by Brian Kalish / photo by Dan Wilson
It should come as no surprise that a new generation of kids weaned on MTV and high tech video games is fighting a battle against serious weight problems. To listen to the media, it’s a battle already lost. Time magazine, in its August 25 issue, released statistics pegging more than one in three children in America as obese. A Harvard Medical School study, portions of which were recently published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, blamed inactivity as a major contributor to childhood obesity. The study said that for children ages 10-15, “half the day is spent virtually motionless – and that doesn’t count hours spent sitting in a classroom, doing homework, or eating.” Chicken Little, the sky is officially falling. Or is it? A walk through some of the area parks and schoolyards portrays a different, less cataclysmic picture of our youth. It’s hard to miss the legions of half pints decked out in colorful NBA replica jerseys populating the basketball courts, shouting encouragement to their teammates: “Hold D! Hold D!” Or rubbing it in after sinking a jumper: “Oh, wet that!” On a humid Sunday afternoon at Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School, North Buffum Street, area youngsters Damon and Wayman, both 10 years old, took a break from shooting hoops to talk about why they prefer to play basketball rather than sit idly in front of the tube in their free time. Says Damon, who lists Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson among his favorite pro players, “Basketball gets us more energy, and we have a lot of fun. Plus we learn a lot more about basketball.” “I’m out here every time I’m not at school,” Wayman says, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Probably three or four hours every day.” And he’s not the only one. At any given court from Riverwest to the East Side, random groupings form under rusty hoops for games of “21” or hustle — hardly an endorsement for the media-driven hype concerning childhood obesity. Both Damon and Wayman admit to spending more time than necessary playing video games, a culprit in the sedentary lifestyle that leads to weight problems. However, they manage to strike a balance between video games and honing their craft on the blacktop courts. And basketball, unlike zapping aliens on the TV, does more than just keep them fit. “Sometimes we meet new friends out here,” Wayman says. “And basketball helps us stay out of other people’s business… away from doing what kids shouldn’t be doing.” When asked if they aware that Time magazine reported more than one in three of their peers was obese, the boys chuckle and shake their heads. They were probably too busy shooting hoops to notice.