess. To me, that shot was as good as anything seen during March Madness.

And every time I replay it in my mind, it looks even better.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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