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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
Perspective: Noon Ball
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. The baseball team beat the Bison. Outdoor track actually got outdoors. And another Cobber, hockey's Mike Hassman, earned recognition as an All-American. But, important as these events may seem, it is time for us to come clean about the real purpose of having an athletic department here at Cobberville.
Sure, it's nice that the college sponsors athletic teams here and that sometimes they win some games. Keeps the kids off the streets.
And it's probably fine that Cobber students get to use the facilities once in a while. Healthy bodies, healthy minds and all that.
But there is a deeper purpose to why we exist as a college department.
It's Noon Ball.
Noon Ball is a sacred tradition in Cobberville which calls for aging male faculty members and related campus riff-raff to skip lunch and play rat-ball basketball in the fieldhouse on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It isn't pretty. But it's our reason for being.
Noon Ball is so sacred on campus that only the two most powerful bodies at Concordia are allowed to schedule a fieldhouse event which might impinge on a Noon Ball session; the president and anybody in the music department.
As a relative newcomer to Noon Ball (this is only my 5th year) I'm still considered a bit of an Outsider. Being considered a true Regular at Noon Ball takes slightly longer than attaining tenure. I'm still learning the ropes.
I once tried to ask the Regulars how long Noon Ball had existed at Cobberville. The closest I got to an answer was, "A long time. Are we going to gab all day or are we going to play some ball?"
One has to be a serious basketball junkie to play Noon Ball. But there are also intangible characteristics one must possess to fully share in the macabre fellowship of Noon Ball.
For instance, the Regulars share a common bond in the semi-clandestine nature of the game. The true Regular is participating with something less than the full blessing of his wife.
Noon Ball wives are unanimous in their opinion that the game is dangerous and that their husbands are over-the- hill. All of them formed this judgement without even watching us play.
Most Regulars have promised their wives that they have either quit the game or soon will. These are lies.
Several Regulars have left standing orders with the receptionist that, if their wife calls, she is to be told "He's out to lunch with his secretary." Some things are easier to explain than others.
I learned this key to marital stability early in my Noon Ball career. During one particular Noon Ball session I was clawed on by Carroll "The Bearded Wonder" Engelhardt, (history professor, great touch from 18 feet) and Rene' "Mad Dog" Clausen (choir director, unstoppable on the drive if you let him go to his right). That evening my wife inquired about the origin of the suspicious-looking scratches on my back. "Those are from Rene' and Carroll," I said.
"That's a relief," she said. "For a second I thought you might have played Noon Ball."
Sometimes this insidious "you're-too-old-to-be-doing-this" line of thought can infect even a seemingly-dedicated Regular. I once asked a former Noon Baller, Bob Nick (assistant AD and a guard for the Cobs in the '60s) if he would start playing again. "Do I look that stupid?" he said. Another tragic example of America's loss of competitiveness.
Injuries are part of the game. In addition to building character, Noon Ball injuries can sometimes cure long-term afflictions. For instance, a few years ago my elbow met up with the nose of Roger "The Dodger" Spilde (econ. professor, nice scoop shot and running hook). I was a little concerned that Roger's broken nose might provoke his wife to chastise me as a brute or, worse yet, keep Roger out of the game. At a faculty dinner a few weeks later I was stuck sitting at the same table with Roger and his wife, Barbara. As I began a clumsy apology for the incident Barbara cut me off.
"Listen," she said. "This is the first time in 25 years of marriage that Roger hasn't snored. I think it's wonderful."
Cobber Noon Ball is unique in the world of pick-up basketball in several ways. First, passing is revered.
This unusual aspect of our game is often difficult for the typical Outsider to adjust to.
Excessive shooting and poor shot selection are effectively regulated by a complex process of shunning.
The offending party simply stops getting the ball.
Noon Ball at Concordia also differs from your garden-variety pick-up game in the degree of civility with which the game is conducted. Fighting and excessive arguing over calls, staples in the world of pick-up basketball, are strictly forbidden in the Noon Ball Code.
There is also an "intense-but-not-too-intense" rule which was instituted years ago to insure the game's longevity. Cobber coaches are, unfortunately, the most common offenders.
During a recent Noon Ball session I slipped into my "too intense" mode, as did my boss, Lady Cobber basketball coach Duane Siverson. After one of my patented "Pyle-out-of-control" drives to the basket, Duane charged at me and, using his most persuasive manner, said, "If you stick your knee up in my chest on a drive one more time I'm going to rip your face off." (He didn't really say "face" but you can assume he referred to an important part of my anatomy.) Although the Regulars were clearly curious as to how two guys could go after each other like this and still manage to work together as Lady Cobber coaches, they were also disappointed. We had stepped over the "too-intense" line and committed a major Noon Ball faux pas.
Luckily, incidents such as that are rare. The typical Noon Ball game ends with the Regulars straggling off to the shower in a semi-limp, each with their own estimate of the time it will take to get to their 1:20 class.
They often leave with a version of the "runners' high", that serene calmness made possible by the body's natural pain-killers. (Doctors refer to this sensation as post-traumatic shock.)
The regulars will stand in front of their 1:20 classes with flushed faces and soaking backs, caused by sweat pores that don't know the game is over. But they will also possess a sense of self-assurance that, yes, they are still alive.
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