Stories indexed with the term ‘recreational sports’

Column: In Praise of The Mud Bowl

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Tomorrow morning, one of Michigan’s oldest traditions will be on display. No, not at the Big House, but at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.

That’s where they’ve played something they call The Mud Bowl every year since 1933, the same season Jerry Ford played center for the national champion Wolverines, and Columbia University won the Rose Bowl.

Back then, the leap from the Mud Bowl to the Rose Bowl was a lot smaller than it is today. Oh, and a new venture called the National Football League was little more than a decade old, but few cared. Today college football is a lot closer to the NFL than it is to the Mud Bowl – which still doesn’t charge its spectators a dime.

Last fall, I woke up on a cold, rainy Saturday morning to see the tradition for myself. [Full Story]

Column: Pondering Pond Hockey

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

“I think we have too many AAA, Showcase and elite camps for the kids today, and as a result, we are creating a bunch of robots. We need to make it fun for the kids and let them learn to love the game the way we did.” – Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team in “Pond Hockey: A Documentary Film”

Just over half a million kids play organized hockey in the United States, as I did – but trust me, they’re missing out.

We’re deep in the dead of winter. And for most of us, there’s not a lot to do, and not much to look forward to for the next couple months. But if you’re a hockey player – scratch that, if you’re a pond hockey player – this is the best time of year. [Full Story]

Kickball Makes a Comeback

A moment of rest for the familiar red kickball. (Photo by the writer.)

A moment of rest for the familiar red kickball. (Photo by the writer.)

The red playground ball scuffs across the dirt the same way it did when you were 10, and the kicker takes a mighty running swipe at it, hoping for one of those big, arcing kicks that no one can get to – or maybe a line drive that will tattoo the ball’s cross-hatch pattern onto some unlucky infielder’s forearms.

It’s Friday night at Veterans Memorial Park, and all four of the park’s softball fields have a kickball game underway. Welcome to the big kids’ playground.

Ann Arbor Rec & Ed started its first kickball league in 2005 with six teams. This summer there were 38. Team sports director Larry Dishman compares the vibe to the early 1970s, when folks of dubious athletic cred were coming out in even bigger numbers to play a laid-back, social sport called slow-pitch softball.

“You had people saying, ‘Well, I can play this game,’” Dishman said. “Right now you’ve got largely that same type of phenomenon happening with kickball.”

Twenty-eight teams signed up for the fall season, which runs through October. (Kickball, incidentally, features some of the best names in Ann Arbor recreational sports: Miracle on Dirt, We Got the Runs, Kicking Balls and Taking Names, Kick It to The Man…) [Full Story]

Column: The Criminal Calls the Tune

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week I wrote about the case of Kimberly Knight. She’s the treasurer who pled guilty to embezzling almost a million dollars from the Ann Arbor Amateur Hockey Association. Knight effectively wiped out the organization’s savings – including its scholarship fund, its down payment for a new rink, even its operating budget. And now the association is fighting for its very existence.

For most crimes, there are shades of gray, and two sides to the story. Not this time. On one side you have an all-volunteer organization that’s helped 20,000 kids play hockey since 1951.

On the other side you have a corrupt treasurer who methodically emptied almost a million dollars from the pockets of those kids who paid to play hockey. She pulled this off over a two-year period – hardly a spontaneous act. Then she gorged herself on diamond earrings, Escalades and expensive trips.

Knight claims she’s already paid back almost a quarter million. The association says she hasn’t paid back a cent. Hmm. Whom do you believe? [Full Story]

Column: “Thanks, Coach!”

Julia Friedman, a member of the Sharks team coached by her sister Rebecca, scores a run.

Julia Friedman, a member of the Sharks team coached by her sister Rebecca, scores a run. (Photo by Louise Chang.)

We were in the field and there was a runner on second. I yelled a reminder from the dugout that we could only get an out at first base. The batter hit a soft grounder right to my shortstop, who fielded it cleanly and made a perfect toss to the third baseman.

The two girls looked quite pleased with themselves. It would have been a textbook play – that is, if anyone had been running to third base. Despite our extensive discussions in practice of what makes a force play, some of the girls still seemed completely confused. I felt that no matter how much I tried, I was doing something wrong as the coach. I felt like I was in over my head and worried that I wouldn’t be able to help the girls. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake taking on a team as head coach.

My dad had been my sister’s Ann Arbor Rec & Ed softball coach since first grade and all I had asked was if I could help out occasionally. He instead offered me the head coach position and a group of 16 nine-year-old girls. Having absolutely no coaching experience, I thought the job sounded like fun and relatively little work. I accepted eagerly.

When it came time to start preparing for my first practice, I began to realize that it might not be as easy as I had anticipated. [Full Story]