Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

The chronically sports-impaired


The crack of a bat against a ball. The rising crescendo of the crowd as the striker roars toward the goal. The muted pound of the runners flying down the far side of the track. These are all sounds of spring sports as they turn slowly toward summer, then summer to football, and football to basketball, and basketball to soccer. The sports calendar is part of the liturgical year, sprinkled for good measure with wrestling and tennis and swimming and golf and gymnastics. “For everything there is a season.” Except, of course, for professional basketball, which refuses to end.

And now the summer camps are upon us. Football camps. Basketball camps. Tennis camps. Soccer camps. Wrestling camps. This is big business, for sure, but it is also a way to teach fundamentals and keep kids busy. By the time young adults get out of high school, they know the rules. They know how to play the game. They know a point guard from a right tackle.joes1

Unfortunately, that is not me.

Sports and I took a different path. Listen, I was ready, willing and able to give 110 percent, to win one for the Gipper, to dance under those Friday Night Lights, but I just couldn’t figure out how to dribble, or pass, or hit, or tackle. And my fellow teammates understood this. We had an arrangement. They would let me do my thing in right field — or was it the backcourt? — and I would promise to never touch a ball. It worked, for the most part.

Ah, but becoming a father of child-athletes created another set of problems. When I turned to my wife at a kid’s soccer game and asked, perhaps a bit too loudly, how soon before intermission, she was not alone in rolling her eyes. Goals, touchdowns, baskets, offsides, fouls, penalty box, half court, mid-field, zone press, and even an alley-oop, were a part of my vocabulary. Unfortunately, still confused, I freely used them indiscriminately no matter what sport my kid was playing. This creativity was not appreciated.

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (Nov)

This leads me to my problem. For the last month we have been bombarded with unrelenting news of Fred Hoiberg, his replacement Steve Prohm, the Chicago Bulls, the fate of the Cyclones, coaches’ press conferences, recruiting prospects, and on and on. For those of us who are chronically sports-impaired, this is a nightmare. I remain lost in the wilderness of confusing sport information.

So I turned to a professional for help.

“Let me tell you a story to put your problem in perspective,” says Arlen Ciechanowski with a twinkle.

“I was a fifth-year senior at Iowa State playing offensive tackle for the Cyclones. We were going to play Oklahoma, who eventually became the National Champions that year. Our head coach, Earle Bruce, said we can beat Oklahoma if we follow certain keys to victory. Coach then looks directly at me and says, ‘One key is that Ciechanowski must control Lee Roy Selmon.’ ”

Arlen pauses. He is a big man even at 63 years old. He’s stayed in shape his whole life. A cop. A trainer of cops. And soon to retire as Director of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. He’s a tough guy. But he’s born to the stage. His body begins to revolve and lift and hands go high, as if he was Earle Bruce, imploring great deeds from his boys in the locker room.joes2

“Now Lee Roy Selmon was the Outland Trophy winner the next year, went on to play pro ball, and is now in the NFL Hall of Fame. The three brothers were Lucious, Lee Roy and Dewey. They were a ton. They were tough. Oklahoma always prided themselves on great defense. Lee Roy was making 12 unassisted tackles a game. Some ridiculous amount. He spent more time in the opponent’s backfield than the running backs.”

Of course, I’m wondering what exactly is a running back and what exactly does he run back from?

But I don’t want to interrupt Arlen, who has now risen up in his chair as he grows in stature to portray the magnificent Lee Roy Selmon.

“The first possession we had on offense, Coach Bruce called a dive right off of me. So the running back is going to follow my block. It was picture perfect. I got into Selmon’s chest, I was driving and driving and driving.” Arlen demonstrates, pumping his hands out and back. “I pushed Selmon over into a pile, and our running back went for a 30-yard gain.”

Arlen sits back, blowing out a deep breath. He is surprised to this day at what happened. This was not a fist waving, in your face, pump-it-up moment for young Arlen. This was a recognition that you can sometimes win at Prairie Meadows. And, of course, that you should take your winnings and go home.

“But, Coach Bruce, in his wisdom, thought there was a weakness and called the same play. Lee Roy decided he really didn’t care where the ball went. He was intent on wreaking havoc on me. So, my head flew back as he hit me, and I was pushed two yards into my own backfield as he continued to pummel me.”

Arlen deflates just as he must have on the field. Battered and bruised, he sinks down into his chair, then gradually sits back up.

“I got up slowly and got back in the huddle. Our center, Jeff Jones, comes over and starts tugging on my jersey. ‘Come on, get in the huddle.’ I go, ‘Jeff, I am in the huddle.’ He shakes his head, ‘No, no, you’re in the Oklahoma huddle, Arlen.’ ”

And Arlen laughs at himself, shaking his head at the memory.

So that’s it, I ask? So, the lesson is… if you get hit hard enough, you might end up in the wrong huddle?

Arlen claps me on the back, drapes a large arm around my shoulders, and says, “I have a lot more stories.” CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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