Wednesday, October 03, 2007


When I started playing tennis eight years ago I had access to a great “bang wall,” as Irishman Desmond calls it, aka a “hitting wall” in the play yard of Ulloa School, my alma mater if you count half a year of kindergarten.

It’s a fifteen foot high concrete retaining wall that runs maybe 250 feet and forms the eastern boundary of the school’s grounds.

I’d go there on weekends and after work for an hour at a time. Hitting against a wall is a way to get a lot of strokes in a short time, and it’s a good workout. To be realistic, a person doesn’t really belong on a tennis court until they can sustain a twelve or twenty stroke rally with a wall.

Sometimes teachers leaving late, at 5:30pm or so would look at me warily, but the yard was so big, with almost no kids around, and I must have looked non-threatening.

I got to know a female custodian who would alert me when she was about to lock the last gate. Usually I’d tell her “thanks, I’ll just hop the fence when I’m through.”

After a year of this I went to the schoolyard on a summer weekday and jumped the fence but was quickly and nervously shooed away by a guy who, I gathered later, was running some sort of summer program for kids. Small and private, he wanted me out of the facility he had rented with good money.

A week later signs appeared on the fences at the easy climbing spots warning against illegal entry. Very unfriendly.

I wasn’t the only one climbing the fence. Teenagers would play baseball-oriented games. Moms and dads would lift there kids over the low part of the fence and play in the little kids’ section. For a while there was a guy doing very disciplined footwork exercises, I think he was a boxer.

By the time the signs went up I was a good enough tennis player that access to the hitting wall was not that big a deal. But without it, I doubt if I would have gotten good enough fast enough to want to keep playing.

Community access to schoolyards for recreational purposes has just been in the news. Pat Murphy over at the Sentinel covers it thoroughly in this story. Mayor Newsom is proposing a trial program that would open fourteen schoolyards to the community on weekends.

The fact that this is a big deal tells you what a hick town San Francisco really is, and what a can’t-do spirit our civil servants have.

Anyway, Newsom is allowing his newly appointed interim Supervisor Carmen Chu to introduce the legislation.

I guess it’s nice of the mayor to give her a readymade resume item so warm and fluffy.

I don’t think that Ulloa School, with it’s great hitting wall is included in the pilot program.

After my tennis session this morning, I stopped by Ulloa School to photograph one of the nasty do-not-climb signs on the fence near the kindergarten classrooms where I debuted academically.

I hoped the kids would be in class but the playground was full. I worried I’d look like a creepy old man taking pictures of kids in a schoolyard, but I was greeted enthusiastically.

“Hey mister! Could you get us our ball?”

It had come over the fence and rolled down the street a little.

At first I didn’t see it. The kids told me it was a “Batman ball.” Then I spottedit, a smallish rubbery kickball thing clearly marked “Batman,” under a red sports car, and threw it back. One of their teachers came over to thank me.

The sign I found was different from the ones they originally put up—not quite as nasty, but still not too friendly.

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