For well over 40 years, the fields of play in our nation’s parks have remained stagnant and stifling and barren. The same old same old baseball, football, soccer, rugby, tennis! Rigid, stale, hardened, and unoriginal. A profession at a standstill. Attention, budgets, real estate and space devoted, as always, to the fast-moving combat-type sports with teams defeating teams, marginalizing those with special needs, promoted and advanced by advocates of “healthy competition” which has shown to be a self-contradictory term, an oxymoronic merger of opposites. Our best minds and thinkers from Emily Bazelon and Barbara Coloroso and Alfie Kohn cannot be ignored in the matter of the harm that competition, conflict, and contest cause our communities at the expense of collaboration, cooperation and companionability.
I cite 40 years because that’s been the time since my cousin Janice, a childhood ball-playing companion, landed in a wheelchair and when, after a time, we looked around the parks and playgrounds, we found nothing. Not a single ball-playing sport facility to play together. To drop in, walk on, whenever as we previously took for granted whenever we showed up with a ball to the park. Imagine, not a single ball-playing sports facility to play together. For children without disabilities, plenty; for diversity and inclusion, nothing. Don’t look to the NRPA for creating something out of nothing. Look rather to the NARE, in opposition to the NRPA, taking seriously the facility shortages and missing play for the children with disabilities in our parks - and wonder of wonders, actually successfully addressing the injustice to those children, on behalf of the autistic community, persons with limited mobility and other participants with disabilities.
What’s new in our parks? Pickle ball? Fast-moving, variation on tennis; no walk on drop-in inclusion here for people with any type of disability. Rock climbing? Are you kidding? Set up in many parks but I’ve never seen any children playing on them or climbing on them - certainly not a kid using a wheelchair. How does climbing a rock serve to include that child? Why, over the decades, nothing new? In particular, why no new inclusive ball-playing sports that are played noncompetitively or self-competitively rather than opponent-based; thereby marginalizing and excluding all but a sliver of relatively equal participants? Our parks are far out of balance. We should have many more inclusive playfields such as Bankshot Basketball that are, like bowling and golf, self-competitive. Playing the course, rather than an opponent, achieves inclusion and outreach to diversity.
All these years and the NRPA leadership leads to what? Programs? The average kid doesn’t have to wait for a program next week organized and supervised by some adults. Children without disabilities can drop-in at a parks facility any time the weather suggests and the mood is willing. Not for those with disabilities. Not for decades until Bankshot’s perception has become better known and appreciated. Look to THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR RECREATIONAL EQUALITY for creativity, not the NRPA.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Play and Playground magazine. The editors encourage different points of view and discussion on this topic. Please comment below.