The weekend was sufficiently gorgeous — sunny, highs in the 60s, with that golden afternoon light I love so much — that I spent a portion of it sitting on the back patio reading, even though there was a Kentucky game on. (I watched the game later, after it was too dark to read outside.) Because I’m the sort of person I am, I found myself reminded of Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees.” The poem is set in spring, not fall, and I’m on the shorter end of his equation, but the idea still applies.
And now it’s Monday morning, and it’s supposed to be a little warmer than the weekend, and warming as the week progresses. But I doubt you’re here to discuss the weather, so let’s catch up a bit, shall we?
Reading my e-mail this morning, I read (as I usually do) the daily newsletter from The Dispatch. The newsletter includes links to articles of interest, both within and without the Dispatch‘s own confines. Today they included a link to a wonderfully horrifying article in the Atlantic. Ruth S. Barrett takes a long-form look at the insanity of niche sport parenting in the megabuck ZIP codes of Connecticut. In desperate plays to grease the wheels for their children’s admission to an Ivy or near-Ivy, some parents are obsessed with making their kids recruitable athletes in sports like squash, rowing, and lacrosse.
It’s not a new phenomenon, of course. I grew up playing football with kids in a working-class neighborhood, and there were parents then who pushed the kids in the hope that they might one day take the field at a major college. As the article notes:
In 1988, the University of California sociologist Harry Edwards published an indictment of the “single-minded pursuit of sports” in Black communities. The “tragic” overemphasis on athletics at the expense of school and family, he wrote in Ebony magazine, was leaving “thousands and thousands of Black youths in obsessive pursuit of sports goals foredoomed to elude the vast and overwhelming majority of them.” In a plea to his fellow Black people, Edwards declared, “We can simply no longer permit many among our most competitive and gifted youths to sacrifice a wealth of human potential on the altar of athletic aspiration.”
Now, it seems, the same thing is going on in places like Greenwich and Fairfield County, in what we on the college level tend to call “non-revenue” sports (as opposed to football and basketball). But the article goes on to observe that while the top of the funnel (or meat grinder, if you prefer) is taking in a much larger supply of overserviced kids, the number of places at the top schools remains the same, or even shrinks as schools cut those non-revenue sports.
The situation is insane, and the article reflects that.
Katie Andersen, who runs an Orange County, California–based college-advising company called College Fit, says that among the moral dilemmas the families she works with face is whether to come clean with a college coach about their kids’ multiple concussions. “Parents will be sitting in my office debating whether it makes sense to tell, and I want to scream.” Instead, she tries to play nice: “I say, ‘Can we please step back and think about your child? He’s had three concussions, multiple overuse injuries, multiple surgeries—and he’s playing soccer in college? There’s not even a question of him not playing?’ ”
Ben Prentiss, the go-to strength and conditioning trainer for Fairfield County’s adolescent-athlete set, gets similarly incensed as he talks about the young clients who visit his facility in Stamford. “We’ve rehabilitated high-level rowers who couldn’t walk because of back problems,” he says. “We see herniated disks. Soft-tissue overuse. Overuse patterns in the hip flexors and lower back. These kids are hurting. Meanwhile, the parents have this crazy, beady-eyed look. They’re not even really listening to me.”
When I originally injured my knee playing football (actually, a kid named Raymond Dodson did that for me when he roll blocked me on Election Night, 1976), my pediatrician referred me to Dr. Brant “Pinky” Lipscomb, who was the sports doctor at Vanderbilt U. Both then and now, the idea of being examined by a sports doctor seemed like a major deal for an eleven-year-old. But as I look at the quotation above, something leaps out at me. Mr. Prentiss is described as the “go-to strength and conditioning trainer for Fairfield County’s adolescent-athlete set”. That sentence suggests that Mr. Prentiss, then, is not the only person plying his trade in his area, although he may be the best. In turn, I wondered how many S&C trainers there are in this place, and what that says about the area.
Similarly, when I saw this:
One Greenwich parent told me she believes that, far from being a glide path to the Ivies, lacrosse had actually hurt her older son’s college prospects. As team captain and a straight‑A student with stellar test scores, he would have been a credible applicant to NYU or Columbia—but these schools lack varsity-lacrosse programs, and he’d fallen in love with his sport. “There were eight or 10 strong academic schools we couldn’t even look at, because they didn’t have varsity lacrosse,” she said.
Her kid just completed his freshman year at a not-so-fancy college in the South, and, according to his mom, he’s happy enough. But she feels bitter, and wonders if her younger boy should quit club lacrosse. “The guys who get recruited to the Ivies—it turns out these guys are beasts,” she said. “I saw them at showcases. They were like stallions.”
I wondered if I should take a look at our roster.
So yes, it’s a horror story, and like all good horror stories, there’s a fine scare at the end, which I won’t reveal. But read the article.
I’m continuing to write, and it helps when I receive the encouragement I got yesterday. Robert Lopresti is a writer, and an ace at writing short fiction, particularly mystery fiction. He also has a blog where he mentions stories he particularly likes. I was lucky enough to get a repeat appearance there yesterday, for my recent story “Alt-AC”. Very cool.
Having received a cortisone shot in my arthritic knee recently, I’ve been doing a little bit of walking of late. I’m not worrying about pace or distance — I’m just clomping along for a half-hour or more a few times a week. When I was doing this pretty hard core (for me, anyway) some years back, I used a treadmill at the local Y. I’m still at the Y, but since I still don’t really trust my knee not to buckle, I’m using the indoor track instead. If my knee gives out on the track, I’ll stumble and grab the rail. On the treadmill? Hello, George Jetson.
So before I get on with my day’s chores, walking, and writing, why not a bit of music? In the past, I think I’ve mentioned my fondness for the desert/stoner rock band Masters of Reality. The group’s original lineup fragmented after their first album in 1989, with the band’s name being kept by guitarist and songwriter Chris Goss (who has also gone on to become a pretty big deal as a producer.) The band’s other guitarist and songwriter, Tim Harrington, has flown under the radar since then, although he still does music.
In 1991, Harrington (along with MoR drummer Vinnie Ludovico and some other players) formed a group called the Bogeymen. They cut one album and then disintegrated, but it’s an album I like a lot, with a strong psychedelic vibe. I spent a fair amount of time last week with this track on repeat, and I thought I’d share it with you. This is “Get On Home.”
See you soon!