Smart or Not

Congratulations to Dave Smart and his basketball Carleton Ravens on their tenth national championship in twelve years. How does he get away with it ?
Being so un-Canadian, I mean. Watching him on the sidelines, still ranting at his team with a minute left and an insurmountable lead on the scoreboard. I guess he was absent from class the day his course in ‘The Modern Canada’ was teaching leadership.
How we aren’t supposed to demand excellence anymore. Everyone wins a prize for ‘Participation’ even if they missed more than half the classes. Winning doesn’t matter, never raise your voice and let’s not have any rough-housing here. You’ll get a penalty if by chance you wander into anyone else’s ‘personal space.’
Which is why I feel a kinship with Dave Smart. Without the success, winning record, accolades and recognition, of course. But he is me back in the early sixties when I first fell in love with sports.
In 1962 when kids still played unorganized sports on their front lawns I was roped into playing a game of tackle football with kids up to four and five years my senior. I didn’t know the rules, had never played before in fact, but I was soon plowing into the bigger, older kids with reckless abandon. In fact, I believe I suffered my first concussion on that day. I felt woozy for a good part of the game after having the bigger, older kids’ knees continually ram into my head. The antidote for such mishaps was simple in those days, however. The doctor would tell your parents to wake you up every couple of hours during the night. I guess that if they saw you looked like Jack Nicholson after receiving his lobotomy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ they were supposed to do something about it. What, exactly, was never said. I guess that is why I now have trouble remembering people’s names even after working with them for several years. But the successful result of that afternoon was that one of the older kids’ father was watching part of the game from his living room window. He happened to be the head of the Beaconsfield Minor Hockey Association and he liked my spunk. He phoned my father the next day and offered to let me play minor hockey when I was only six. In those days in Montreal you had to be eight before signing up for what was called the Mosquito division. I guess they suffered from the delusion that things worked out better if the kid actually wanted to do what his parents were signing him up for. It was body contact in those days and as a six year old I would be playing against other boys who were eight and nine. In those days no girls were allowed of course.
My father wasn’t convinced, however. Without asking me what I thought and getting into a discussion with a six year old about what was best for him, he told Mr. Roy the hockey director that I should wait one more year.
Dad took me to the outdoor rink that December when I was seven for my first game. He was still laughing till the day he died nearly fifty years later about how the only memorable thing I did that day was take a shot on my own net. That’s about all I can remember him saying about my hockey career. It was better than the stories he recounted to everyone about my musical talent, however. After a year of guitar lessons, Dad was convinced the only song I could successfully play was ‘Jingle Bells’. He was an orphan who was brought up in the Depression and he never read any instructional parent manuals on how you were supposed to praise everything your little wonder child did.
Not that kids needed constant praise. Those were the baby boom years and there were too many of us for anyone to keep track of anyway. We lived beside a cul-de-sac, a dead end street that became the mecca for all the neighbourhood kids. There were games of road hockey until June and then baseball took over. We played soccer on grass however, because when you fell the pavement always made your knees bleed for some reason.
I played every game as if it was overtime in the Stanley Cup final. I’d yell and scream and actually fight my teammates if I didn’t think they were playing hard enough. “Those kids will never come back here,” my mother used to warn me. Actually the only kid who gave me trouble was Terry, my younger brother by two years. He used to say he had to go in and get a drink of water and then he’d never return. After fifteen minutes I would rush in and find him watching ‘Johnny Jellybean’ on t.v. After letting him get away with this delinquent behavior several times I finally wised up. When Terry would head for the house with his wussy excuses about drinking water I would lead my playmates in a serenade of chanting “suck, suck, baby, baby”. It didn’t prevent Terry from seldom finishing a game with us but he often did exact revenge. He would hide behind the front door until I was called in for supper, whereupon he would jump on my back and start pounding me with his bony little fists.
Years later when I was actually coaching community and then high school sports my methods had become much more refined, as anyone who has seen me in action will attest. I did manage to get thrown out of games, well, sometimes. I remember one incident in a high school game in Fenelon Falls, Ontario. My wife was forced to be on bedrest because of complications with her pregnancy with our third child. I was coaching the high school team in the body contact division, the head coach of one son’s team in minor hockey as well as the assistant on my other son’s team. I was also playing three or four times a week myself as well as doing all the work at home and maintaining a backyard rink. I might have been even a little edgier than usual that winter. I remember storming the referee’s room after one game and having to be restrained by my assistant coach Mark, who was going through a messy divorce at the time and probably wasn’t much more balanced than I was. I was only suspended for one game.
I’m feeling a lot better than that now, thank you very much. But any past indiscretions I can blame on playing too much pickup hockey and football without a helmet.

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