There was a little breathing space in my grading schedule this weekend, so have some potpourri…
I went to a couple of Mondoville basketball games over the weekend, as we hosted a four-team tourney. The home team won their first game before falling in the championship matchup. No one will ever mistake these games for the ones I attended at Rupp Arena, or even Worthen Arena, in my grad school years, but I find myself enjoying the more intimate setting as the years go by — and of course, I also like seeing the kids, many of whom I’ve taught over the years. I buy a snack or a drink from the student athletes working the concession stand — they raise funds for their squads that way — and sit at midcourt, just behind press row. It can make for a nice time.
On the other hand, over the years I’ve come to be puzzled by some of our fans. There’s a portion of the crowd at every game that seems to attend for the sole purpose of venting spleen. They’re far more likely to berate even their own players than to encourage them, but their most frequent targets are the referees. Sometimes the zebras do mess up — again, this isn’t the big time. But in my experience, they tend to call the games pretty evenly, overall; they’re imperfect for both sides, if you know what I mean. However, to a sizable section of the crowd, every call (or every non-call) is an opportunity to scold and jeer three people who probably just got to the game after a day of selling insurance or dispatching truckloads of widgets. The grief they give the officials isn’t obscene or profane — at least not that I hear — but it’s constant, and lately I wonder if those fans really take any pleasure in the experience of attending at all. Of course, there’s also the fact that it’s an appalling display of sportsmanship, and there’s something depressing when the student section shows better decorum than the folks who pay to get in.
And from a practical standpoint, I wonder if it’s counterproductive. If an official makes a bad call and the crowd yells at him, it’s one thing. But if it’s just incessant billingsgate, I can’t help but wonder if an official (who is human, after all) might occasionally be tempted to spite the crowd. At the very least, I wouldn’t expect to get many close calls in that environment. That the striped shirts remain as professional as they do speaks to their love of the game and the players.
But I think there are limits. While I can’t speak to how this is done everywhere, it’s my understanding that around here, the better officials are given their choice of games and venues to work. I wouldn’t be surprised if the better ones figure out that there are easier gyms in which to make a few bucks, and venues where they won’t be treated like war criminals when they call (or don’t call) a foul. But since all games must be officiated, this would suggest that the refs who work our games aren’t necessarily the cream of the crop, even at our level. That in turn would mean that we get refs who are more likely to make mistakes, and that makes the more abusive fans feel more justified in their harassment, and the feedback loop becomes obvious.
I’ll still go to the games, of course. As I said, I know many of these kids, and I want them to know that I support what they do even when they’re outside the classroom. But when things get this hostile even at a place like Mondoville, it can be a bit dispiriting.
On a lighter note, after Saturday afternoon’s game, I went downtown to Mondoville’s Ritz Theater, where the local community players mounted a production of John Cariani’s Almost, Maine. It’s a relatively recent work, and although it’s apparently widely performed (including, I’m told, at the college), I hadn’t seen it before. I was particularly looking forward to it as several friends and former students of mine (including two erstwhile Berries) were involved both as actors and directors of the vignettes that make up the play. I was also lucky enough to attend for free, having volunteered to sit in an exit row and direct traffic should an evacuation be necessary. Fortunately for us all, my services weren’t needed, and so I got to enjoy a nifty little play.
The scenes range from cute to poignant, but a layer of absurdism keeps things from ever getting cloying. The performances were uniformly solid, and the scenes and transitions well paced. I don’t know if this is typical for performances of the play, but during blackouts, as props and scenery were moved as much as the minimalist staging required, bits of ’70s love songs played over the house sound system. Selections included “Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters, Player’s “Baby Come Back”, and other songs of that ilk. I was slightly disappointed, however, that the version of “Love Hurts” was neither the Everlys’ nor Nazareth’s renditions.
I’ve talked before about how I’m glad to see groups like the Newberry Community Players — people who are in it for the love of the game, as it were, and who share that passion even in the middle of our cynical era. And shows like the one I attended last night remind me once again that the root of the word amateur is love.
This afternoon, I went ahead and booked my rental car and room for my trip to Durham, NC in a couple of weeks, where I’ll be reading as part of a Noir at the Bar event on 7 Dec. If you can make it, I’d love to see you!
Finally, I’ll wrap things up with a bit of music. I was listening to a hard rock stream over the weekend, and ran across this track from a band about which I basically know nothing. But I like what I heard, so I’ll pass it along. From the banks of the Mersey, here’s Enamel Animal, with “Red is for Danger.”
See you soon!