I unabashedly fling my arms about to form the letters Y, M, C, and A when I hear the Village People’s hit song of the 1970’s at a dance or home setting. While I do not think I processed this about living at the Y when I was a youth, I felt” Y.M.C.A.” was a theme song for me as I spent so much time there in my youth. With a myriad of activities across the nation, the YMCA means many things to many people. For me it was a place of shooting jump shots, practicing karate chops, and maybe even a few belly flops. At least, that is the nut shell version.
The hard court is the place of so many of my memories at the Y. To this day, there is just something about the rhythm of a rubber or leather ball hitting against a hard surface. Fans are optional but there is something special about the echoes of an electric crowd. In my experience, all players were welcomed to play on a team and receive real playing time regardless of talent or ability.
We had some good players on my first team ever. I wasn’t one of them at the time. Well, I do not think we ever won a game. While I acted downtrodden momentarily at the time, I actually loved to be on the court. I also fancied myself good at defense just for holding my hands above my head even if the other team scored while I was doing so that first year.
I think that it was the following year that I was on the championship team. We had players that would later win state in high school for Elkhorn, NE. We also had someone on my team that would play on the varsity team at my high school. I sat the bench a lot that year and felt content to do so. They did try hard to orchestrate a chance for me to actually score, but that never became a reality.
Although I was never as good at scoring as my sister or brother, I gained confidence as being legitimately good at defense. Rebounds were not my strong suit. My skills lie in defending the passing lane as I was taught by my coach to do with a man to man defensive that often included a full court press. The other team received a lot of five second violations for not passing the ball within the required five seconds when my teams employed these defense tactics that we practiced.
Sometimes I would block a pass. I was also taught the method of tapping low on the ball being dribbled to steal it from them. I recall stealing the ball a time or two during the game. I do not remember what happened to said ball but for the sake of my glory days, let’s say that I may have assisted in points being put on the board.
Team sports with the YMCA did not employ a lot of time compared to school teams or city leagues. We practiced once a week and played once a week. There were gifted players who played for their school teams too. There were also talented players who took advantage of being able to play at the Y while they had to set out a term due to switching schools. We practiced at public grade schools in my area. Most of our games were at a public middle school.
Good sportsmanship was encouraged. Although it was only part of the time that I played, I do recall the referees gathering us in a large circle prior to the game for the Lord ’s Prayer. That seemed very natural to me as I went to Catholic schools.
Now it is time to get back to the jump shot. I was taught to shoot a jump shot earlier than most people in my day. I was used as an example for the boys a year older than me practicing on the other side of the court. As I mentioned earlier, this did not translate into my scoring in regulation play for a few years. I did not take a lot of shots as far as I recall. In my final year, I was eighteen feet away from the basket when I shot a jump shot that was as the family legend goes made my first shot ever in regulation play. It was all net!
From an early age, I loved the freedom of being in the water. When we were members of the Maple YMCA, I was enrolled in one of the advanced swimming lessons given at the same time the beginners were practicing elsewhere in the pool. There was a ratio of only three students to one instructor in our advanced class. I thought I was cool learning new strokes such as the butterfly. I liked fighting the water pressure on the deep end to swim down to the bottom of the pool as we were instructed.
We also took advantage of swimming during free time. We would just swim around or perhaps have a game of Marco Polo. There may be a race now and again. I thought it was great that you could swim year around rain or shine. One year, my family and cousin’s family rented the pool for a party celebration for me and my younger cousin whose birthday was two days from mine.
I was never very inclined to diving as they tended to cause my stomach to sting when I did not manage to go in head first. I generally jumped in from the diving board feet first to avoid a belly flop. A girl a few years younger than me from my old neighborhood explained how to do a flip by acting like you are doing a somersault off the board. I tried it and it worked! I repeated it over and over again!
Sometimes my mom invited me to join her and her friends for aquasize class. I enjoyed meeting the ladies and the food outing that followed. They were known for their pot lucks and also meeting at restaurants. My mom and my aunt went for a few years together. When my mom had a schedule conflict due to starting back to work, my aunt continued to go. From the group, she made lifelong cherished friends.