Back in my youth, which consumed most of the ’50s and ’60s, life was a bit different for kids than it is today. This was confirmed while I attended a couple of my grandkids' basketball games.

First off, there wasn’t nearly as much organized stuff as there is today. As I recall, our organized sports consisted of peewee baseball and Saturday morning open gym. The interesting part is that both of these were put together by Peanuts (Leo) Stumpf, a physical education teacher. Peanuts volunteered his time, and every Saturday morning he’d open up the high school gym for any kid who wanted to show up. Most days the gym was packed with kids and all of us thought very highly of Mr. Stumpf.

Our organized sports really didn’t get underway until the fifth grade, when we could join a school-sponsored basketball league or play flag football. Once we got to high school we could go out for varsity sports or join intramural teams that Peanuts put together.

Outside of those offerings we made up our own stuff. For instance, in my neighborhood there were over 30 kids who lived in a four-block area and we always seemed to find something to do, even if it was stuff that our parents prohibited. It wasn’t uncommon to spend our evenings playing kick the can or "ditchens."

This involved choosing teams where one would hide and the other would seek. The goal was to catch all of the other team members so the teams could switch positions. As members of the hiding team were caught they were held prisoner around the can, and if a hider was able to sneak in and kick the can the captives were all set free. As you can imagine, the hiders would get quite creative, like hiding in neighbors' cars, front porches, gardens, bushes, dumpsters, etc. As well, it wasn’t uncommon for some disgruntled neighbor to call the police, which not only caused all of us to run and hide but usually ended the game for the evening.

Then we took up tossing snowballs and water balloons at passing motorists, which also allowed us to get to know the police by name because driving up the 700 and 800 blocks of Northwest First Street became a gantlet and it didn’t go over very well with any of our parents. But that was also back in the day when the police would catch us and just take us home, where they knew our parents would handle the situation better than the police could.

Anyway, there I was at the basketball games, and as you can tell, I couldn’t help but think about the organized opportunities kids have today. Kids today are able to engage in this stuff at a much younger age; it seems to me that my kids and grandkids start in kindergarten and are able to play until they graduate from high school. The upside is that most of these sports are lifetime sports and that’s a good thing. Better yet, it seems to me that organized sports don’t seem to engage law enforcement as much as our activities did.

So thanks to those folks who are willing to give their time and talents to these kids and their families as it’s my considered opinion that their efforts will most likely leave this place better off than they found it. But then again "ditchins" was really fun until we got caught. Here’s hoping that no child is left out of these opportunities.

Dan Ulmer is a parent, grandparent, as well as a retired teacher, counselor, politician, lobbyist, public employee, non-profit executive and opinionated citizen who believes that we need to do what we can to leave the world better off than we found it.

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