How many of you love Thanksgiving but are suspicious or even cynical about the way we celebrate it in America? 

Never was a big fan of going around the table and everybody being forced to name one thing for which they’re thankful. Probably it’s because I knew 12 hours later the same do-gooders insisting on the exercise would be elbowing somebody in the groin to save $5 on a Cabbage Patch Kid. 

Kalle Oakes, Sports Columnist

Fast-forwarding to the present, my eye rolls are equally impressive when I see the daily “month of thankfulness” posts on social media. Sorry, insert GenX name here, but your political memes and veiled complaints about a family member buried the obligatory niceness in my feed all week long. 

I’m all for being thankful when it’s no longer coolSo let’s kick off December with some belated expressions of gratitude for the things I’m enjoying in sports at the moment … 

Eight-man and cooperative football giving the next generation of Maine kids an opportunity to play what I still believe is the greatest game on earth. Thirty years on the wrong side of graduation and one of my few remaining regrets is that my hometown didn’t have such an outlet for me to collect splinters or hold a clipboard when I was in high school. 

Kemba Walker wearing a Boston Celtics’ jersey. If you can’t already discern the value of Walker’s positive energy and production compared to Kyrie Irving’s God-given ability counteracted by his self-aggrandizing, I can’t help you. 

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick being the cornerstones of the New England Patriots’ franchise since the turn of the century. The list of one-hit wonders who have been The Next Big Thing in the quarterback and head coach realms is long and laughable. Every time a Lamar Jackson or Sean McVay comes along and inevitably gets figured out, my gratitude goes through the roof. Our two Old Reliables don’t have a system. They ARE the system. 

High school basketball’s existence. No matter where you live, how badly the temperature tanks, or how early the daylight disappears during December, January and February, there’s a warm, bright place we all can go and experience some connection to our community in these times of increasing detachment. 

Technology and the freedom of choice it provides. The rare treat of three consecutive days off and no major obligations left me with a smorgasbord of football and basketball-related options on the television and laptop this weekend. It’s hard to adequately explain to people of a certain age how limited our viewing options used to be. This past Friday or Saturday, I could have watched any Division I sporting event in America. If you have a life and can’t fully appreciate having all that foolishness at your fingertips, please accept my sympathies. 

The reality that you still reap what you sow in sports. Life isn’t always fair or easy to understand. Still, when a receiver from Ole Miss gets down on all fours, pretends to be a dog peeing on a fire hydrant, receives a 15-yard penalty for his “touchdown celebration” and costs his team a chip-shot extra point and a chance at overtime in a rivalry game, it does the heart good. Or when the Georgia Tech coach makes a point of doing push-ups after his team recovers a surprise onside kick at the start of a game, then loses 52-7, it become much easier to tell your kid that acting like a me-first doofus gets you nowhere in life. 

University of Maine hockey being reasonably relevant. It’s early, and it’s hardly reminiscent of the glory days when the Black Bears were competing for national championships and winning two of them, but 8-5-3 overall and undefeated at home through November is a quantum leap from the program’s dead-in-the-water look for much of this decade. It’s been hard to watch schools that didn’t even have a program 30 years ago surpass Maine in performance, facilities and recruiting, and it would be both fun and nostalgic to see the upward trend continue. 

Real rivalries. There’s so much contrived, talking-point disdain in sports nowadays. Not to mention that times change and render can’t-miss games of the bygone era much less meaningless. It’s warming to the soul when certain calendar checkpoints come along and grace us with Alabama-Auburn football, Duke-North Carolina basketball or an Original Six NHL game to remind us that healthy hatred still exists. 

Fantasy football. Because we all need that occasional dose of humility. Or a way to test our presumed knowledge without gambling away the rent. And the presence of too-cool-for-school people in our lives who tell us it’s a nerdy endeavor while they stand in line for whatever comic book movie debuts at midnight. 

College and pro football kickers who increasingly hook extra-point tries and shank chip-shot field goal attempts. Not because I engage in the oh-so-2019 activity of celebrating other folks’ failures, but because it inspires so many weekend warriors in the gallery to think out loud that they could perform the task successfully. (Friendly advice: You couldn’t.) 

The rumor that Maine high school basketball’s gatekeepers have counseled officials to weigh the spirit of the law, instead of the letter therein, and issue fewer technical fouls for dunks this season. It’s refreshing to see an activity that I covered from 1990 to 2016 at least move into the 1980s and give the participants a chance to showcase their athleticism like college-bound peers in the rest of the world. 

Readers from far and wide who continue to digest such offerings as these post-holiday leftovers. Thank you for your loyalty and sense of humor. You’re the only reason any of this is worthwhile. Have a blessed holiday season. 

Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72. 


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