On the Matt: Youth play makes for great memories

Published 6:35 pm Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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I recently wrote an article about Civitan basketball, referencing its championship games. It got me thinking about my own youth play, typically taking place at the local YMCA or Babe Ruth Baseball League for the summer.

As a kid, something sought out primarily is social interaction and approval. One of the aspects I enjoyed most was an opportunity to play on the same field with a group of athletes that I concede were often more talented at a particular sport than I was.

Fast forwarding a bit, during my junior year of high school, our basketball team was able to finish 3rd in the entire state of Illinois – playing in the state finals at Bradley University similar to how GRC played in the state finals at Rupp Arena this past year.

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The team captain – Bryan Mullins – went on to play overseas, and is now the head basketball coach at Southern Illinois University.

I traveled with the team, stayed in the same hotel, and even got to hold up some hardware at the end of the tournament. Not too bad, especially for a guy who never wore a uniform!

I was the videographer, a volunteer activity offered to me through my best friend of the last 25+ years.

Yet, years earlier, I could be on the same basketball court as some of the stars of that team – many of whom also went on to play at the college level.

It was a great feeling to not only play alongside friends, but also be in interaction with people who you may otherwise feel wouldn’t be on the same court, diamond, or other field as you.

Looking at it a different way, sometimes people develop into their best selves through YMCA ball, little league, etc.

My best friend had a rubber baseball and a tree located right in the middle of the cul-de-sac where he lived.

You could see the root of the tree and – if you threw the ball just right- it could bounce off in one of many different directions depending on the velocity, wind, etc.

We’d practice for hours, honing defensive skills.

Along with practicing against the neighborhood kids, many of whom were roughly the same age, we’d be ready to go come game time.

Similar to basketball, I enjoyed being on the diamond where every player could be noticed as part of a single team.

Recently, a former Purdue University basketball standout named Caleb Swanigan – who also played for Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings – sadly passed away at the young age of 25.

While my cousin and I were talking about it, his NBA career was brought up.

We talked about how strange it is that people will say he only played three NBA seasons.

Many kids dream of playing professionally when they’re young, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with shooting for the stars.

However, with age comes the realization that if you’re fortunate you make the high school team, if you’re blessed you get a college scholarship, if you’re elite you might play semi-pro ball, and if you’re one of the very few you’ll get to play professionally some day.

Speaking as an adult, shoot for the stars, but also enjoy the journey and being a member of teams that can be special.

You’ll be thankful looking back while older if you do.