Let's play ball still means something to the baby boomer set; what does it mean to Gen X and younger?

Saturday is the quest for the Green Hat. Photo Credit: Steve Howen.
Saturday is the quest for the Green Hat. Photo Credit: Steve Howen.

It looks like I am not going to win the U.S. Open in golf or tennis this year and my chance to play quarterback for the Cowboys is fading.   Sports glory remains in reach though, because this Saturday in Southlake, Texas, Allen Ripley will host the 23rd Annual Alympics.  To the winning two-man team goes the honor of a green hat and the responsibility of hosting next year’s champions’ dinner.  It may be my favorite day of the year.

A little before noon, 50 guys gather in Allen’s garage and draw names for a partner.  Allen gives a speech noting the milestones in the past year for the families of the participants.  The national anthem plays live, as one of the contestants is quite the trumpeter.   For the next six hours, the teams engage in athletic and quasi-athletic pursuits of all types.  Horseshoes, ping-pong, darts,  basketball shooting, hockey shots and so on, culminating in the wiffle-ball home run contest.  Points are given in each event based on the team’s relative performance and posted on the huge white board Allen mounted in his garage for this one day a year.  To the winners go the spoils, but everyone (families included) enjoys the  after-party, which can run pretty late. The entry fee is a twelve-pack of beer and a contribution to the pot luck diner.

Allen schedules the event the Saturday before Father’s Day every year, which is genius because the day following is the one day where I do not have to get out of bed. That timing neatly coincides with the fact that I usually cannot physically get out of bed.  Six hours of activity in the Texas sun is tough enough but there is a margarita machine running the whole time also.  If margarita drinking was a scored event, my chances of obtaining a second green hat  (2008 was the magical year) would be better.

If I had to say what I like best about Alympics, I think it is the chance to be a kid again.  Growing up, we made our own fun in the summertime.  Little league and swim teams were a part of it, but families did not construct their lives around the effort to entertain and train the children.  Left to our own devices, we played games of all sorts.  There were always winners and losers, but there was also always tomorrow to play again.  It was in those games that you forged your friendships and learned the secret code of boys.  And here we are 40 years later, still speaking the same language.

I am prone to the same hand wringing exercised by fuddy-duddies every where. My inner grumpy-old-man says that the next generation will be lesser because they are different.  The self-esteem generation lacks the discipline and work ethic to remain competitive.  The iPhone generation does not have the people skills to understand teamwork.  The travel-team generation might be excellent in one endeavor but will never understand other trades. It is all going to hell in a hand basket!

And yet, this is the 23rd Alympics. Allen’s milestone speech use to be about marriages and births. Those births have transformed to  announcements about graduations and new jobs.  Kids who used to hang onto to their dad’s leg while he was tossing horseshoes  now draw names to be partners.  Lo and behold, despite my worries about what will become of us–I am dying to have one of those 22-year olds as a partner.  It is not surprising that one of this year’s defending champions is Reed Ripley, rather than his father. They can shoot and throw, chip a golf ball and flick a wrist shot. They hold their margaritas well and do not tire quite like me. Most of all, they laugh at themselves when things do not go right; pick-up a fallen teammate and shake hands with their opponents.  They might not win, but they will give it their best. Somehow, while I was not looking all these guys learned the code, too. The women will laugh at us on Sunday as we nurse our wounds.   But boys will always be boys and most of the time that is a good thing.

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