COLUMN: New game, no rules

This is my Sunday column for the Sept. 30, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired Saturday on “Between You and Me” on KAXE/KBXE Northern Community Radio.

New game, no rules
By Aaron J. Brown

One spring morning a few years ago the residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood in Hibbing woke up to see the words “Your Mom Smokes the Pole” spray painted on the warming shack at the ice rink.

I don’t know much about hockey, but I have to assume this defacement was some sort of hockey reference. It’s really a shame how uneducated our youth are these days. Even I know the frame of a hockey goal is often referred to as “the pipe” not “the pole.” What the kids really should have written was “Your Mom Pucks the Pipe.” Kids, get it right!

OK, so I’m kidding. Terrible graffiti. Very inappropriate. But when life hands you inappropriate lemons, you make inappropriate lemonade. Some friends of our used to live right behind the Brooklyn ice rink and playground and this event occurred just prior to a large annual party they always held. Several of us went down to the field to play catch and noticed the vandalism.

Don’t ask me how it happened, but somehow a volleyball ended up down on the field with us. We began kicking the ball around before someone let loose a booming shot off the warming shack, reminding us all of the unseemly message posted on the side. Naturally, we all enjoyed a good laugh over this wanton act of civic disobedience, which I must stress is very inappropriate and should not be condoned under any circumstances. Somebody had a bottle of the famous Slovenian plum liquor called slivovitz at the party. That surely could not have helped.

And in this moment, white-hot ethnic beverage fueled energy created a blend of kickball, dodge ball and cricket that we named after the unfortunate message on the wall of the warming shack. (To preserve what little good taste I have we shall call it YMSTP Ball here on).

It works like this. YMSTP involves lots of people but has no teams. Each individual player gets a turn “at bat” and in that moment everyone else is out to get them. The pitcher rolls the ball and they kick it. After that only two outcomes are possible. Either they get to the warming shack untouched or they are beaned or tagged with the ball by any of the other players. Everyone takes turns and when it gets dark and/or when the slivovitz runs out whoever has the most points is, well, I guess “the winner,” or something.

By now most sports fans have rendered their opinion on a botched call by the replacement referees in the final seconds of the Sept. 24, Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. The event was so catastrophic that it even got famous union-buster Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to demand that the NFL deal with their union referees in good faith. We were one late hit on Aaron Rodgers from seeing Walker out on the picket line shouting “No justice, no peace!”

But there is a reason an entire country can show outrage over a football game (when they are seemingly unable to sustain anger over cuts to schools or … well, anything not related to football). The reason is that people by and large understand the rules.

In YMSTP Ball the rules are ever-changing. The concept — kicking a ball and running — is simple enough, but it’s hard to argue about minute sub-sections of the rule book when there is no rule book and anything from wind conditions to a passing police car can change the rules.

Rules are important. But sometimes the play is even more important than the rules.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor on the Iron Range. He writes and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations. The next live broadcast will be Saturday, Oct. 20, from Eveleth.

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