I spent some time in Calgary several weeks before the Olympics. I found that in what is typically Canadian fashion, the corporate-dominated culture is tempered with a civic-mindedness that is refreshing to a visitor from the States. A case in point is the Lindsay Park Sports Center, which sits across the highway from the Olympic Saddledome. If ABC — which televised the Olympics — had wanted to show Americans the spirit of amateur sports instead, Lindsay Park is where it would have gone.
Under the expansive roof, Lindsay Park has five swimming pools, three full basketball courts, a running track with a nifty foam surface, a weight room and squash courts, along with places to sit and talk or just watch the proceedings. It’s open to anyone from 5:3O AM to 11:OO PM, for a modest price.
As a visiting journalist Lindsay Park was a place where I could experience to some degree the normal life of the community. This meant striking up conversations in the weight room and on the track. I could listen to the banter in the locker room and sauna for clues as to what the city is like. (An older man sat in the government-subsidized sauna holding forth, to no one in particular, on the dangers of government.)
The experience got me to thinking about my local YMCA, and the role it plays in my continuing education. I’m not much for classes and extension courses and things like that. Hypothetically, maybe. But I’m always worried that I’ll be out of town on the night of a class, or facing an urgent deadline the next day. Plus, there’s a stubborn streak in me that says that anything I could learn ln a class, I could learn better by going to the library or just asking someone.
Athletically, the Y has provided me with just such opportunities for self-education. It’s an old-fashioned, inner city Y, and draws every age, social and ethnic grouping you can think of. Durtng the last few years, I’ve gone through a basketball revival, and I can almost always find someone in the gym to help me with my game. Just this evening, a fellow who attended basketball camps in his youth was showing me proper shooting form, and how to get the spin that causes the ball to swirl downward through the hoop. I like this idea: he learned from the experts, then I learned from him.
It sometimes amazes me how civil people can be, even in a crowded inner city setting. Because the gym is small, certain ground rules are required. Games are four to a side, and the first team to reach eleven wins. Any newcomer can call winners and assemble the team that plays the next game. Generally, the good players are tolerant of and even indulgent toward the poorer ones like me. These rules of the gym are entirely self-enforced. There are practically never any supervisors around.
Slowly, my basketball skills are improving. I like to think this is how kids — and everyone else, for that matter — learned back in the days when the business of the world was open to their eyes. Watching the blacksmith, or the printer, or fishermen mending their nets, listening to their stories and banter, picking up all sorts of information.
Often, I wonder why there aren’t more places today where people can go to share their knowledge of literature, or writing skills, or what have you, the way they can teach jump shots at the Y. And why aren’t newspapers like my own, and businesses and institutions of all kinds, required — perhaps in lieu of some taxes — to serve as learning centers for young people interested in that kind of work? Kids hate to be told what to do, but love to watch people do things.
I feel grateful for the help I have gotten on the basketball court, I would leap at the chance to teach some of those kids how to put a spin on a sentence, how to make a story score.