Once I decided in fifth grade that I wanted to play the trombone, we had the option of leasing an instrument or buying one.
If my memory serves, buying a trombone would have cost $300, so if we were going to do that, my parents said I had to commit to it. There would be no trying it for a couple weeks or months or whatever and deciding I didn’t want it anymore.
By the time I stopped playing after my sophomore year in college, I think my parents had gotten their money’s worth.
“The magic of (Emma Raducanu’s) story may lie in how she could impact tennis. Her parents did not farm her out to a tennis factory in another country when she was young. She has been home in England, going to a real high school, and her parents deliberately dialed back the tennis over the last 18 months so she could work on her studies. She recently did well on her A-level exams, and talked on ESPN about her love of economics, finance, and being a student.”“There’s no crying in tennis – right?” Joanne C. Gerstner, Open Court
Baseball was first, of course.
Since I was turning 8 that may, I was able to sign up for Little League when I was 7. After five years, I played Senior League for another three, until I was 15, but that was a bit of a mixed bag, since there weren’t enough kids for all the teams, meaning we didn’t even have nine players a lot of the time.
There was also baseball in school, of course, starting with the modified team in seventh grade, followed by junior varsity and then varsity as a senior.
I went to the first couple days of tryouts my freshman year of college, but quit because even if I made the team, I could see I probably wouldn’t play much, and I was more concerned with settling in to college by that point.
On Saturdays, I bowled, first with the younger kids in the afternoon, then with the older kids in the mornings. Originally, I was one of the younger kids in the morning group — if memory serves, I switched because it was more convenient for everyone — but it got to the point where I kept getting older and older and everyone else kept getting younger.
This would not be the last time that happened.
I started Scouts probably around the same time as Little League. I was in Cubs and Webelos — “We’ll Be Loyal Scouts”! — got my badges and even did the ceremony crossing over into Boy Scouts, but never actually started because I lost interest.
There were a couple years of 4-H in there, too, but I don’t remember if that was something I lost interest in or it just fizzled out.
Band and choir started in fifth grade. I was always a much better trombone player than singer, and even though I haven’t touched a trombone in 27 years, if you gave me a chance to shake the cobwebs off, I could probably croak out something decent.
However, you do not want to hear me sing today. I promise you that.
I didn’t start playing basketball for real until seventh grade. Being a really small kid didn’t help, and I was never very good. But I stayed on the team through senior year because I liked being on the team, even in the years where lots of the team members didn’t like each other.
Weird, I know.
“It is a travel team for kids starting at age seven. It is specialized coaches for different positions. It is mandatory three to four mandatory practices a week, plus at least two days of competition. It is the very use of ‘elite’ to describe a child. It is national rankings for those same children. It is the expectation of $4000-$6000 a year spent for each kid in hockey, upwards of $3700 for baseball, and between $2500 and $6000 for soccer. It is private and almost always for-profit, even if those profit margins are slim. It is the specifics of this system but it is also the generalized idea that this is an okay way to organize a childhood.”“Against Kids’ Sports,” Anne Helen Petersen, Culture Study
One of the highlights of Little League was being named to the all-star team, not just because you were one of the best players, but because you got to play against other kids … in other towns.
Sure, it was mostly one or two towns away, but my family had gone to the games as fans for years, so it was exciting when I made the team myself and got to do it.
There were also various all-county choirs and bands all through high school, and I got to go to Lake Placid twice for all-Northeast band. We spent from Thursday to Saturday night in a hotel, which was pretty cool.
But for the opportunities I did have to spread my wings beyond the town where I grew up, the equipment, the fees, the couple summer camps I attended and so on, the biggest expense my parents ever paid toward anything I did might have been the $300 for that trombone.
Then again, these were the days when it was a lot easier for a family to be middle class without a college diploma — I was the first on my father’s side and one of the first on my mother’s to get one — and extracurricular activities were just assumed to be something that went along with being in school, not something you had to pay for.
You know what else parents didn’t have to pay for? Travel teams starting at age 7. More than $3,700 for baseball or $2,500 to $6,000 for soccer. (From what I’ve heard, hockey has always been more expensive, but there wasn’t any where I grew up, so I don’t know what that would have been. I also don’t have kids, so I won’t have to make the decisions in my own life.)
Because those things didn’t exist.
Any parent wants the best opportunities for his or her children, and there have always been parents hoping to live vicariously through them (and I have seen what appeared to be blurred lines multiple times), so maybe there was some sort of early version out there.
Or maybe there were at least options to pursue an interest beyond the bounds of the school/local season, but where I grew up, once the season was done, it was done until next year.
Even if there were other leagues and special camps, there was no amount of money my parents could have spent to turn me into a professional athlete, singer or trombone player, or even earn me an athletic or performance scholarship.
And no matter how hard I tried and as much as I enjoyed it, I knew that.
Instead, they focused on me being the best student I could be, and their money, with help from an academic scholarship, went toward my college education … because, by the way, that was also during a time when a middle-class family with no college degrees could send two kids to college four years apart.
It was an investment they could make, and it turned out much better.