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Both my loyal readers might recall that I managed to play basketball until I was 54 years old. At this point in my basketball career I was tripping over the lines on the court and the thought of nine other guys coming toward me at a high rate of speed scared the bejeebers out of them and me because I couldn’t get out of their way. Once I realized I was a danger to myself and others I switched to tennis because I had no one to run into but me.

Anyway, I’ve attended a lot of grandkids’ basketball games, like 12 of them last weekend, and thought I’d say something about what’s been really occupying my time. Camryn is a third-grader, Tristan is a sixth-grader, and both their parents coach what’s called a traveling team that plays in weekend tournaments between Bismarck and Mandan.

There have been very few weekends this winter when there weren’t games, so it’s safe to say that most of the winter of 2019 was spent watching kids from the third through sixth grade play their hearts out. I should add here that I can still remember the first basket I ever made, a punga from the free-throw line in 1954.

Back then we weren’t allowed to play any league/school/rec sponsored ball until we were in the sixth grade, so we played playground/alley/driveway basketball until then. The games were pretty serious; everyone got to play because a game went to 10; the losers stepped out and the winners stayed in until they lost.

This time of year the best court in our neighborhood was Hoenig’s Funeral Home (Weigel today) because the driveway around the garage was huge. The garage not only held the hearse but the city’s ambulance and other cars. Yes, there were a few times we had to wait until old man Hoenig pulled out or into the driveways but he was always nice enough to leave us room to play.

During the winter we all looked forward to Saturdays when Peanuts (Leo) Stumpf would open up the high school gym for us. He was our gym teacher and an excellent example of a servant leader, but that’s another story.

For those of you who weren’t there last weekend my count of the tourney indicates that there were 124 teams playing, so at 10 kids per team, at least two couches, and numerous family fans there were well over 1,500 people attending the two-day tourney. The fun part is that teams come from all over; I sat next to the Mombas from Canada, kids from Killdeer, Halliday, New Town, Williston, Minot and numerous places in between. The gyms were full, the crowds contained mostly family, and as you may know when personal attachments engage the air seems to fill with electricity as they watch their progeny scramble up and down the court.

A basket is met with cheers, you can feel the groan of an air ball or bad pass travel along the side ines. Then there’s the “Wow, did you see that?”or the “Come on ref!” or the pride that exudes with a “Yep, that one’s mine!” smile. But you have to be there to appreciate it, and engaging kids in such activities is a really good thing to do.

Sports teach kids so much about themselves and the world around them. It takes effort and discipline when striving to better yourself, teamwork teaches you how to meld many into one, and to me there’s nothing more important in life than leaving this place better off than we found it, so tourneys like these sure seem to be pointing kids in the right direction.

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Dan Ulmer is a parent, grandparent, as well as a retired teacher, counselor, politician, lobbyist, public employee, nonprofit 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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