If hooping were an Olympic event, Madison would no doubt have several qualifying athletes, and I would bet we’d get a medal or two (check out this video). The same would be possible with playing hackey sack, slacklining, or throwing a Frisbee. I’d also have some competitor suggestions for actual Olympic events like volleyball and soccer. Where would I find all these Olympic hopefuls? Right down the street from The Livingston Inn at James Madison Park.
My son and I make a pretty regular visit to James Madison Park every late Friday afternoon. We enjoy each other’s company as much as watching the variety of people. The Olympic embellishment aside, we are always impressed by the talent of park-goers participating in all types of recreation. Hula hoops (hooping) are a regular fixture. One young woman can place one leg through the hula hoop, and in the blink of an eye and slight wiggle of her body, bring the hoop up her body and out through the opposite arm. We don’t know how she does it, but it’s fun to watch.
We’ve also seen a guy who could probably keep a hackey sack in motion without it touching the ground for hours. One time we saw him jump off the ground, place his foot behind one leg, and with the same foot, kick the hackey sack back in the air. We’ve also seen incredible Frisbee tosses by humans and airborne catches by dogs. And then there’s the volleyball, soccer, and football players – all of them very accomplished in their sport of choice. Besides the Friday afternoons with my son, our entire family often goes to the park ourselves to practice volleyball serves, throw a baseball, or play our own version of the Super Bowl.
As a society, we often fret about the amount of time young people spend on computers, video games, and mobile phones. For the crowd that gathers regularly at James Madison Park, I have no concerns. It’s obvious they spend a lot of time perfecting, and enjoying, their sport or talent. It makes me believe the art of leisure is not lost. There’s a photo of William T. Leitch, the builder of The Livingston Inn, on the website of the Wisconsin State Historical Society. In the photo, Mr. Leitch is sitting on the shore of Lake Mendota enjoying the company of an acquaintance. It encourages me over a hundred years later that Madison residents still enjoy the unique setting of living on an isthmus, this piece of land wedged between two lakes. At a park on the lake, they get outside, meet friends, and find something fun to do. There’s no Olympic podium or stadium. But there are a few nice park benches for spectators along with a culture that welcomes any athlete and any sport as part of another beautiful day on Lake Mendota.