The other day I was watching a basketball game on television when it occurred to me that some of the sports we humans participate in would look pretty strange to alien visitors.

I’m talking about the ones from outer space.

Basketball is a prime example. The game basically consists of 10 guys or girls running up and down the floor. Groups of five are working toward the same general goal: to throw a sphere through a hoop that is only slightly larger than the ball. Yet, each player is in a sense working for himself or herself. Everybody likes to be the big scorer in the game.

The best way to get an understanding of how complex a task this really is, don’t watch the university players from Duke or Kansas play the contest.

Go to one of Hillsboro’s many fine facilities on a Saturday morning and observe the game in its simplest form as second- through sixth-graders try to learn basketball as part of the city’s recreation program.

Only then will it become clear how complex the tasks are that eventually lead to the kind of basketball the Hillsboro High School varsity teams are displaying this year.

These young men and women routinely toss the ball through the hoop from 20 feet away. It’s mind-boggling.

Golf and basketball have in common the desire to drop a sphere through an opening in order to score points. To play well, participants in both games need to be highly skilled and focused. But there the similarities appear to end. Most golfers are not likely to possess the physical skills necessary to excel at basketball.

The reverse is also true, though Michael Jordan could be considered a multi-sport exception. I doubt he could ever compete on the links at the Tiger Woods’ level, however.

On the surface, golf seems like a fairly simple game. Granted, there are many rules to follow if one is concerned about those little things like keeping score and course etiquette (not getting on the nerves of others who happen to be using the links at the same time).

When you think about it, though, the game boils down to hitting a ball with a stick. For the most part, a player can use whatever stick he or she desires. There’s no rule that I am aware of that says I can’t use my putter to tee off. I’m not supposed to use any club but my putter on the greens, but that rule was invented to keep the putting surfaces from being damaged by some nut wanting to use a 9-iron.

Football is essentially a semi-civilized substitute for war. Opposing sides attempt to advance a token-in this case an oblong ball-into enemy territory. There are many rules of engagement to follow, however, designed to level the playing field, including territorial boundaries and conduct guidelines put in place mostly to ensure the survival of the species. Gains and losses are marked in five-yard increments.

This is a contest perpetrated mostly by males who are possibly compensating for their lack of antlers by knocking helmeted heads together in a show of physical prowess.

On an individual basis, wrestling is another attempt to compare physical strength. The rules here are quite simple, though the scoring is not necessarily easily understood. Everyone who observes a takedown and pin can see what those moves mean to the one who suffers the indignity on the mat. Unlike Roman times, however, the loser of these battles will live to fight another day.

At first glance, I was thrilled to read about Kansas Gov. Bill Graves’ proposal to raise money for the state coffers (pun intended) by increasing the tax on cigarettes by 65 cents per pack.

I was discussing my enthusiasm for the proposal with some high school students the other day, however, when one young person pointed out that the proposal would simply mean less money in the household because this student’s parent was not about to quit smoking, no matter what the cost. So, the increase would mean children of smokers would have to do with less available cash. How sad.

Parents, I hope you see yourselves in this comment. Your children have likely begged you to quit, probably because they would like to keep you around. That approach hasn’t worked. Statistically, they have more colds, allergies and asthma. They will face future health problems due to all the second-hand smoke you have forced on them. Ironically, you may have been known to say you’d do anything to help your children. Here’s your chance to prove it.

I’ve often been heard to say that one possible solution to the problem of teen smoking would be to increase the national sales tax on a pack of cigarettes to $5. That way, smokes would be so precious, nobody would give them away or leave them lying around the house for young people to pick up. Few youth could afford to purchase them for themselves. The revenue could be used to fund cancer centers and tuberculosis clinics so I don’t have to subsidize them with my insurance premiums.

Even if the sales tax on a pack of smokes doesn’t increase, young people who think it’s cool to take up the habit should still stop to consider how much of their future income and future health will literally go up in smoke.

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