Doug Wolter: Bad basketball a spectator sport in Pipestone
It used to be that if you were really bad at a sport, you didn’t want to announce it to the world.
This was especially true in junior high or high school, because the embarrassment would be compounded by laughter and whatever other indignities could be heaped upon you.
But in Pipestone, a far better outlook has led to something called the “Bad Basketball Association,” where athletically-challenged students have turned their basketball incompetence into an actual league that draws fans. It’s gotten so popular this winter, that the league had its own logo, officials, scorekeeper, cameraman and social media accounts. T-shirts were produced, and $325 in extra money from those t-shirt sales were donated to the school’s Wellness Room.
It turns out that bad basketball isn’t just something to make fun of. It’s highly entertaining.
Credit goes to Pipestone County Star sports editor Kevin Kyle for writing an excellent article about the league on the newspaper’s web site. The whole idea began, Kevin said, out of a personal rivalry between students Nathaniel Jones and Ty Hansen, who met on the court after Jones bragged he could beat his friend in a 1-on-1 game. Hansen won the game 16-4, but the irrepressible Jones continued his trash talking and they played a couple more times. More players were brought in, which became actual teams. Student fans would even skip lunch to watch.
In a world where far too many people take themselves far too seriously, I think the Bad Basketball Association is just the kind of thing we need. It takes all kinds, after all, and the ability of lousy hoopsters to have a good time by laughing at themselves -- and the ability of fellow students to enjoy their antics in the spirit of fun -- is something that any school can embrace.
Pipestone Area head boys basketball coach Todd Tinklenberg told me that members of his team officiate at the games, and they get into the spirit.
“Sometimes they tell one of the players, ‘You’re too good. You gotta sit out for a few minutes,” Tinklenberg said.
I phoned Worthington High School varsity basketball coach CJ Nelson, who was a three-sport star (basketball, football, track and field) when he competed at WHS. I asked him if he thought he might “discover” a future varsity player at such a league, and he thoughtfully deferred.
But he did say this: “I think there’s enough kids that just enjoy playing. It seems like it’s kind of like an intramural league. I could definitely see something like that working (in Worthington).
Who can even say how many Worthington kids would be perfect for such a league? No doubt, there are many who were just born to play in a bad basketball league.
“The one way to look at this is the way kids support the high school team,” Nelson added. “The bad basketball players support the good basketball players, and you would hope the same thing would happen the other way. It’s still being supportive.”
Myself, I can relate. I didn’t play organized basketball in high school, but I did play in the intramurals. In my first game this little runt from Allendorf scored eight points, which allowed my name to be part of a list of high scorers on the commons bulletin board. I walked up to that sheet of paper lots of times just to see my name and prove to myself that I really did score those points.
Looking at today's high school athletes, it’s a good thing that in winter there is both basketball and wrestling for potential competitors to choose from. In my day, wrestlers were looked down upon by basketball kids because of how uncoordinated many of them appeared on hardwood. But then those wrestlers would challenge the basketball players to six minutes on the mat, and the teasing tended to stop.
If there’s teasing involved in the Bad Basketball Association, it’s entirely of the good-natured variety. Popular singer Huey Lewis once sang that “it’s hip to be square” and it certainly is in Pipestone.
Even someone like CJ Nelson can understand. It’s not like he was great in every sport, you know.
“I skated once in my life. I’d be a pretty bad hockey player,” he said. “Or if I jumped on the wrestling mat I’d probably get pinned pretty quick.”