Summer Rec: What a concept
Across South Dakota, towns are running summer recreation programs these days to make sure young people fill their school vacation with healthy activities and positive experiences.
Beyond the organized summer rec programs, I know many communities have semi-organized open gyms and the like for older kids who want to stay sharp and work on skills they'll need to play basketball or volleyball or some other school sport once the fall term begins. That's a good thing, too, although when our younger son was high-school age and intent on play for the Pierre Governors' varsity basketball team, I sometimes thought the number of weekend tournaments and the distances traveled was a bit ambitious. ("But if we don't go to six team camps, we won't keep up with Mitchell,'' or Aberdeen, or Watertown or Yankton or whichever conference team was at the top that year. As a parent, I couldn't let my kid fall behind, could I?)
I don't know when the concept of summer rec came about. Maybe it existed in some form when I was in grade school. If so, I didn't get to take advantage of it. Town kids, the lucky ones, got to play organized baseball. They had things called Junior-Juniors, Legion and maybe something else. Several of my friends played. They'd practice a few afternoons each week and play a game a week or so. I guess they played against nearby towns, but I wouldn't know. I was either on a tractor mowing hay or in a grain truck following the combine around a wheat field most of a summer.
There is this about being a kid on the farm in the summer: It was a good way to stay in top physical condition. Looking back, I recall eating about five giant meals every single day and never gaining weight. Obesity wasn't a big problem for a young guy with a pitchfork in his hand and 320 acres of cut alfalfa waiting to be stacked.
The first honest-to-goodness swimming pool came to Chamberlain when I was in fifth grade. My town friends spent entire days there, diving and cannon-balling into the clear water and lying on thick towels on the rough concrete around the pool. They all took swimming lessons, and they all seemed to learn several different styles of swimming, as well as some techniques on the springboard.
I envied them tremendously, both because of their ease around the water and for the deep, deep tans they developed. Me, I had the typical farmer's tan, back of the neck burned nearly black and lower arms baked a medium brown that ended where the rolled-up sleeves of my cotton work shirt started. I learned to swim by myself, somehow, in the murky water of a mud-bottomed stock dam, splashing wildly among frogs and water snakes. I was motivated by stories of dads tossing sons into the water and telling them to swim for shore. At the shore, the sun-dried, hoof-rutted earth did nothing to encourage a guy to spread a towel and catch some rays.
Along toward sunset some warm evenings, my dad sometimes would hit baseballs to me out in the farm yard. I didn't mind the fly balls, even when I misjudged them, but the grounders had a way of taking bad hops off every tire rut in the place. It was a tricky business, fielding out there, but it was awfully nice of my dad to take time he could have been resting and use it to entertain me. Left to my own devices, I shot baskets at the hoop fastened to the REA pole or ran quarter-miles up the dirt lane, pretending I was on an actual cinder track.
It worked out fine for me, but now and then I kind of wish I'd had a chance at summer rec.