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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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What happened to summer fun?

I can't stand saying things like “when I was a kid.''

It makes me feel old — and I am not old yet, I still have the maturity of a 15-year-old.

But I'm going to use it this time.

When I was a kid, the last day of school was almost a holiday. It was practically Christmas, Thanksgiving and a really cool birthday all rolled into one. It meant sweaty days on the basketball court, the baseball field, the swimming pool and, most importantly, no adults. It was our time. Nothing needed to be organized. We made our own fun and had an awful lot of fun doing so.

I grew up in Baltimore and spent my late middle school and early high school years running around having awesome summers in the fabulous '80s. Here's a typical day:

We would wake up and eat some horrible cereal (Frosted Flakes were the best), then meet at a little field between buildings at our apartment complex to play baseball. No adults allowed. It was just an empty field, no bases or base paths. Anything off the walls on the sides of the field was in play. If it went into the street it was a double, and if it hit the dumpster in center field it was a homer.

Anybody could play. If you just showed up in the middle of the game, you just picked a team. If it was lunchtime, you left, no big deal. You simply came back. The team at bat left their gloves on the “field'' and we used those as bases. Nobody kept score.

After the game or games, it was a quick lunch and then we headed to the basketball court, which was right next to the pool. We sweated a lot, tried to flirt with girls — I was awful at that, my A-material was pathetic. After basketball and swimming, it was back for more baseball and then, when it was getting late and some of the kids had to head for dinner, we'd play Three-Flies or Rundown or even draw a strike zone on a wall with a piece of chalk and try to throw strikes. There were also water balloon fights in the alley behind my house.

The point is, in the 1980s, there were no iPods, cell phones and very few video games. We spent our time outside playing with each other instead of communicating by staring at a cell phone.

So, to get to the point, on Monday, the first day kids were out of school, I took a drive in my new car. I live in Westchase, so I drove through that area, the Oldsmar area and Carrollwood. I know most of the parks in the area and there are some really great places to play ball or even just run around.

I spent about two hours driving around, just checking. I didn't see one kid. Not one.

I thought it was kind of sad. Don't get me wrong, Hillsborough County offers tons of summer camps and chances for kids to do almost anything they want, but still, it was sad to see parks and vacant fields without a single child on them. There was no one at the basketball courts, the baseball fields, the swimming pools.

It seems like everything is too organized because adults want to be involved. I was at a Kwik-E-Mart on Monday and saw four kids in Little League outfits come out of a van. They weren't smiling. I don't know if they were coming back or on their way to some travel game, but they looked glum. They looked like kids who, if they wanted to play baseball during their summer vacation, would have rather just played at the local park or some place where they could set down a bunch of gloves and have no adults involved.

Last week I talked to several middle school kids and asked what they were going to do with their summer. Each one of them said they were going to watch movies because there was nothing to do. It's kind of sad because there is so much to do. It's too late to turn back a trend. Kids are spending all their time on their cell phones babbling away mindlessly, and that's too bad.

There's plenty of room to go outside and enjoy the summer, if we could just leave parents, cell phones and all the other distractions out of it.

Those are my thoughts.

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