Further Adventures of the Anti-School, Anti-Sports Brigade--Part 276
In a society that loves to assure itself that it is oh-so-child-oriented, the war against kids is raging with renewed vigor. In Richmond, where state lawmakers nearly fall over each other competing to see who can concoct the wackiest proposals, the bizarre bill of the day is House Bill 1368, the Home Serenity and Tranquility Act of 2006.
This feat of legislative creativity would ban all athletic activities on every sports field and every swimming pool in the state of Virginia, even apparently including indoor facilities, before 8 in the morning, after 6 in the afternoon, or at any time on Sundays, unless the organizers of the event got written permission from every single homeowner within 65 yards of the facility. I kid you not.
This would effectively mean a ban on all athletic activity after the work and school days and on Sundays throughout all of Virginia. I have yet to find the neighborhood--in any suburb, city or rural area--where every single neighbor is rational and friendly enough to turn down the chance to be the one who puts the kibosh on kids (or adults) having fun. Even in community-minded, sports-oriented family neighborhoods, the temptation would simply be too great for some prune to refuse to sign the form and thereby deny legions of fellow citizens the right to run around on a field.
Where does such a venemous proposal come from? Well, literally, it comes from the pen of a Fairfax County Democratic state delegate named Robert Hull. But of course now that he has every youth soccer league, Little League and parent from here to the Tennessee border thinking of him as Oscar the Grouch, Scrooge and Fagin all rolled into one, Hull has beaten a quick retreat and declared himself an opponent of his own bill. Seems he only offered the bill as a favor to a constituent, who, of course, he will not name.
But I do believe that constituent exists and did indeed ask his elected representative to redress his grievance, and that grievance is all too common these days. It goes something like this: "Get those #!?%*@ kids away from here!"
This is the refrain whether the situation is a school that wants to expand, a school that wants to use its athletic facilities, a school that dares to have parents and children arrive at the building by automobile, or a school that has the audacity to have children attending on a daily basis. Indeed, there needn't be a school involved to incur the wrath of the righteous neighbor: A baseball, soccer or football game, even the ping of a bouncing basketball on pavement, is plenty to set off the natives.
When I lived in south Florida, the general assumption about such whiners and complainers was that they were retirees who could no longer stand the idea that someone else might be having fun. We called such folks prunes. But this attitude is by no means restricted to the elderly. Everyone can play this game.
As Lisa Rein's Page One story today describes, the problem is that people are playing games "at all hours of the day and night." "All hours" is apparently defined as any time after 6 p.m. Leaving aside the fact that very few people retire for the night at 6, there is clearly a social good involved in having citizens be active and enjoy one another's company well into the night. I could see a field curfew of midnight or 1 a.m., but anything earlier gives power to exactly the people who should be have balls bounced against their bedroom walls around the clock.
The salient fact here is that only very rarely are new athletic fields introduced into the heart of an existing residential neighborhood. In all other cases, the field either preceded the construction of the nearby homes or both were built around the same time. In those situations, every single neighbor knew precisely what he was getting into when he bought or rented the house.
The wife and I once came thisclose to buying a house, but backed off because it was directly across the street from four public basketball hoops on a court equipped with lights. We decided we didn't want to live next to the late-night and early-morning pingpingping of the ball. Folks who choose to buy such houses either don't mind the sounds or decide that the annoyance is worth whatever they will save by purchasing property right next to a public facility. That puts all of us into one nice big category--people who should shut up and let others live their lives.
It looks like a combination of public shaming (front page story!), effective hysteria-mongering by youth sports associations, and raw fear on the part of state legislators considering what a few hundred thousand riled-up parents might look like will kill this bill by Monday. That's lovely.
But Richmond remains the national capital of silliness. This is what makes state legislatures so much fun for reporters to write about, but it's not hugely comforting to folks who take voting seriously.
Still to come in Richmond: So many stupendous bills, including Del. Bob Marshall's proposal to hold colleges liable for any injuries suffered by students who are given morning after pills by the student health service.
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