A strange phenomenon descended upon the Arcata Community Center Saturday morning as the fourth weekend of youth basketball got underway. It was ... quiet. Once, when play ceased on both courts, there was a moment of pure, breath-holding silence. It was downright eerie. Sure, during each game you could hear the players calling to each other, the coaches instructing, an occasional whistle and, of course, the bouncing basketball. So why did it seem so unusually still?
The spectators made all the difference. Throughout the day, they sat placidly in the stands, clapping politely at made baskets, occasionally rustling quietly amongst themselves, and for the most part being downright well-behaved. And silent. Where were the customary instructional shouts to the players ("Get `em! Shoot! Pass to Billy!") or the irritated directions to officials ("Travel! Foul! Come on!")?
Such exclamations were off-limits to spectators Saturday, as the day marked the once-annual "Silent Weekend" practiced within the Arcata Parks and Rec youth basketball program. Pom-poms were provided to aid families and friends of players in their non-verbal cheering, each festooned with a red piece of paper headed "Welcome to Silent Weekend," followed by a textual explanation of the day's proceedings. Essentially, the point of the day was to remind people that, as much as they'd like to think shouting at Junior to hustle is helping him to grow psychologically and socially and spiritually, he'd probably have a lot more fun if his parents weren't getting indignantly purple in the face over his 1st grade recreational basketball game. And he wouldn't develop an anxiety complex and wind up in counseling when he's 40.
Mike Rice, self-proclaimed "Recreation Supervisor and all-around swell Joe," said that from what he's seen from the first four weeks of play, the spectator situation is "pretty calm" and Silent Weekend is more of a gentle reminder than a necessary measure taken against rowdy crowds. "I guess the word is out," he said. "I don't know what it used to be like, but it seems people have gotten the idea from previous years." This is Rice's first year on the job. He reasoned that the fourth week is a good placement for Silent Saturday, because "people are getting back into the season and beginning to get competitive - the coaches, the players, and the spectators." After a moment, Rice added, "This league is not about winning; that is not our primary goal. It's about sportsmanship."
Two children agreeing with Rice's stance were 3rd grade twins Michael and Jessiah Martin-Kunkle. "I don't think it's right for parents to get too caught up in the games," said Michael, while his brother stared raptly into his face and nodded concurrence. Michael continued on to say that he could still hear "a few voices" and that it didn't make "too much of a difference" but that he liked the Silent Weekend "a little bit more" than the others. (All statements made were solemnly corroborated by nods from a silent Jessiah.)
Parent viewpoints on Silent Weekend may differ, but Jennifer Heidmann is a big fan. With two children playing basketball at the 3rd and 5th grade levels, Heidmann said with a laugh that Silent Weekend makes her "realize how hard it is to not shout directions at the kids." "I really like it," she continued. "It gives kids a chance to play and actually hear the coaches instead of all the parents yelling at them." Heidmann also stated that all of her children's coaches have been supportive and respectful of the players, so extending Silent Weekend to also apply to the coaches wasn't an issue for her. Generally, that appeared to be the rule - coaches were encouraging above all else on Saturday - but occasionally a raised or aggravated tone of voice from the bench seemed to contradict the message of the day.
All was coming up roses at the community center, where 1st through 4th graders played all day; however, over at Sunny Brae with the big dogs, things were slightly different. "The crowds are a lot quieter than usual," said Lindsey Bryie, scorekeeper, "but the players think it's dumb. One of the 7th/8th grade girls said `Silent Weekend is for losers.'"
Oh, big kids.
The 3:15 p.m. 9th/12th grade boys' basketball game at Sunny Brae was observed by a sparse crowd with a few enthusiastic pom-pom wavers. As was the trend of the day, the players and coaches were much more vocal than the spectators. Early on in the game, one coach cried "Walking, ref, call that!" then, "Wait ... is this weekend Silent Weekend? I totally forgot," complete with sheepish smile. For the most part, as the game progressed, the players' voices shouting at their own teammates dominated the gym sound-wise.
High school senior Jack Stockwell, a player as well as a coach of a 3rd/4th grade girls' team in the league, felt that Silent Weekend made a big difference with the younger age group. He noticed it mostly while coaching his team earlier on in the day, not so much with his own game. "As a coach, I can see where it would send a powerful message. As a player?" Stockwell laughed. "I don't know." This lent an interesting insight to the correlation between parents bursting blood vessels over their children's recreational sports games and the child's age itself. Evidenced by some parents of the younger kids barely being able to restrain themselves, and by the parents of the high schoolers calmly clapping and chatting quietly to their neighbor, there might be something to the theory that at some point, parents really do stop living vicariously through their children. Or they realize, hey, it's Rec basketball. It's supposed to be fun.
- Molly Simas (An Arcata High School senior who is unashamedly in love with trees, bikes and all things Arcata.)