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By Mira Sucharov

I recently reignited some long dormant dreams – hoop dreams, to be exact. 

My hoop dreams reappeared quite suddenly. Last June, I attended a presentation from one of the senior associates from the JCC Association in New York. As I listened to him outline best practices for the running of a JCC, I silently wondered what led this man to a lifetime of JCC service. He wasn’t especially tall, but he boasted the tell-tale trimness and movements of an athlete. I quickly concluded that it must have been the celebrated pastime of sports that brought this man to embrace the JCC life. I wasn’t sure which sport was his true love, but my mind quickly ran to the recent Jewish men’s basketball league tournament at the JCC, the winning team boasting players spanning decades, including a father and son duo.

The next day I phoned our JCC’s athletic coordinator, and a women’s basketball clinic was born . Turns out our coordinator had a dream coach at the ready for would-be players like me who wanted to get game. “Skills, drills and scrimmage: no experience required,” I hastily scribbled in an email to almost every woman I knew in Ottawa. It seems that many of my friends and associates possessed the same latent court desires as I did, since we are now a proud club of enthusiastic, mostly 30-somethings spoiling for a three-pointer.

While I have long used the many excellent fitness facilities at the JCC, organized sports had mostly eluded me since I was a kid. In elementary school, I spent passionate lunch hours playing intramural floor hockey. The evenings preceding saw me poring over team lineups on smudged foolscap with a greasy pencil. Saturday afternoons brought all sorts of sports at the Winnipeg YMHA, and on Sundays my dad would frequently take me to the Y for one-on-one basketball.

But by high school, my extra-curricular activities ran more to music and drama, student council and synagogue youth groups. This left little time left for indoor team sports – particularly during the crucial fall and winter seasons. (In spring  I sometimes played tennis and soccer, but with less passion than I maintained for athletics during my younger years.)

There’s something about sports that’s simply different than the fitness regime of a stairmaster or a treadmill. While I depend on those facilities to keep fit – and certainly appreciate them , what I realized I had been missing was the very visceral and childlike feeling of running with a bouncing ball. My kids get to do things like that almost every day – between preschool activities and recess and Purim carnivals. But I, even though I didn’t consciously realize it until it suddenly dawned on me, was missing out.

The JCC’s and before them, YMHA’s, had a long history of sport, of course. In 1980, celebrated Winnipeg Jewish sportsman Leible Hershfield published a book on Jewish athletes in Western Canada. I recall spending hours looking at the distant black and white photographs, being fascinated by a glimpse of a great uncle here, a distant family friend there. And I cherished one picture of the grandfather I never knew, posing with the YMHA gym team.

Once on the court, I wasn’t surprised by the rush I got from refreshing my dribbling, practicing my passing, and finally learning a proper layup (helped no doubt by the two feet I’d gained since I’d last played). But my stationary shots are far superior to my game-play ones, I admit to finding blocking rather disconcerting, and the first session saw me freeze play to help an opponent up off the ground with a frantic, “Are you okay?” I guess I need to sharpen my focus, toughen my resolve and thicken my skin. All in good time, I hope.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be like one of my favourite columnists, law professor and New York Times blogger Stanley Fish, who carries a basketball in his car trunk, and who recently devoted his precious Times online space to waxing eloquent about the game. But I do get a kick out of the fact that my kids know that the reason I leave once a week after dinner is to play basketball. And perhaps when my co-players are good and practiced, we’ll pose for a team photo with our beloved coach. Maybe my grandchildren will pore over that picture, amazed by the youthful gleam in their grandmother’s eye as she recaptured moments of being ten years old running, bouncing, throwing, passing and occasionally scoring.

Former Winnipeger Mira Sucharov is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University.

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