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Hoop Dreams

Phillip Burrows

There is something absurd about the notion of a pickup volleyball game. Maybe it’s the sand, maybe it’s necessity of numerous people, maybe it’s all those hours of Superspike Volleyball, but impromptu volleyball seems as likely as a poor person doing well on the SATs. What better place to find in, then, than in the East Campus courtyard?

Somehow -- while the weather is welcoming, at least -- you can pass by the sandbox at East Campus and, without fail, find people having a ball during volley, often with a group waiting to take the not-field once the game ends. You can’t fault people for getting exercise, but nevertheless it might be worth noting that the basketball hoop across the street in Senior Haus gets significantly less use than the contiguous tire swing. Did we all miss the collective memo? Anybody could see that it should be the other way around, right?

Of course this is not a fair comparison. East Campus’s volleyball net is visible to many passersby, while the Senior Haus hoop is blocked from view unless one actually walks into the courtyard, which in and of itself is a sub-par place to play. Nor are there any other volleyball nets in the zip code, while someone who seriously wants to “hoop it up” (as the kids say nowadays) need only venture up Broadway for public and not-so-public-but-still-accessible facilities. Then again, MIT may boast two sets of tennis courts and an in-dome arena that receive significant use; if people didn’t have to walk, they wouldn’t.

Unless there is simply less of a collective interest in basketball, which would not be surprising considering the sports that do enjoy support. Tennis is, after all, an elitist activity, slightly below golf but above baseball in terms of class association, despite the massive differences in their respective income barriers. Although more of a skill than a sport, sailing deserves a mention because nothing connotes “snob” like an outing on a boat, and the Pavilion along the Charles is open every day.

Crew, like sailing only hard, is the school’s best varsity team, which just screams “wannabe Ivy.” Swimming, which is necessary both to graduate and to engage in the previous two activities (in case you accidentally use the Sodium Boat), is simply unheard of in parts of the country where clean water is scarce and public facilities are dangerous. Finally, Ultimate Frisbee. Nothing more need be said on that.

Yes, there are basketball courts on West Campus, and they are used, but there’s also a hockey rink, and hockey always negates the existence of basketball. In all seriousness, we can agree that there are lots of things to use on West Campus, but even there we can see a tilt towards the same old sports. Take a glance a the new Zesiger Center and you will see pools dominating its structure. Sure, there is space for basketball, but there are also squash courts, lest the campus’ normal-sport proportion rise too high.

MIT could be congratulated for bringing within our grasp recreations once unfathomable to many of us. All you need is a milk crate, a telephone pole and some rock given away during the Activities Midway to start a little twenty-one, but you can’t dig a pool or pave a track. You can’t fashion your own weights, you can’t build a boat, you can’t import a rink. That doesn’t counteract, however, the message hoops send through their absence.

Recall what you thought of those high schools that had handball courts but no hoops, volleyball teams but no American football program. Either they were dirt poor or a bunch of wusses. Well, guess what? MIT has lots of money, and the athletics department -- which can complain about the JV cuts of a few years back all it wants -- proudly proclaims its plethora of varsity squads. Are we all a bunch of wusses or what?

If you haven’t seen it already, there is a (very slippery) court above Walker. Nobody refers to it as a court, however. 50-340, as it is best known, is used mostly for test-taking purposes, giving us the amusingly nerdy image of desks by the dozens above the hardwood. There has long been a worry that opening up the court would result in an influx of non-MIT characters, exponentially increasing Police Log’s “suspicious person” entries, people presumably not attracted by tennis and who are able (in theory) to be blocked from DuPont or Johnson. Yep, sounds like we’re a bunch of wusses.