As a boy, I had three noteworthy characteristics: I was tall for my age, I loved astronomy, and I hated sports. No matter how much I tried to inspire others to look up and take an interest in the night sky, I remember people changing the subject. “Doveed” they would say, using my Hebrew nickname, “you’re so tall, you should be a basketball player.”During the summer of 1955, while attending a YMHA day camp (the Hebrew version of the YMCA), we celebrated parents’ afternoon. As my mom and dad sat in the balcony, our little group of boys stood in line to shoot hoops. I stood in line behind all the other boys. My parents waved frantically at me. I smiled and waved back. They waved more anxiously, but I never moved forward. As the other children moved along, I never took my turn at the ball. I just stood there, grinning and waving.
Even today, friends still make fun of my lack of interest in sports. I do think that healthy competition in any field is important, and I married a woman who spent 26 years teaching physical education at a middle school. In charge of the only program using the school’s huge sports field, she added an astronomical twist by organizing a viewing session for the 1994 annular solar eclipse that tracked over the school. There was an iron-clad rule prohibiting any students from watching the eclipse without supervision, so she also took the responsibility of overseeing any who wanted to view the event.
Our annual Adirondack Astronomy Retreat in Upstate New York is also conducive for daytime play. The observing field is far larger than needed for the telescopes we have set up, which leaves plenty of room for jumping rope, Frisbee, and other easy sports. Even more exciting for people like me is the camp’s elegant system of hiking trails. My favorite is a hike that offers a majestic view of the camp from above, plus some of the nearby Adirondack peaks. And there’s another that provides a view of Lake Champlain to the east.
Despite my lack of athletic prowess, there are times when exercise and being in better shape than I am would help. During my last visit to New York City’s Hayden Planetarium Rose Center, director Neil Tyson, who was a boxer in his youth, often emphasized his points with a friendly jab to my shoulder. As his enthusiasm intensified, so did his jabs. Neil may have forgotten his own strength as he showed me a huge hanging mobile of Jupiter impregnated with Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact spots. I consider myself lucky to have remained standing!
Throughout the year, our Sharing the Sky Foundation offers monthly star nights at our local school. The children gather on the basketball court, shooting hoops while waiting for the sky to darken and the night’s program to begin. As the hoops evolve into the night and the stars come out, everybody scores.