All Points West: Finding so many ways to compete
     2016-05-06      By Frank Marquez    editor@geringcitizen.com
The spirit of competition, it seems to exist everywhere, and in a variety of forms. You wonder how some sports were invented or why.

Growing up in a house full of boys in the 1970s, with parents telling us to get out of their hair, there was no shortage of simple games from cards to wrestling matches to establishing a pecking order and confirming bragging rights – no different from the days of early human beings wandering the plains. For early man, it was about survival – jousting from horses, bows and arrows, knights lopping off heads, stuck by a sword? Yeah, that’s OK, we’ll keep that tucked away in history. I’d prefer not to go back in time.

Today, it’s about tapping into the same primal instinct to work out differences, establish order, or maybe it’s simply to have some fun, outside-of-the-mainstream fun. Yet, the shape of recreational sports competition, if you can call it that, has changed, dramatically.

One of my favorite memories is of going to gym class, normally something kids would dread unless it was something fun. Gering High School physical education teacher Don Goos would on occasion surprise us. After first period, murmurs would spread throughout school. There would be pauses of disbelief. Some of us would be anxious to find out, hustling without running, while others of us continued our normal pace down the glass-sided hallway from the main building to the gym. There they were in all their glory. It was like finding gold. Round, red, textured for grip, sitting on racks, and Goos telling us he pulled those balls out of the supply closet by mistake. They weren’t for us, but we knew better. This was a day for dodge ball, but unlike the popular movie starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, it didn’t involve $50,000 or a comedy tinted battle between good and evil, Average Joes and Globo-Gym. Very simply, if you were struck by a ball and it hit the floor, you were out, and that might be your only chance of hurling a ball at someone. It felt so good. Just ask anyone who played.

Before all the heated action though, getting on the right team was an instant worry for most of us. Most matches lasted mere minutes. Extending the game, by catching a ball, which would return a player who was previously ousted to the game, was by pure chance or miracle. Before the start of the match, players lined up at either end of the court, with the harmless balls sitting in the middle. When Goos blew his whistle, it started a mad stampede toward the balls. Kids were lucky to survive the initial onslaught. Balls were cast in every direction. The contest continued until the last player stood. Watching the clock, we wanted to play on. Gym class would pass by in a poof.

If I didn’t get my fix there...

During free time, my friends and I trotted down to Classic Lanes in south Gering to lob a few bowling balls. Special shoes spray cleaned, uncertainty about scoring, and slippery floors made me think twice about the challenges of successfully getting a strike, but knocking over 10 pins isn’t easy, especially when a 10-pound spinning ball travels like Dwight Gooden’s curve ball.
With just the right touch, you can hit that sweet spot, just to the right of the head pin. Without it, my best scores ended up in the double digits, a mere average in the 70s. At 14, it’s not the kind of feat that impresses girls. Even watching Earl Anthony on the PBA Tour and the sport’s first millionaire wasn’t enough to improve my technique.

If things weren’t working out on the lanes, my friends and I found solace in taking on a machine. At first, playing pinball with all its flashing lights, bells and sound effects seemed cool. Even a Who song titled “Pinball Wizard” made it seem like the thing to do. The electro-mechanical game was released in 1931 with options for legs, after being invented by the Bally Corporation’s Raymond Maloney. The first versions included a payout, instead of just running up the score, and getting extra playing time. And working the flippers required decent hand-eye coordination. The best things about playing pin ball? It only cost a quarter, and was a good way to stretch a $5 monthly allowance.

Little did we know this was the advent of video games. At first, there was Pong, an arcade game – a sort of digital tennis match – made by Atari which we could play on TV in the comfort of our own homes sitting on our own couches. Get the picture? Seeing our friends still drew us out of the house, down to the street to Classic, to feed quarters into more and more arcade games, Pac Man and Space Invaders was as far as I got. Years later, I put in a few months-worth of Doom with the help of a subscription to AmericaOnline, and EA Sports NCAA Football, which could pit Nebraska’s top teams against other college greats in a fantasy format. Now there is a Major League Gaming organization connected to Play Station, not to mention the company’s rivalry with Xbox, which rakes in not millions but hundreds of millions in sales, but latest sales reports say the video era is starting to wane.
Let’s hope. And, don’t get me started on the Internet.

I wasn’t sucked in. The controls? Too complex for this old-school guy.

Then, I remembered Goos’ classes and dodge ball. The couch?
Forget it.

My wife Lisa reminded me, if nothing else, there’s a melon eating contest at Oregon Trail Days.

Oh wait, that’s for kids.

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