The back half of the year is when you see all of the major sports come together: Baseball, basketball, football, soccer and hockey dominate ESPN and the news channels. This time of year tends to take me back to when I was a kid growing up in the ‘70s. At that age, I really only saw three major sports on the only three channels broadcast to the old rabbit ears. Had it not been for one television show, I might never have known that there was any diversity in organized sports out there in the world at all. ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” with announcer Howard Cosell, opened my eyes. I can still remember the “agony of defeat” clip vividly (guys my age know what I’m talking about).
“Wide World of Sports” was the first time I had any notion that these lesser-known “fringe” sports even existed. Having grown up slightly traumatized by the fact that I wasn’t destined to be the next national baseball hero, the idea of this “World” of sports was nothing short of an epiphany.
I knew that when I grew up and became a dad, I would never want to put pressure on my kids to steer them toward a major sport. I’ve heard so many coaches utter things like, “He’s/she’s a great athlete, but just doesn’t have the right body type,” or “The kid almost made the cut,” or “They have heart, they just aren’t big.” Not every kid can measure up to Michael Jordan or Cal Ripken, Jr. In these moments I want to shout, “Vive la fringe!” There’s a sport out there for everyone. The point is that every kid can get out and PLAY.
When my family moved from California to the Rocky Mountains for new adventures, we were exposed to all kinds of sports that we didn’t know you could actually participate in competitively. I don’t know if it’s the water or the altitude, but I recently counted eight Olympians in my direct environs. The local culture has led us to lacrosse, rugby, Nordic skiing, synchronized skating, and gymnastics, all consuming our household attention to our great delight. Looking around, we see uber-athletes competing in cyclocross, biathlon, sport climbing, mountain biking, volleyball, ultimate wrestling, and a hundred other sports for every physique and ability.
There are 302 recognized Summer Olympic and 98 Winter Olympic events. In the NCAA, there are 23 sanctioned sports (even though you can’t exactly bank on all of them providing a scholarship). Club sports continue to grow in many directions in the U.S., bringing joie de vivre and triomphe to many a soul: How could we ever forget the endearing story of the 1988 Jamaican Olympic bobsled team, which inspired the Disney movie “Cool Runnings”?
By definition, sports require skill, practice and dedication, but having something that you and/or your child can own, and becoming part of a special club with the camaraderie of unified competition, can be gratifying and, obviously, healthy. Shout out for your favorite “fringe” sport!!
Photo of Doug’s son on Nordic skis by David Pickner Photography.