Spring officially started last month on the calendar, but it was just an arbitrary day. Now, however, the severe weather pattern has begun and everything has actually turned green and bloomed. Now spring is actually here.
Fields of wildflowers. A canopy of green trees. Warm sunshine that burns away the weight on my spirit. Spring is here.
I actually really love winter. So many celebrations and good excuses to curl up under a blanket. It can be stressful, too, but so can a lot of other things throughout the year. But, wow, there is something about spring that makes me feel like I can breathe again–which is ironic considering my seasonal allergies.
Spring also brings with it other things I enjoy. My son started his first season of baseball. This week he played in his first game. He had an absolute blast. I’m always so careful not to push him into things just because I like them, but when he asks to try something new I try not to say no if we can afford it. He gets so excited about every practice and this week, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when the game ended. Trying to get him calm enough to go to bed after that was a lost cause, but it was worth it to see the joy exuding from his whole body. I hope it remains just as fun and exciting by the end of the season in June.
Warmer weather–that will be unbearably hot soon enough, but we’ll enjoy it while it lasts–also means more afternoons at the park, trips out to the lake, picnics in the sunshine, grilling out, lightning bugs, and all the gorgeous colors nature has to offer.
This past weekend, the first home games of the season were played at the newly renovated Polk Dement Stadium at Dudy Noble Field. That’s a lot of names for someone unfamiliar. It’s the name of the field and the stadium where Mississippi State University plays baseball. All those names pay tribute to people who helped make our baseball program what it is today. Just the same, most of us shorten the name to “the Dude”.
The Dude got a makeover. Cue the flirty pop song montage. Just kidding. But, truly, our baseball stadium, perennially voted one of the best in the country, got a whole world of upgrades in the offseason. Well, the past two offseasons. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You might ask why we improved a stadium that is storied throughout college baseball fandom. The answer is that in Mississippi we love baseball and we love barbecue. We have perfected one, so we must turn our attention to the other.
To get an idea of what the atmosphere is like at an MSU baseball game, we hold the single game, on-campus attendance record. We also hold the top four Super Regional attendance records. When I say we love baseball, I mean half the state will put on their colors, travel to the stadium, and come sweat, sunburn, or double-header will cheer on our beloved Bulldogs. My son thinks the picture I have of him holding a foul ball in his tiny little hands was taken at his first game. The truth is he attended several while he was still in the womb. A girl’s gotta go see her Dawgs.
Back in the 1960s, many stadium upgrades ago, it was common for people to drive trucks around behind the outfield and park. They’d sit on their tailgates and watch the game. Over time, people also started bringing grills and ice chests. They’d parade in until the lot filled up and the rest would be turned away. They’d cook, drink, and watch baseball. When the game was over, they’d pack it all up and go home. It was a tradition.
Sometime in the next decade, an “unfortunate” event occurred when one post-game tailgater couldn’t get his truck to start. Left with few options, he decided to leave the vehicle where it was overnight and deal with it the next day–after the game, of course. By default, this sort of reserved his spot for the next day’s game and people took notice. Others began leaving their vehicles in their spots. Some even towed in trucks that no longer functioned to leave them there all season. The Left Field Lounge was born.
Over the years, instead of fighting the crowds tooth and nail, the university established a set of rules to regulate the Lounge and keep everyone safe. Eventually, bringing in a lounge rig became part of a parade that marked the start of each season. By the time I attended the university in the mid-to-late 2000s, the university built a permanent boardwalk around the back of the outfield fence to better serve the Lounge crowd.
This year, the Lounge looks a bit different. In one area, the largest video board in college baseball looms over the seats just past the wall. And there are now loft apartments overlooking Left Field. The nostalgic side of me hates to see it all change, but the baseball fan in me is in awe. More than one former player for the Bulldogs has commented that when a player graduates from MSU and goes on to play professional ball, they need to be prepared for a downgrade in facilities.
Monday night the NCAA College Football National Championship game was played. And, at the risk of sounding like Anna from Frozen, for the first time in forever I didn’t watch. We recently ditched traditional TV service in order to save money. We like to watch live sports, but pretty much everything else we watch is through a streaming service these days anyway. And our internet package affords us access to several big sporting events, so we’re covered for now. We might have to revisit our options before next Fall, but we’ll see. The point is, I could have watched the game, but I didn’t.
It was the same ol’ teams, playing the same ol’ match-up. To be fair, I did read the recap and even get some live updates during the game so I know that it wasn’t actually just “same ole, same ole” all night. But I was very busy and not altogether upset over missing it. That was a new feeling for me. Even when my oldest child was born and I was knee deep in hormone changes, new infant insomnia, and new parent panic I still watched most of the game. Maybe next year.
A lot of my friends, especially the writers I know, have different interests from me. They don’t watch or follow “the sportsball”. Totally fine. I don’t judge. We’re allowed to have different passions. In fact, it means we bring different things to the table. I value that. But I also realize that there has been a lot of talk about using sports and/or holidays to make your fictional world/culture feel more real and true. How are you supposed to build a believable sport when you don’t like sports to begin with? Where do you start?
It might help to start with the history of a game that already exists. Sports didn’t appear out of the ether one day with complete rulebooks and defined playing surfaces. Each game we know and love has evolved in some way or another, and many continue to do so in small ways. Looking at that evolution could be helpful while trying to build a fictional sport. So let’s jump in with some examples.
10 things about the history of college football (American football, that is).
American Football as we know it today evolved from a game commonly played in Britain called “mob football”. The same game is also the precursor to rugby and was mentioned as far back at the 9th century. Versions of this original game are still played at special events in parts of the United Kingdom.
While mob football became a more organized tradition at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) first, it was also part of a traditional at Harvard that began in 1827 when the sophomore class challenged the freshmen to a game. This became known as Bloody Monday and was an annual tradition until 1860 when university officials and local police banned it due to violence.
The first intercollegiate game was November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. There still wasn’t a formalized set of rules, and the game was often played differently from school to school, so the team captains came together to decide which rules to play by. A round ball was used and the field and number of players were both considerably larger than they are today.
Walter Camp played at Yale in the late 1870s and was instrumental in formalizing the rules. He reduced the accepted number of players per team on the field from 15 to 11 (1880 – though this would officially change once more before returning to eleven), reduced the size of the playing field to the current 120 yards (1881), created the line of scrimmage, and adjusted the scoring rules and points awarded. And for those of you who don’t follow the game and are asking “But I thought the field was only 100 yards,” you aren’t crazy. However, each endzone is ten yards. Two endzones+field of play=120 yards.
Officials were not mandated (or paid) for games until 1887 when two became the requirement. We commonly call them all referees, but that’s not accurate. A referee is only one member of a team of officials who all have different roles. This is true for most sports, but it’s just easier to angrily scream “Hey, REF!” than it is to keep that same angered tone for “Hey, Line Judge!”
The new, more organized game spread from schools in the East, to the Midwest, and then to the South by 1873. It would travel to the Southwest and then the Pacific coast by 1888. However, the game was still very violent by nature and between 1890 and 1905, 330 players died on the field or as a result of their injuries. The game was banned at many colleges around the country. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a fan of the game and had sons who played, met with leaders from several schools to find a solution. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was the solution. In 1910 it would be retitled the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is still the governing body over collegiate sports.
As the sport grew in popularity and more schools began to play, groups of schools began to form conferences to better govern the game on more regional levels. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the conferences represented in Monday’s game, are both descendants of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Alabama and Clemson (the two teams from Monday’s game) were both charter members (so was my alma mater, Mississippi State then known as Mississippi A&M). The SIAA boasted the first accepted forward pass, the first game decided by a field goal, some of the first trick plays, John Heisman, and Pop Warner.
While the SIAA claims the first ever forward pass in 1895, the forward pass wasn’t technically legal in the game until 1906. The game sometimes evolved faster than the official rules.
The most lopsided victory in college football history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland in 1916 with a score of 222-0. That’s not a typo.
“Modern Era” college football has more or less been the same since 1958. However, meetings are held each year at both the conference and national levels to discuss rule changes and adjustments and reassess any changes from the previous years. Most of these are minor, but the sport continues to evolve, especially when it comes to player safety.
I’m not going to lie, being both a geek and a sports fan I could keep going on this for a while. Lucky for all of you, this is clearly a “10 Things on the 10th” situation so I must stop. Hopefully, though, this shows you how sports come into being and gives you some ideas for what sports in your fictional world might look like.
And if not then at least you have some new tidbits for your next trivia night. You’re welcome.
At the beginning of the summer, I had grand writing plans. I would sit out in the backyard whilst my children splashed around in our little inflatable kiddie pool or ran through the sprinklers and I would write. Plot holes would get filled, edits would get finished, new stories would blossom.
None of that happened. I’m not the writer version of June Cleaver.
No, our summer consisted of water play, baseball games (of the minor league variety mostly), yelling at the World Cup on TV, trips to see family at the beach or the lake, and a lot of exhaustion. It’s August and I promise that if you let you me, I could sleep until October.
Alas, my nap is not to be. We started a new adventure today. One that will dominate our schedule for the next couple of months, but one that we’re excited about. My four-year-old attended his very first soccer practice.
That’s right, ladies and gents. I’m a soccer mom. A full-fledged, SUV drivin’, uniform cleanin’, family calendar coordinatin’, picture takin’, loud cheerin’ soccer mom. And I have zero shame.
My son begged to play soccer from the moment the sign went up in the city park declaring that sign-ups had begun and you only had to be four to play. Because he can read now, so even if I wanted to ignore those signs and keep walking, he knows.
He begged to play soccer. And, to be honest, he didn’t have to twist my arm or my husband’s either. We let him sign up. And all summer he has been pumped up for this moment. He has played soccer in our front yard at every opportunity–though at four that consists mostly of him dribbling the ball across the yard and then flinging himself down in the grass just for kicks.
But today, he got to practice. He got a jersey, met his team, and ran drills. This kid could not be more thrilled. The unadulterated joy in his eyes would make the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes.
Before we ever left the house, while I was helping him get on his shin guards, his socks, and his cleats, we had a chat. I told him that just because Mama and Daddy like soccer doesn’t mean he has to. If he doesn’t have fun, that’s okay. If he doesn’t like to play, that’s okay. If he loves it, that’s wonderful too, but I would love him either way. Whether he was the best player out there or the worst one on the team, it would not change how much I love him.
He nodded and gave me a hug. And then asked if it was time to leave yet.
Practice went about how you would expect for a team of four- and five-year-olds. There was a lot of tripping, short attention spans, and at least two children stopping midfield to turn and say “Mom! I have to go potty!” In other words, it was adorable. It was also a bajillion degrees, but it was adorable.
In the car on the way home, my child re-capped every moment as if his father and I hadn’t been on the field with him the whole time. He had a blast. But being his mother, I needed full, unequivocal, indisputable confirmation.
“Does that mean you had a good time?”
“Mama, I really really loved it!”
The amazement and wonder in his voice, the reverence–it elicited more emotion from me than I expected. So, that’s it. My fate is sealed. I’m a soccer mom. I might as well buy a sticker family for my car and start monogramming sports bags.
My MMA instructor has been more than my teacher. He’s been a mentor and a friend for the last few years. He has a great life story that I’ll share with you someday, with his permission of course. He’s a great guy. He retired recently, and I’m happy for him, but I’m also sad to see him go.
I met Don several years ago when I first attended a community group for moms. I was a new mother and feeling a lot like I had lost control of life. He came to give us all a few quick pointers in self-defense, and in general talk about how to be safer as we cart our kids all over town. I was skeptical at first. After all, I knew the basic rules of self-defense already, what could he really add to that in the span of the ninety minutes he was given? It turned out, a lot.
At the end of that meeting, I was amazed at some of the things he taught me. I could do it. I could throw a grown man to the ground without breaking a sweat. It was empowering. It was also a little embarrassing because during the demonstration he had me demonstrate a strike and I ended up punching him square in the chest. He ended up smiling at me and talking to me about joining his class. I’m glad I did. Even back then, his particular brand of catharsis broke through even my post-partum new baby haze.
Over the next few years, Don taught me concepts and moves from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Krav Maga, Kung Fu, and several others. But it wasn’t just the moves I loved, it was what they meant to me.
My biological mother was killed when I was a small child. Murder. When I was only eleven years old, a stranger propositioned me outside of my local grocery store and I had to retreat into the store where I found a friend’s mother in order to escape him. It was not the last time it happened. It was also not the worst. I learned at a very young age that safety is an illusion.
But in Don’s class, I learned something new. I’m powerful. My short and admittedly stocky body can take down men twice my size. I have the sparring record to prove it. He empowered me with his teachings. I grew more confident in myself because I became aware of what I could do–what I was capable of.
Eventually, Don began inviting me to assistant teach his all-female youth classes. He wanted an adult female present in the class for obvious reasons, but he also wanted them to see that strength and power comes in all shapes and sizes. I helped him finish up a class less than a week before my second child was born. He was sure to be careful with what he had me doing and teaching, but it was great to be able to show the students that even at nine months pregnant, I could kick butt.
He also often had his daughter come to classes to help out. She’s a teenager and has been training with him since she was four. Believe me when I say that girl has a future as a superhero. She is legit. The two of them have also helped get my oldest child started training.
I’m happy for Don, that he is taking a step back and spending more time with his family. He has worked hard all his life. He still has two other jobs, actually. The man doesn’t know how to sit still. I’m glad he is able, though, to take more time to be at home. I will still miss him.
Oh, I have his number and he has invited me to call him up to arrange gym days now and again. But it won’t be our constant schedule anymore. It won’t be the same.
I haven’t found a new instructor or class yet. I have trouble believing I will find one that I’ll relish quite as much. And it won’t be the same. But time marches on, and so must I. I suppose after the holiday, I’ll begin checking out new options. It’s time to start fresh and bid the old adieu.
I thoroughly enjoy learning self-defense through mixed martial arts. Teaching it to newer students is even more fun. I’m both student and teacher, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I was a child, my father taught me the very basic concepts for self-defense. He worried. Rightly so, since his wife, my biological mother, had died and he was a single father–which he would remain until I was a teenager. I was the youngest of four children. He knew he couldn’t follow us around to keep us safe, so he taught us what he could about protecting ourselves.
With a beginning like that, you probably expect me to say that I started karate classes at eight and have my belts proudly displayed in my home today. But that didn’t happen. In fact, it would be years before I learned anything beyond the basic lessons my father taught me.
When I was in middle school a family down the street owned a kickboxing studio in town. They were the first step in my journey. They had a son one year my junior and a daughter one year my senior. Waiting for the school bus in the morning, we would goof around and I began to learn from them. It didn’t take long for me to want to learn more.
Unfortunately, we moved before I got to high school. It would be a number of years before I cared to pursue anything of that nature again. In fact, it wasn’t until after my eldest son was born that I got really involved in mixed martial arts. I attended a special moms group to try to meet other mothers in my area. I loved it and still attend it to this day. A few months in, we had a guest speaker come talk to us about some simple self-defense techniques that could help keep us, and by extension our children, safer. The speaker offered to start a class for those of us who wanted to know more.
So here we are, four years later and that speaker is now my mentor. Though, we both laugh that we’re more like family now. I still take his class every week. And when he teaches classes to newer, especially younger (and yes, that is a distinction), students, I help teach as well. We work together to teach my children, too.
I don’t know everything there is to know. I don’t know every technique. But I love learning. And I love teaching others. There is something about MMA that I didn’t get with other sports. I played basketball, ran track, and eventually played soccer. But when I spar and have to be aware of what my body is capable of with every move toward my opponent, it’s empowering in a way that nothing else has been.
Truthfully, if you were to look at me as I walked down the street you would never guess that my main hobby is MMA. I’ll be honest that my body type wouldn’t give that away. And yet, if you see me on the mats in class, you might not want to spar with me. I don’t say that to be arrogant, but more to point out that you don’t have to be shaped like a superhero to start training.
I had lessons here and there, but my training began as an adult. Moreover, my training began while I was desperately trying (and, honestly, failing) to lose the baby weight after giving birth. I trained, with caution, all through my second pregnancy. In fact, I was helping teach a kids’ class less than a week before I went into labor. There are students in class with me who joined in their 40s or 50s. My mentor’s teenaged daughter is also in class with us. She began her training at 4. Yes, she’s better than me. A lot better. I’m in no way ashamed to admit that.
The point is, it’s never too late to start. You don’t have to wait until you’re in shape. You don’t have to wait until you’ve established a gym routine (it’s a workout on its own, I assure you). And you didn’t miss your window because you aren’t a teenager anymore.
You can start any time. You should. It’s fun and empowering. It’s cathartic, too. How many other hobbies let you take out your frustrations by punching a training dummy in the face repeatedly? I highly recommend it.