A couple of weeks back, I spent hours watching the U.S. Open, my favorite major tennis tournament: the Grand Slams in France, Australia, and at Wimbledon require middle-of-the-night viewing because of time zone issues. However, I can follow a normal schedule when the world’s best tennis players converge on New York for the year’s last big contest.
It was a great tournament. A 19-year-old Canadian earned the women’s title when Serena unfortunately faltered in the finals. The men’s contest became a gritty but inspired slugfest that Rafa Nadal eventually won. Few friends or family members share my tennis enjoyment, mostly wondering what the big attraction is when players whack a ball across a net, point-after-point, game-after-game, set-after-set.
I have my own difficulties finding much about football, basketball, baseball, soccer, or hockey interesting enough to watch. I am a gymnastics and figure skating kind of gal with a little swimming, diving, and track-and-field thrown in for good measure.
Nadal and Medvedev smashed, volleyed, forehanded, and backhanded their way through 4 hours and 50 minutes, their every move closely observed by six linespersons, a chair umpire, and a phalanx of cameras for instant replay. I got to thinking about officials in other sports, the refs and umps and judges who make sure everyone plays fair.
At that point I determined to write an insightful article comparing various aspects of popular sports around the globe – all in 895 words. My plan fell apart when I discovered an online statistic referring to the world’s “8000 indigenous sports and sporting games,” accompanied by a list divided into almost fifty categories. Since I had heard of only one percent of the sports listed, I scaled back my project to present insightful comments about oddities and weirdities of several popular sports. Sometimes we just have to punt!
A common aspect of many sporting games includes lines and boundaries. Tennis is a sport of lines and boundaries, which is why players may challenge the decisions of the seven people hired to focus on where every ball lands. Players in basketball and soccer toss errant balls back into play, while football players line up again for every new play, although I swear sometimes they head right for the sidelines. Baseballs can end up in foul territory, with a homerun counting as an outright point even though it lands far from the diamond. I guess there are boundaries in golf, but I hear much more about fairways and putting greens when things are going well and those sinister areas called traps, hazards, and “the rough.”
Every sporting contest also has a clear beginning. Hockey players face off, the icy version of basketball’s jump ball – which, by the way, rarely occurs any more. The chair umpire in tennis commands, “Play!” as does the baseball umpire at home plate, although I liked it better when the umps yelled “Play ball!” to the Yankees or the Reds. Divers high up on boards and platforms jump off, football teams kick off, and golfers tee off. In auto racing, however, the whole thing starts and ends with a flag.
Flags on the gridiron have a completely different meaning. As manly as football purports to be, it seems odd that broken rules are indicated by a fluttering yellow flag. Rule infractions are severally referred to as penalties or fouls, although they are known as faults in the tennis world. There are scads of different kinds of fouls including my favorite: the flagrant foul – as opposed to the inconsequential or trifling kind, I guess.
Even more interesting, however, is the aftermath of a foul or a penalty. The other team may receive an extra scoring opportunity. Tennis players can lose a point, while golfers may have points added. Football teams have distance added to their forward progress, and wrestlers are “up” or “down” after a violation. Sometimes NASCAR drivers are sent to the end of the line, while hockey players end up sulking in the penalty box. In basketball too many fouls lead to dismissal from the game, similar to the yellow and red card system in soccer. And occasionally baseball players just settle it all with a bench-clearing brawl.
Almost every athlete helps accumulate points in the course of their contests, although swimmers, runners, and auto racers live to cross the finish line first. It should come as no surprise that I am drawn to sports with style points: gymnastics, diving, and figure skating are, after all, subjective sports with artistic overtones.
But it is how points are calculated I find fascinating. Soccer players and golfers can count on one point per goal or stroke. Football players score various numbers of points for maneuvers into the endzone or through the goalposts. In basketball, however, putting the same ball through the same hoop adds one or two or three points to the team’s score based on distance or position of opposing players. In tennis the first two winning shots are worth fifteen points each, the third adds ten points before it all dissolves into deuce – and zero is called love.
The rules of my writing game dictate that I stop upon reaching the limit of 895 words. Thus, I am unable at this time to provide insight into mascots, equipment, sportsmanship – and the spectators who resort to Monday-morning-quarterbacking in lieu of any real athletic prowess. But there is always next season!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.