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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2010

Simple pleasures offer a reprieve from world events

A week ago last Saturday, I found a welcome reprieve from the Ground Zero controversy, Tea Partiers, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Middle East nontalks.

I was at the Catholic Youth Organization Athletic Complex on Holland-Sylvania Road in Toledo. Hundreds of kids, ages 5 through 10, had gathered to take part in cross-country races. The 5-year-olds ran a half-mile, while the older kids ran as much as two miles.

The event was interesting, absorbing, and entertaining. The kids wore colorful T-shirts and face paint and ran in groups. It was a crisp fall day, and the falling autumn leaves provided the backdrop to the shirts running toward the finish line.

While they were running, the kids reflected all the moods children are capable of mustering: radiant, defiant, proud, dejected, tired, exuberant, and determined. It was a picture-perfect day for the kids and their parents. And, of course, the grandparents.

At such events, one has to overlook the overflowing exuberance and palpable anxiety of parents who want so badly for their kids to do well. The parents also ran, sort of, but outside the roped-off track to shout encouragement and to cajole their kids to keep running.

I was a bit taken aback. Why can't they, I wondered, just stand in one place and cheer the kids as they pass by? The kids would do their best anyway, irrespective of the shouting and screaming from the sidelines.

Easy to say.

When my 5-year-old grandson, Kevin, ran, I was no different from the rest. I ran to position myself where he could see me applauding his efforts. He gave me a fleeting look and a reluctant smile, then kept a slow pace.

In the cacophony of screaming parents and grandparents, it is hard for kids to know whose screams they're hearing. We intend to cheer our own kids, but we end up cheering everyone.

A few days before the cross-country meet, I was at Notre Dame Academy to watch Notre Dame and St. Ursula Academy meet for their annual volleyball face-off. These two girls' schools are known for their rivalry in volleyball.

These games may lack the visceral overtones of the annual Ohio State-University of Michigan football game, but the passion and intensity of spectators and players were palpable. The schools competed at freshman, junior varsity, and varsity levels.

They played exciting volleyball. There were many aces, a few cut shots, and an occasional floater, a volleyball equivalent of a baseball knuckleball pitch. And of course, there were many thrilling rallies that usually ended in a decisive spike to drive the point home.

There were a few husband-and-wife plays as well. That happens when two players fail to communicate and let the ball drop between them. Art imitates life and, occasionally, sports do too.

The self-confidence of the teenage girls was contagious. They showed poise and grace and played some classy volleyball. And despite intense pressure, they kept beautiful smiles on their faces.

The games were close enough to send our hearts racing and cause spikes in our blood pressure.

I was there because of my granddaughter, Hannah, whose birth was celebrated in this column 14 years ago. She is a freshman on St. Ursula's junior varsity.

It did not take long for me to get caught up in the excitement. Soon, I was cheering, loudly and widely, for Hannah's team. It was the volleyball equivalent of running and cheering Kevin in the cross-country run.

We grandparents are strange creatures. When we morph from parenthood to grandparent status, we undergo changes that neither our children nor we can comprehend or explain.

I had thought my days of cheering (and screaming) at my children's sporting events were over. But now, going to sporting events of my grandchildren and playing the part feels strange but satisfying. There is one difference, however. After these events, I get to go home alone.

These bright-faced kids running their hearts out and these teenage girls playing volleyball with gusto provided a much-needed and much-appreciated reprieve from the daily news about the economy, politics, and international events.

Just for the record, St. Ursula beat Notre Dame.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net



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