Magazine article Parks & Recreation

No Contest: Rabbi Reeve Brenner's Plea for Inclusive, Non-Competitive Recreation

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

No Contest: Rabbi Reeve Brenner's Plea for Inclusive, Non-Competitive Recreation

Article excerpt

"YOU WONDER WHAT KIND OF CULTURE WE HAVE," Rabbi Reeve Brenner muses as he gestures at the multi-sports playing field at Hattie Stepanek Park in Rockville, Maryland. "You've got football, soccer. Okay, I'm not against it; it's a good thing to have in society. But that doesn't hack it. It's only ]0 percent of the population at best, maybe even 5 percent where their needs are being met."

As a former college basketball player who continued to play the game until he was well into his 70s, Rabbi Brenner does not seem like someone who would be inclined to find fault with competitive sports. However, it was basketball itself that prompted him to rethink the nature of play.

"It was the very fact that basketball was so aggressive and exclusionary, and how they always play against each other and you always have winners and losers," he recalls.

"It was this that triggered me into thinking that we could modify all our sports in a way that we could have both aggression as an option and also non-aggressive sports-sports where you play against each other but also sports you could play alongside one other to gain civility and companionability. Playmates, not opponents."

Major sports foster aggression and combat, he argues, which need to be balanced against other alternatives that nurture inclusion and socialization. He describes sports such as bowling, disc golf, archery, and his own game of Bankshot as "play without contest," because players confront only the parameters of the game and not each other directly.

Inspired by a cousin who uses a wheelchair, Brenner invented the Bankshot basketball game in 1981 while living in Israel. The courts have since spread to more than 200 locations in the United States and 50 abroad, including parks, schools, and summer camps. Often compared to mini-golf, the game involves banking basketballs into baskets off a variety of contorted backboards. Bankshot can be played by people of a wide range of ages, heights, and abilities; in fact, a lightly thrown shot often will careen into the basket more easily than one that is thrown too hard.


On this day, Brenner is showing the Bankshot court at Hattie Stepanek Park to 6ila Baruh, an educator from Istanbul who is considering whether the game would be a good fit for an elementary school. "When I first saw Bankshot, I was not sure what to expect," she says. …

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