Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Denerothi Sportballers.

"Watch yourself while you're stuck in the southwest dormitories. That's where the fourth-tier "Bleeders" like to hang out. Now, now. Don't despair. Just think of it like a little stint in prison. Keep your head down, and do your own time."
- Harl Rittuger, third-year senior, advising a group of first-year freshmen.

- The carving on a custom weapon confiscated from a member of the second-tier "Dashers" after their confrontation with city authorities. The weapon combines all of the worst aspects of a machete and a flanged mace.

It is strange to see so many well-adjusted and friendly athletes here in our time spent at Porylus. Nary a spiked boot nor club has been spotted among them, and their colleagues and peers seem to regard them positively even when they aren't within line of sight or earshot.

I've inquired into this with both Kibra and members of the student body, and the general response I've gotten has been pleasant naivete. Apparently sports are treated very differently here compared to back home in Deneroth. I will describe a few of those differences below, so that I have some easy points to bring up in conversation in the event that I encounter one of these people the Monites call 'coaches'.

Deneroth has a very old, very proud tradition of athletic competition in and around the ITU. The first game played in the city is said to have been a match of organized pig-wrestling on the second tier, within view of the eastern gates to the University itself. Despite the occasionally painfully accurate stereotype of ITU being full of bony, midnight-tanned twits, the institution actually places a very high emphasis on physical health and fitness- a healthy body is a better vessel for a vast mind, and the like. It helps that Haraal, in all his chiseled, bronzed, and freshly-oiled glory, is often invoked as the patron god of competition and physical perfection.

Within a century of Deneroth's founding, there are records of the young people belonging to the founding families organizing themselves into teams to compete with one another. These teams were often divided according to the cardinal direction or tier the members hailed from, which infused the games with an undercurrent of neighborhood posturing and class struggle almost from the start.

When the University found its yearly registrations dwindling due to founding families raising uninterested children, merging together, or going defunct, it gradually expanded its membership by allowing non-founders to pay into the school via temporary adoption. This brought in an influx of young minds with bodies attached, and the ITU suddenly had enough people to form its first varsity teams. The diversity of games played up top was also stimulated by the influx of lower-tier youths, who brought with them their many games of foot.

Unfortunately, the school administration wasn't entirely sure what to do about the sport teams. The vast array of titles and positions of power in the university did not include organized sporting anywhere within their jurisdictions, and the thought of adding a new title into the mix was and is still seen as a deeply risky move that could upset the balance of power and radically alter the ranking system by as much as ±3.5 points.

So, while senior members or organizers of sport teams have some de facto recognition, they do not have any power to dictate what the teams do or how they spend their endowments each year. 'Coaches' do not exist. Ideally, this makes each team its own democratic body which makes decisions as a group. And for a time, that was the case. But by the year I am writing this in, the reality has changed.

Authority within a team goes to whoever is the most popular or able to wield any power they possess, or more often a combination of both. The head of a club becomes the top of a vicious pecking order which is in constant flux as younger members vie for their own place with the hope of one day rising to usurp their watchful seniors.

These are some of the brightest, wealthiest, most conventionally attractive young minds in the University- and lifetimes of being told so means that they know that all too well. Cults of personality exist here, as do dens of petty crime that the University is ill-equipped to deal with due to a lack of a regulatory bodies for sport-related groups, especially those who keep their teams headquartered outside of the campus. City authorities have somewhat better luck, but as with spoiled rich children anywhere, the protection of their families is never far off.

Funding goes wherever the members see fit, and it is not unusual to see one team loitering around the headquarters of another, weaker team while carrying horseback mallets to "encourage" them to pool their funds together for future projects. Survivors of this brand of collegiate thuggery tend to be hardened and smarmy in equal measure. Other times, a team might hang a piece of sport equipment above the doorway of a nearby establishment, signaling to all that the building and its business is within the club's turf and "protection". Any resistance to this racketeering tends to result in a street brawl that sees few if any of the instigators legally reprimanded.

It is a wonder that any of the clubs or their constituent teams have any time leftover to practice their sport, but somehow they do enough of it to make periodic games look quite spectacular. Bribery and kneecapping help to grease the wheels leading up to city finals, where some of the most larger-than-life showboating and fakery can be enjoyed every year. The games take care of so much of that primal urge for violence that their fans hardly ever indulge in rioting.

Ostensibly, because of Porylus' position as a sibling-city to Deneroth, the Campus here should be entitled and/or obliged to partake in athletic competition with the teams of ITU. Distance between cities tends to hamper that bond, however. And if I am being honest with myself, I hope it never becomes a routine thing. There is something precious and worth protecting about the sporting kids here.

I wouldn't want to see them invited to an empty field by a home team for a bit of "friendly scrimmaging", or to hear of one of their mascot pets being stolen and made to replace the hog in a game of bacon-catch.¹

¹ Bacon-catch is a recent, more extreme offshoot of the traditional horseback game brought by the ancient Ersuunians. Instead of striking a ball with mallets, the players use short lassos or hooked implements to grab a live animal, typically a greased hog, and drag it across a goal line. The pig typically dies before the end of the second of four-to-eight periods, meaning that if replacements aren't on hand, its carcass is dragged across the field and fought over for the next hour or so. This somewhat grizzly display ends once a winner is declared and the animal's remains are roasted in a victory feast, as the name of the game suggests.

1 comment:

  1. In which I ratchet up the comical dystopia of Deneroth, just because.