I grew up in Ardmore Pennsylvania. Our favorite playground was about 3 blocks away and was equipped with baseball & softball fields, basketball & tennis courts, children’s playground equipment , summer day camp activities, stickball or kickball courts and just about anything else that an adventurous and athletic kid could possibly hope for.
Elwell Field was a true wonderland and an amazing place to grow up. I have vivid memories of my adventures at that place beginning when I was too young to cross the streets alone, all the way into my college years when I would return for some great pick-up basketball games. Side note – one summer these pickup games also included names such as Duane McClain, Gary McLain, Dwight Wilbur, R.C. Massimino, and Steve Pinone who all went on to win a NCAA National Championship for Villanova in 1985.
Elwell was worthy of a mention, but that’s not really what I want to talk about today.
At the far end of Elwell Field was a gate which lead to a dirt path which crossed another field and ultimately lead us straight to “The College”.
This was another magical place for a small group of us who regularly frequented Haverford College as kids. And although I lived in the general proximity of several colleges, this was clearly the closest and didn’t need to be referred to by any name other than “The College”.
The College had something for everyone. The duck pond was a popular spot for ice skating in the winter time for kids, adults, and students alike. There was also a great fieldhouse and indoor track as well as an older gym and we could always find a place to either play hoops or just hang out.
When we needed a break from activity, we meandered into the student center or cafeteria to grab a snack or crash on the floor to watch TV, with our heads propped up against our basketballs.
We interacted with many of the students and other official College personnel and none thought we actually belonged there, but at the same time, nobody cared. Yes, it was a different world back then and security was certainly not what it is today. But it was clear that we weren’t causing any harm or destruction so people basically just let us be and do our own thing. It also gave us an incredible sense of independence to have that kind of freedom as a kid, even if for the day.
Some days we were even put to work running the lines and shagging balls during soccer games.
The College was a great escape for me for other reasons as well. It was an extremely peaceful and scenic campus and provided a great little getaway where you could be as active or relaxed as your mood dictated. Even as a kid I felt a great sense of calm around that campus. Later in life it became one of my favorite places to run because of that scenic and serene atmosphere.
That atmosphere is not an accident. That atmosphere is the direct results of the College’s cultural philosophy and the strong Quaker foundation on which is was built. Of course I knew nothing about this when I was that kid hanging out on campus. I just knew it was an enjoyable place to be. But I later learned more about this place and perhaps began to understand just WHY I felt so at peace on that campus.
That campus provided me a place to explore, think, exert, ponder, and reflect, on any given Saturday. It was free of barriers, labels, and restrictions and allowed people the freedom of self expression. I never felt unsafe or threatened anywhere on that campus. And I really think that it was there where I honed and crafted the fine art of just being.
I still visit it today. It is still a popular spot to visit when I am out on my bike. And when I do, I make sure I take my time and ride past most, if not all, of the places that I cherished so much growing up. I take it all in; the sights, the smells, and the lack of sounds.
I ponder, I reflect, and …. I smile because it is another living reminder of how lucky I was to grow up when and where I did. And how lucky I am today.