Wood's Word: Playing sports with kids

Apart from my employment as a sports reporter and columnist, I have a job working as a tutor and program leader for an after-school program at a local elementary school.

I love the opportunity to work with some great kids every day. It’s a very fulfilling experience to be around with a group people who can recite entire episodes of “SpongeBob Squarepants” with one another (while I join in as well). They are genuine, straightforward, and can eat more Flamin’ Hot Cheetos than a . . . fill in your own analogy here, for I could not think of one. . . . They eat a lot of them. There you go.

Most of my favorite experiences at work come during “free choice” time. While a majority of the program follows a structured schedule for homework, reading and other educational activities, an hour or so is dedicated to the whims of the youth. They have board games, Tinkertoys and sports equipment to their fancy, so, needless to say, “free choice” time for the students is like a bunch of dogs with bones. (This columnist and an analogy are like one bad thing and another bad thing together.)

My place as a staff member is usually found supervising the different sports activities the older kids play during this time. The best part: I get to play with them. This, of course, is to guarantee the overall fair play between teams and oversee the physical safety of the participants. It’s just part of the job. You say, “Wow! That must be difficult to be paid to play sports with people much, much smaller than you!” Well, I assure you, it is. But I manage, although barely (just like Dwight Howard — rimshot!).

Ironically, they’re simply much better than I am at almost everything, despite my physical advantage. To have a second-grade student completely outrun you is usually something one would like to forget about. The only problem is — they don’t let you. You have breached the zone of kids playing among kids, and once you do, you are everyone’s target. An adult has entered the playing field and therefore must be destroyed.

I imagine it’s the same sort of thing when the Los Angeles Lakers or the Miami Heat play anywhere. Everyone will compete that much harder to knock out a powerhouse. Not that I am one . . . more like a power-yurt or a power-igloo.

Sometimes, I don’t know why I play with them. Yes, it is my job, technically, but it’s like running through a minefield. I wiggle my pinky finger and a kid loses a limb. Most of the time, I just stand there and make sure that the specific fourth-grader with the Allen Iverson jersey (you all know who I’m talking about) passes or kicks the ball to his teammates a sufficient amount of times. However, even when I do nothing but stand, my largeness seems to get in the way of someone’s smallness and lots of people fall over.

If someone does fall down, they have broken their leg. This is a rule if you fall down in elementary school. Your leg is broken, and that’s all there is. “Teacher! Teacher! My leg is broken!” Hobble . . . stagger . . . limp . . . Thirty seconds later, their leg is miraculously healed. I still don’t know how they do it. My guess is because of the Lunchables they ate earlier.

Most of the time, I just yell from the sideline. I know very well going into the activity that I could easily score a goal or make a basket, but it would feel inappropriate of me to do so. I have the benefit of being an enormous, brutal warrior, yet I face the responsibility of being a soft, gentle giant. It’s a struggle to get the two to mix. I guess I will simply have to head inside and use the Tinkertoys with the first-grade students.

And I will build the biggest darn Tinkertoy tower they’ve ever seen.