Lots of things are annoying. But not everything is the same amount of annoying. There are Levels of Annoying.
Missing the time you want to set your alarm to by one press of a button is mildly annoying. Wondering when in God's name The Sports Guy is coming out with a new column is pretty annoying. Turning on PTI and seeing someone other than Tony and Mike is really annoying. Watching a game announced by either Paul Maguire or Mike Patrick is gouge-your-eyes-out-with-a-spoon-Houston-style annoying.
But nothing - read this carefully: nothing - is more annoying than playing in the Mansion Park Summer League.
It's the infuriating thing all other infuriating things strive to be like. Think of the most annoying thing you can think of. Really use your imagination. Something just infuriating. Something so stupid and unfair and unexplainable you just want to punch yourself in the temple because of it. Playing in a Mansion game would make that feel like a mud bath at a day spa. With cucumbers on your eyes. (Not that I would know. Ahem.)
There really are a million reasons why playing in this summer league is like the basketball equivalent of Chinese water torture, but somehow I've managed to whittle the list down to a Top Ten. Without further ado...
Reason Number Ten: The Little Things.
Let's see, where to begin? Well for starters, when you leave Mansion, you can't turn left. There's a tree branch on Court Two at Mansion that leads the league in blocks every year (plus if The Tree blocks you, its a turnover...that doesn't seem to fair). The people who run the scoreboard rarely pay attention, but who can blame them, with all that gum to chew, and all those nails to look at, and all those day dreams to get through? That hotline is a joke; if you live 20 minutes away or more, and there's a rain out, well, I hope you like driving. The "fans" who sit in the stands like its a real game and yell at refs and players or cheer loudly, well, I'm sure you have a better way to spend your time. Oh, you don't? This is the highlight of your day? Really? Oh, I'm sorry to hear that...by all means, then, continue humiliating yourself and whoever you are cheering for. Let me step aside. Oh, and they lock the damn door so if you are sitting at Court One, and want to watch a game at Court Two, you have to walk like a block to get there when there is a perfectly functional door that would make that walk non-existant. Makes perfect sense.
Reason Number Nine: The Basketballs.
Mansion hasn't bought a new ball in my lifetime. Maybe that's a small thing, but you know what, though? New basketballs aren't really that minor. New balls every year may seem like a small thing, but its really not. I mean, this is a basketball league. Basketballs are kind of important, no? So would it be too much to ask to pick up a few new balls every summer instead of dusting of the antiques from 1982? We've been playing with the same basketballs for a couple of decades now, and they are balder than my grandpa (and nearly the same age). They aren't even that expensive - look, they're like 20 bucks. Think you could crack open the vault and spring for four of them a summer?
Reason Number Eight: The rest of the facilities.
Just exactly what is Mansion doing with these entrance fees?
The facilities - Mansion or Leopold - haven't been updated or maintained that I've ever been made aware of. Leopold courts are more slanted than the roof on my house. If you shoot from the right corner, the hoop is about 9'5". Shoot from the left, and the hoop is about 10'9". You can literally see the courts slanting by just looking at it; its so blatant even the Mansion refs could notice it. There is no way whoever built this court has two functional eyes; if he did, I think he was wearing only one shoe and his level was broke.
Shooting a free throw out there is like trying to win a prize at a carnival - you are standing on a slant, you have no idea how high the hoop is, the wind is probably gusting around - you might as well get it over with and just move the basket from side to side and give out stuffed elephants every time someone makes one.
The backboards...um, hey guys? You think you could spring for a can of paint and a stencil? Maybe put a square up there? Or are we good with just a huge, plain white plastic backboard that is bouncier than a ping pong table? OK, you're right, that is asking a little much....how 'bout you just make sure the scoreboard is always functional? Just so we know the score and how much time is left? Is there 0:50 left? Or is that 8:58? Somewhere in between? No, those little light bulbs are too expensive?
OK, just thought I'd ask. You can go back to sucking at everything now.
Reason Number Seven: Skip Dry.
Skip is the owner or the founder or something...I don't know exactly what he is, but he's the guy in charge. And that's not a good thing.
Skip..ah, how to say this...Skip has a bit of a Napoleon complex. Skippy thinks he is running a league for 8 year olds with ADHD, and the only possible solution is to just yell as loud as he can at all times. I've honestly never heard the man talk in what would be considered a normal voice. He has no concept of an "inside voice." Every time he opens his mouth, he is screaming. If someone is two feet away, he's screaming at them. If someone is two courts away, he's screaming at them (by the way, anyone else think it a little, ah...odd that Skip doesn't consider distance a factor when he talks? It really makes no difference to Skip of you are right next to him or at the other end of a football field - same level of loudness; I think he has voice immodulation disease. And why would you even try to talk to someone that far away? Are they gonna shout back like a lunatic? Imagine calling him on a phone?)
But Skippy has no rationale or logic. He yells at players. He yells at coaches. He yells at fans. He stops games to make inane points. He stops games to yell at people sitting in the stands. I don't know the full details, but suffice it to say, he's responsible for kicking out probably the greatest player ever to play at Mansion. He truly and firmly believes he's never been wrong about anything. He truly believes people come to Mansion to watch him ref (he's the director and he refs. Makes sense). He truly believes he is some kind of law, and that people should fear him. His presence makes Mansion unbearable. He's domineering, overbearing and miserable to be around, but on the bright side, he's a belligerent egomaniac, so he has that going for him. I genuinely can't think of a single good thing he brings to the table.
Plus, his attitude filters down and permeates itself through the rest of the employees in the league. Which, needless to say, is not good.
Reason Number Six: The "Non-Resident" Fee.
What a ripoff. In the words of Kramer, the "Non-Resident" Fee is the biggest scam perpetrated on the American public since one-hour martinizing.
Mansion charges every player not a current resident of Altoona an extra five bucks just to play in the league. Like its some grand privilege we'd all gladly pay extra for. Five bucks? Are you sure that's it? Gee, thanks Skip, you're a hell of a guy! Can you explain that to me? Is there a good reason? Some type of insurance thing? Liability? There had better be a damn good explanation as to why someone living in Hollidaysburg has to pay an extra 5 bucks just to play basketball. It just seems like something Mansion would do just to be jerks and annoy the hell out of everyone. I'll bet my non-resident fee Skip is behind this.
(Sidenote: The league's website has this to say: "The non-resident fee is not intended as a penalty, but rather compensation for administering the program." Um...what the hell does that mean? Did that just confuse things further? Isn't the entrance fee "compensation"? What a flippin' joke. Honestly.)
Reason Number Five: The Altoona Mirror.
I understand that during the summer, with schools and colleges out, there isn't a lot of local sports to cover. But still, that's no excuse to cover the Mansion League like it's an actual sporting event. And the way they cover it...well, that's not helping things, either.
Once a week, they run a weekly roundup sort of thing (not to mention putting the champ on the front page of the sports section). So you got morons and jackasses gunning to get their name in the paper, because the Mirror doesn't distinguish between good players (of which there are shockingly few) to people who score a lot of points. Plus, the Mirror runs the scores every morning of the previous nights games. (OK, that I can understand. Run the scores in the agate, so people can check if they want. Fine.) But then they print the high-scorer of each team, too. WHY?!?! Do they have any idea what this does to the league? People jack shots, cry for fouls so they can get to the line, play dirty, take Division III games as serious as Game 7 of the NBA Finals - all to get their name in the paper.
I'm not saying everyone does this, but enough people do it that its annoying and borderline detrimental (and you know who you are). People who still think its high school (except now they are actually playing) play like idiots to get their name in the paper. Not good. Plus - and I have no idea if this is true, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is - it makes Skip think "his league" is more big time than it really is. Its a lose-lose-lose situation. So Altoona Mirror - just run the scores in the agate from now on. Please. So Skip can at least get his head through the entrance gate.
Reason Number Four: The New Divisions.
In previous years - as long as I can remember, anyways - Mansion has had three divisions. I, II and III. Division I had the 18 best teams, Division II the next best, etc. Simple, straight forward, effective. They actually got something right, but it was only a matter of time before they blew it. It was too good to be true. There was a part of their league they hadn't completely botched. This year, the league accepts 61 teams instead of the usual 54. Instead of just expanding each league by 2 or 3 teams (or even just Divisions II and III), they recreate the whole structure.
Now we're stuck with 4 divisions - North, East, South and West. So now its impossible to tell which league is the best, which is the worst, and the two in-between. It might not be that big of a deal, but every time you have a conversation with someone about Mansion, it invariably goes like this:
Me: "So who you playin' for this summer?"
Them: "Oh, I'm playin' with Team X this summer."
Me: "Oh yea? That's cool...what division is that?"
Me: "Oh." (Translation: I have no idea if that's good, bad or somewhere in between. The conversation immediately dies a slow, awkward death).
Them: "Mhmm." (Translation: This prick thinks he's better than me. Or you know what? He doesn't even care. What a smug jerk. I'm outta here. Asshole.)
So thanks for that, Mansion. I now have less friends because of your idiotic Directional Divisions. By the way, I would love to have seen Skip trying to come up with that: (Screaming to himself) WELL, I MADE FOUR NEW DIVISIONS. NOW I HAVE TO NAME THEM. LET'S SEE, WHAT COMES IN FOURS?!?!? ONE, TWO, THREE AND FOUR? NO, TOO MUCH LIKE THE LAST 92 YEARS. COLORS? NO, I CAN ONLY SEE RED...AMERICAN AND NATIONAL? DAMN, ONLY TWO...MAYBE WE SHOULD JUST GOT BACK TO THREE DIVISIONS...HONEY!
And since they came up with divisions, you'd think North would be the best (the top), South would be the worst (the bottom) and East and West would be the two in-between divisions. Simple, right? Wrong. They even screwed that up. Unbelievable.
Reason Number Three: We Get Less Games This Year.
The new Directional Divisions screw Divisions out of games. Division I used to get 17 games per summer. By going to four divisions, we now get 15 games per summer. That's special.
And I may be wrong here, but the entrance fee either remained the same or went up. And if it went down, it didn't go down enough to make up for two games getting chopped off the schedule. What a freaking rip-off.
(If anyone knows the actual prices from this summer and last summer, please let me know and I'll update this section. Thank you.)
This makes me so mad I can't even discuss it rationally. Let's just move on.
Reason Number Two: The Players Themselves.
I touched on this earlier, but the players - due to various reasons, most of which are the result of Mansion itself - create an atmosphere that at times - at times - is almost unbearable.
Not all of the players are like this. In fact, the majority aren't. But there are enough players at Mansion who treat the league like its March Madness and they're playing for George Mason. (If you are reading this, and you play at Mansion, and you just asked yourself "Am I one of those guys?" Guess what? You are. Knock it off.) I have no problems with guys playing hard, going all out, playing to win, etc. Heck, that's the point - compete. But there is a line there, especially in a summer league. You don't need to be screaming at players, either your own or on another team. You don't need to talk trash (if someone else starts it, that's different. But if you initiate trash talk in a summer league...you need to rearrage some priorities there, homie). Just play right. Its hard to explain; either you know how to play right or you don't. But just try.
And then there is the yelling at the refs. Now...let me be straight with you. I have just as big a gripe with the officiating out there as the next guy. I'll be first in line at the Mansion Refs Suck booth. But fellas, let's be reasonable. There's a few things to keep in mind before you bust a blood vessel screaming at a moron who probably doesn't understand what you are saying in the first place:
1. You, yourself, must know the rule you are bitching about. Do you really know the over and back rule? Are you sure that's when you can be in the lane on a free throw? Are you positive you didn't reach there? Do you know the over-the-back call? And dear Lord, please, above all else, make sure you know the qualifications for taking a charge.And that's pretty much it. If you know the rules and don't suck, complain all you want. Otherwise, shut your trap, because you're making yourself look like a jackass. Just letting you know.
2. You, yourself, cannot suck. If you do, don't complain about the reffing. Have fun running up and down the court and looking like you have a pair of broken arms when you shoot. And yes, you just double-dribbled.
3. The older you are, the more pathetic you look when you yell at a ref. If you have more hair on your back than on your head, might wanna take a chill pill.
Reason Number One: The Refs.
Ah yes, here we are. Finally. The Holy Grail of Unexplainable Things That Make You Want to Jump Off Something Very, Very High and Land on Something Very, Very Hard. The refs at Mansion.
Deep breathes. Pressure points. Woo-sah, woo-sah.
This much is inarguable: the refs at Mansion, without exception, suck. Flat-out. Cannot be argued. What is debatable, however, is why they suck.
Some say its because they don't know all the rules. This is a very valid point. If there was a reffing test, I'd wager heavily they would all fail spectacularly. I would imagine a lot of erasing and broken pencils, all while sweating profusely. I've seen rules called both ways within the same game - top of the backboard is in, now it is out, for example. Block/charge, while a difficult call, is like a Rubik's Cube for these guys. You should see their face when they have to decide between a block or a charge - they look like their son just told them he was gay. Uh...oh boy...what do I do now? Geez...this one wasn't in the manual...I think I'll just smile and do nothing. The no-call is their go-to move. Amazingly, these refs are more than adept at getting both benches to explode over the same call. Its really their specialty. I just try to chant this to myself as I play. Most of the refs know a few of the rules, and a few of the refs know most of all the rules. But none know them all, so be patient. Woo-sah. (Sidenote: it doesn't really help.)
Some say its because they are inconsistent. Another terrific point. At one end, a guy could get fouled so hard that blood is drawn - no exaggeration - and there will be no call. Then at the other end, there will be a ticky-tack call where there was minimal contact and sho' 'nuff, there's the whistle. You really have to see it to believe it. I've actually been in games where guys apologized for fouling me when no foul was called, and I've been in games where I've been whistled for fouls and the player says to me, "Man, you didn't even touch me." That's always fun.
Some say its because they are just jerks. Tough to argue with this point as well. While not all fall into this category, most do. I've played organized basketball at several levels, and never once has a ref gone out of his or her way to intentionally antagonize a player. Welcome to Mansion Park. Refs actually trash talk. Refs actually engage in back-and-forth arguments while games are being played. All it takes is a little eye roll or a comment under your breath, and it's on. They can say whatever they want to you, but if you talk back - bam! Technical, and you're out of the game and have to sit out the next one as well (a rule they instituted solely because the refs are so bad, people would literally get technicals every game if the threat of missing a whole game wasn't looming over their heads). They are little extensions of Skippy, which as we all know, is not a good thing.
Some say the players drive them to it. I can see this, too, and it's a shame. The refs do put up with so much bullshit from morons - in every level - that when someone who actually knows what he is talking about tries to have a discussion, the ref loses his mind. Kinda tough to blame them there, but still...they should know the difference.
Some say its because they feel they are bigger than the actual game being played. Again, I concur. Most of the refs genuinely believe that fans come to watch them blow their whistle. They genuinely believe players pay over 400 bucks just so that when they travel, they can hear, "No, NO, NO, NO - that's a travel. We are going this way." (I wish I knew names of these guys, but I've been trying to block them out of my mind for so long, I can't remember them. Man Boobs and the Old Guy are the worst, though)
Personally? I wish they would just admit when they are wrong. They have convinced themselves that they are infallible. If they called it, well, it must be true. Hey, I blew my whistle! You heard it, didn't you? Then it is THE TRUTH. Don't even argue, or I will call the thunder and the lightning from the sky to strike you where you stand. For I have a whistle and a "Ref" t-shirt, and you will obey me, peasant. Listen, we know you aren't perfect. We understand. We want to like you. So just be personable, admit you messed up every once and a while, and we'll be cool. Is that too much to ask?
With all that, why do I play? Well, its the only league in town. If you want to play - and apparently, quite a few do - this is where you have to play. Which is why monopolies are outlawed. Skip knows this and can run the league like a prison warden. So I have to play there. But I don't have to like it.
When I strike it rich, please believe the first (ok, not first, but top ten) thing I'll do is open up a league to compete with Mansion. Mansion will close within 3 summers, maybe 2. Honestly, how hard could it be? Once you have the courts, all you need to do is buy balls every summer and get some decent refs (What're those PIAA guys doing in the summer? Exactly.) And hey, if someone wants to do this before me, buy all means, go right ahead. Just do everything exactly the opposite as Mansion and Skip, and you'll be golden.
Best of luck to you.