March madness is again upon us so we're being bombarded by images of basketball in all its various incarnations. It's difficult to avoid and I have to admit that I'm pretty much enjoying it, but strangely enough I sometimes find my thoughts turning to — rock and roll?
I was watching my young grandson playing basketball the other day, and I couldn't help thinking about how much some things have changed. He plays in a church-sponsored youth league, and the games are held at the church's huge annex building that was built just for that type of thing. Along with various other rooms and offices, the building encompasses an enormous gymnasium that has FOUR basketball floors, each with bleachers and electronic scoreboards.
Before the games, a mob of relatives and family friends file into the place and fill the seats to overflowing. When it's time to start, the overhead lights are replaced by flashing colored strobes, and smoke flows across the floor. Then a spotlight focuses on a big door that's lined on both sides by pint-sized cheerleaders. The players emerge one at a time, and as they're announced on the PA system they run across the floor waving their arms and acknowledging the cheers.
Please understand that I'm not here to criticize, because I understand that this is what's needed to catch and hold the attention of today's kids, who see this kind of thing almost everywhere they go. But I can't help contrasting it with a simpler time.
When I was just a little older than my grandson, I was a member of a scout troop that met weekly in the basement of a church, a solid three-story structure that had been around for a while but was still in pretty good shape. After every meeting we'd race up three flights of stairs (wish I could still do that) to get to the top floor, which contained a basketball court.
It was unheated, so we could see our breath in cold weather, but I still remember how much fun we had in those informal games. In fact, we had so much fun that our scoutmaster – who served as referee – soon began to realize that we were rushing through the meeting every week, just so we could get upstairs and play basketball. He applied the brakes to that notion, but we still had fun.
Of course, we had to play in our socks because that's the way it was — no street shoes allowed. Never mind that the floor was in such bad shape that you couldn't dribble in a straight line (not that we could anyway). And it probably hadn't been refinished in decades so the varnish was non-existent in spots, but that didn't matter either. The rule was that you didn't step on the floor in regular shoes.
A few years later, I ran into an offshoot of the no-shoes rule — the high-school 'sock hop'. Although school dances were nothing new, the rising popularity of rock and roll seemed to coincide with the appeal of less formal events, and the school gym became the center of the social whirl. A lot of the music of the time even related directly to the event — the best-known probably "At The Hop," by Danny and the Juniors.
I wasn't much at dancing, but if you wanted to socialize you went to the sock hops, and that meant you had to take off your shoes.
I soon learned that you had to be sure to have good socks on. Nothing could be more embarrassing than having a hole and seeing your big toe sticking out. Our school even had occasional informal sock hops on the lunch hour, so a guy always had to know the state of his socks. (Not a bad motto for life, come to think of it.)
But times change. After my grandson's recent basketball game the floor was swarming with people, and nobody had taken off their shoes. Whether it's because the floor finishes are tougher these days or because most people wear soft-soled shoes, the fact is that it's no longer even thought about. But as for me, I still had a problem with it. I just knew that if I stepped over that line, a voice would boom from the loudspeaker, "Would the bald geezer with the nervous look on his face please remove his shoes?"