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Mike Lushington copy of Grains of Sand of Nov. 27

    The ongoing controversies in amateur sport, especially those dealing with overzealous parents. have got me thinking about "the good old days." Now those of you who have read this column over the past years will agree, I hope, that I have not spent a great deal of time on nostalgia. I do not do so because I tend to focus on the importance of the present; still, I have always tried to incorporate a sense of the wisdom of the past into my own thinking.

    I was driving back from Bathurst not too long ago. There was yet another item on the radio about the hockey law suit originating from a parent's conviction that his sixteen year old son had been poorly treated by the New Brunswick amateur Ice Hockey Federation. I was half-listening as I drove over the Eel River Bridge and noticed that much of the marsh had a rather firm skim of ice on it. It glistened in the weak early afternoon light, mile after mile of what promised to be perfect natural ice, should the weather hold for a few more days. That triggered an image of a time long past, a time of simplicity which clashed with the discussions over $300 000 lawsuits and the rest of that whole sorry mess on the radio. Abruptly, I shut off the radio and entertained myself for the rest of the drive home with memories.

    I had rushed home from school to grab my skates and head for Lake Banook. This, the largest of the Dartmouth Lakes, had recently frozen over for the winter and the word was out: "Birch cove, right after school, hockey game." Skates and stick (all the equipment I had) in hand, I ran down the hill and through the woods to the lake. I was the first one there, but I knew where someone had left an old shovel so, as soon as I could get my skates on, I grabbed the shovel and began to clear a patch from the previous night's snowfall. Within minutes, several other guys arrived and. in quick order, we had cleared a rink large enough for our game.

    There were four of us by now - enough for a game of two-on-two. And so we started. A couple of minutes later another kid arrived and as I had won the coin toss, he was mine. A couple of girls came along next, and the other captain got to choose first. I didn't mind because I had a bit of a crush on the girl who ended up on my team. Within twenty minutes, we each had teams of about ten players - all of whom played all the time. We had a few rules: no "lifting" the puck or slapshooting (none of us had pads, after all); no hard body checking; no high sticks. When someone scored - which was fairly often because we didn't assign anyone to keep goal - the defending team took the puck from behind the "net" (two blocks of ice) and play resumed from there.

    And so we played, until it was dark, until supper time, until we ran out of energy. I guess we never realized just how badly off we were: we had little equipment, no uniforms, no red or blue lines and boards, no referees, no timers - and no screaming parents exhorting us to decapitate each other. We played - naive kids that we were - because it was fun to do so. Who knew who won those games? Who knew who scored the winning goals? Who knew who was The Most Valuable Player? And who cared?

    I guess that we weren't smart enough to realize what was really important in all of this. We were too busy just being kids, having fun. Too bad: we missed all the excitement of lawsuits, of criminal investigations, and charges of abuse.

    So why do I not feel deprived when I look at a sheet of pure ice and remember how things were,back then when we were too ignorant to know any better?

    Yours sincerely,

Mike Lushington, Dalhousie


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