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There’s a good chance my neighbors despised me when I was a 10-year-old, floppy haired boy. Of course this can’t be confirmed, but it’s quite likely they bemoaned the echoes of a basketball pounding on the driveway about the same time the sun awoke on Saturday mornings.
It’s not that I didn’t care what my neighbors thought, and I certainly made attempts at quiet practice sessions, but there’s only so much control a boy has over a leather basketball, slick from constant concrete wear.
The way I saw things almost three decades ago, my Saturday morning routine was not a self-serving hobby. Teammates would need me in four hours. Coaches would call on me to make a heroic, last-second shot from half-court. And unless you’re new to the skill-sets of pre-teen boys, those half-courters need practicing.
If you think my basketball preparations were a little out of control, you should have seen my pre-game baseball routine. At some point, I’m fairly sure my Mom cared deeply about the appearance of our backyard. I’m not sure when she gave up the gardening, but my guess is it happened shortly after I brought four full wheelbarrows of dirt and dumped them square in the middle of the yard. That dirt – eventually eroding to little more than an ant sanctuary – was my pitcher’s mound. I didn’t even need a catcher some afternoons. I chunked whatever dog-chewed ball I could find toward home plate where the grass had surrendered years earlier.
If I wasn’t in school, the creek or the kitchen, I was thinking about my next trip to the YMCA. For that matter, most of my time at school was spent day-dreaming about the Y. I’d envision the walk up the stairs to the basketball court on the second floor, where you could catch the beautiful stench of sweat, faintly hear the squeak of shoes, cheers of the moms, and interruptions of whistles.
Sunday mornings were holy. Saturday mornings were spiritual.
In a way, those winter basketball mornings and summer baseball afternoons are now a pleasant memory. The trophies were chunked years ago. The athletic abilities, for some reason, disappeared beneath my computer and desk.
Then, a few weeks ago, all those memories flooded back. I attended my first meeting at our local Harriet & Joe Foster Family YMCA on 34th Street where I have joined a number of other professionals in the community to make up an advisory board to the Y.
There I was, in a button-down shirt, holding a business card, thinking about my office, my employees and the bills I needed to pay. No matter how hard you chase memories, your shoes usually bring you back to the present. My loafers were eloquent reminders that I wasn’t about to sprint across the baseline in search of a swing pass and an open jumper. Instead, I had become a grown man, formed in so many ways by my time at the YMCA.
At the Y, I learned how to shake an adult’s hand and look him in the eyes.
At the Y, I learned the ability to work with teammates was more important, and easier, than going it alone.
At the Y, I learned how to respect authority, even if they were wearing striped shirts.
At the Y, I learned how to win. More importantly, I learned how to lose with grace.
At the Y, I learned that spiritual – not physical – health is most important.
At the Y, I met friends I still call today.
At the Y, my Mom and Dad were always in the stands, supporting their children. I never realized how much our family was shaped there.
And at the Y, I was molded into a half-decent young man.
For another few weeks, our Harriet & Joe Foster Family YMCA is holding its annual Partners Campaign. During this campaign, they ask residents of our community to help support their contribution to our neighborhoods (they serve the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest, just like The Leader).
There’s probably no better way to explain the value of a gift to them than by sharing what they accomplished last year with the money they raised:
• They spent $84,000 providing after-school child care to more than 110 young children whose parents couldn’t afford anything.
• They spent $96,000 on summer days camps, where 60 percent of the 240 attendees could have never attended because of financial restraints.
• They used $120,000 to set up apartment outreach centers for at-risk children.
• And they take care of so many senior citizens in our area who might otherwise sit silently at home with little connection to healthy activities.
Asking for money around the same time W-2s get mailed is a difficult task. Then again, if you think of all the ways our tax dollars are spent, I’d much rather give something to maybe the most genuine grass-roots movement in our area.
The YMCA has spent decades molding young men and women. If you have a couple of extra bucks and would like to help them continue their work, please shoot me an email or give me a call. I’m glad someone did it for me 30 years ago.