Neighborhood Olympics defy trends, invent 'whack-a-ball'

A bunch of kids in our neighborhood tackled a pair of nagging societal problems on Saturday. And they didn’t even know it.

They didn’t hold a symposium or conference. Nobody broke into small groups or crafted a mission statement. Instead, they played “Whack-a-Ball,” “Street Hockey” and “Sasketball” and other games they made up. All day.

It was the first Neighborhood Olympics, at the corner of Baker Street and London Way. My daughter, Tess, along with her friends Sarah, Brady and Alena were the driving forces behind the event. A dozen kids joined in.

They held a garage sale/bake sale at our house with the goal of raising $160 to buy T-shirts, paint and markers to decorate them, team bandanas, medals and other assorted Olympic necessities. They raised $157, pooled together a bunch of loose change, and had enough to buy supplies and lunchtime pizza. Unlike Sochi, the Neighborhood Olympics came in on budget.

Opening ceremonies were Friday night. Kids paraded through the neighborhood behind a big American flag. On Saturday morning, the games opened with “Whack-a-Ball,” with two teams smacking a giant ball off the sloped roof of our protruding snout-house garage. I would have called it “Snout Ball,” but I had no clout with the Neighborhood Olympic Committee.

They say kids don’t play outside anymore. They’re too busy staring into screens. Public health experts worried about obesity and other issues are desperate to get kids to play outside for even an hour each day.

These Olympians played outside for at least six hours Saturday, despite the steamy conditions. Tempers flared a few times, especially amid a rules dispute that plagued and ultimately shortened the “Team Ball” match. Also, there was the now infamous “London Way kick” which may or may not have led to a game-tying goal in street hockey. We may never know the truth.

Sasketball, a variation of basketball using an overinflated soccer ball, went off without a hitch. The final contest, “Keep it Up,” looked a lot like Whack-a-Ball, but without the garage roof. They’re totally different games, dad.

They also say Americans don’t know their neighbors. A Pew Research survey in 2010 found that just 43 percent of Americans know all or most of their neighbors. More than one-fourth knew none of them.

But there we sat in lawn chairs Saturday alongside many of our neighbors, watching the children we love play games we did not really understand. There were post-olympic grilled hot dogs, an adult bags tournament and one of the driveway bonfires that have become common in our neighborhood in recent years.

The fact that we know so many of our neighbors is one reason our kids can play outside for six hours on any Saturday, even when we’re not watching them like hawks.

We’re fortunate to live in a neighborhood where nobody batted an eye at the barricaded street, or the garage sale or the fact that T-shirt decorating transformed some poor guy’s tailgating table into a Jackson Pollock. So Tess and her friends should be very proud of what they accomplished. The Olympics were a success.

l Staff Columnist Todd Dorman appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com.

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