By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and forth: Courting a new place via mostly-solo ‘Hoops Tour’

##Hoops Tour, week one, at Thompson Park in southeast McMinnville.
##Hoops Tour, week one, at Thompson Park in southeast McMinnville.

Gritty or ground-up asphalt courts, loose rims and bedraggled nets, tree branches as shot-blockers and some cosmic bounce-backs only begin to describe my six-month Yamhill County Hoops Tour.

I started it in April, during my first week at the News-Register.

Once a week, I decided, I would go shoot around at an outside court. I might see someone else, and maybe we’d play Horse. Or maybe I would see no one.

The latter was usually the case, and I never did get a game of Horse.

Rarely were any of the school and parks courts in use, though I did find myself sharing the concrete with skateboarders on some occasions and hacky-sackers on one. With the pandemic on, people largely stayed separate and so did I.

I was witness to connections being made, though. In my log I described the weather, the court surface, conditions of the rim and net, and miscellaneous “obstacles and amenities.”

Under the last, in a May visit to Memorial Elementary: “Semi-desiccated dog turd in the dirt at the base of the pole. Ball did not hit it even once, amazing. Watching as two dogs romped between ball-chasing, and over-hearing the humans who take care of them getting acquainted.”

The tour began at Thompson Park, which features a full concrete court in good condition. It’s well-shaded by trees, which provided a perfect backdrop for shooting.

I noted: “A family on swings nearby, group of kids hanging out on the playground. On one side, peoples’ backyards seem to blend into the park lawn.”

As I left, three kids on bikes, aged 10-12, sped past on the park sidewalk. Two ignored me, but the third gave me a friendly “hi!”

My second stop was Discovery Park, about which I noted:

“Benches nearby. The sense of being one part of a much larger park.

“Two-on-two game on the court next to mine. One time each, we returned the ball for each other.”

There certainly is no shortage of park courts in town. I relied also on school grounds, where COVID-19 closures were inconsistent.

I played at Adams, Memorial and Columbus, seeing no signs warning me off. However, at Sue Buel, Newby and Grandhaven, signage made it clear the grounds were off-limits.

Columbus has a rare covered court. I played there with my friend and associate, Rusty Rae.

Rain or heat was rarely an issue, though on June 25 at Patton Middle School, I wrote: “Weather 95 degrees and still. I shot for only a few minutes, though most of the court was in the shade. Hence I did not work on my outside shots.”

The happy result of not playing at Grandhaven was finding the nearby Chegwyn Farms Park, which features a lovely court. Also on the tour were courts in the McMinnville Linear Park, Joe Dancer Park, the Linfield University campus, Beulah Park in Yamhill, Ladd Park in Carlton, Courthouse Square Park in Dayton and Wascher Elementary School in Lafayette. I also gave the Sheridan High School parking lot a try.

At Amity City Park in June, I wrote: “We were impressed by the canopy of trees that cover the court like a green bowl. The sun was at just the right side angle to highlight the illuminated mosaic of oak and maple leaves.”

At Adams, the hacky-sackers had the covered court, so I used a basket with a semi-detached cloth net, writing:

“Shooting on a basket with such a net is a special challenge. I tended to shoot from the side of the hoop with no net attached so the ball, if it went in, was more likely to hit at least some net.

“The historic building backdrop provided a nice old-school feel as I worked on my mid-range set shots. So 1950s!”

For distinct reasons, two mid-tour stops reflected important facets of the experience:

On my 13th stop, conducted at 4 p.m. July 3 at Sue Buel Elementary, my notes reflect:

“I had to climb over a low chain-link fence to reach the court, as the grounds have been locked and posted off-limits (the sign still says so, in fact) for months. And I have never seen anyone on the field or on the courts.

“Chalked names on the concrete may suggest ‘Sue’ or ‘Steve’ had recently been there; hard to tell. Poignant presence of a deflated tetherball, dangling from the cord. The vacant grounds and vaguely industrial structure of the imposing two-story school gave it all a stark, lonely feeling.”

On my 14th stop, coming at 5 p.m. July 1 at St. James Church, I noted:

“This is a good court, but it seems underutilized. Oddly, I have seen people playing on it just once, and it was a full-court game of five-on-five with other players waiting, about two months ago. It gave me the impression this outdoor full-court was a basketball center. I’ve driven by many times since but have never seen anyone using it.”

The quirks of the individual locations were half the fun.

At Patton, I wrote: “A lip between the concrete building apron and the asphalt court turned out to be an amenity, causing almost cosmic bounce-backs — directly to me, from 10 feet away — on several shots. Having the ball do that — return to the shooter without him having to move — is one of the great pleasures of solo hoops.”

Solo hoops. That was my bittersweet regimen.

I grew up playing the game, and fondly recall the days of Linfield hoops in cramped, steamy Ted Wilson Gym when it was located in Riley Hall. I had an epiphany recently about my love of basketball, and it’s from my senior year at Linfield.

Quite simply, the first thing I did upon completing my final exams was go down the stairs of Riley and into the old gym. I celebrated by shooting jumpers, the joy of basketball taking full root in Riley just before my 22nd birthday.

Before the pandemic, I’d played thrice-weekly basketball most months of my life for the past 30 years, and mostly at 6 a.m.

Come March 2020, I was limited to weekly shoot-arounds with my son, Connal, 29. And that ended when Lorre and I moved to McMinnville.

The tour was my way of getting to know the community better. Half the fun was exploring neighborhoods that were new to me, and finding courts such as the one at the Chegwyn community park in north McMinnville.

In mid-October I felt ready to do something I had purposefully avoided for a year-and-a-half — play some full-court contact basketball. On Oct. 11, on a whim, I went to the McMinnville Community open gym and ran with nine other guys.

They were all under 30. And I paid for it the next morning.

But a week later, I played another hour with the 30-plus guys, and the week after that, again for 90 minutes. The pain lessened and the recovery time shortened.

Full-court basketball — I call it “running with a purpose” — is now back in my life. Thanks go to Brandon and the rest of the guys at the center’s twice-weekly 30-and-over game.

I plan to fill up my Parks and Rec punch card as soon as possible with these games. No more solo tours, but I thank the tour for its interim importance.

My shot is far from back and my leg speed is only three-quarters what I know it can and will be. But the Hoops Tour kept my hands and feet in the game.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at kirby@newsregister.com or 503-687-1291.

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