Every sport has its old school players


Some athletes do things differently from most others. Nationals pitcher Ross Ohlendorf has a windup that looks like something out of the 1950s. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

I have a new favorite player on the Washington Nationals: pitcher Ross Ohlendorf. (I hope his injury from yesterday’s game is not serious.)

I like the 30-year-old hurler not because he has pitched some good games for the struggling Nats. No, I like Ohlendorf because he is old school.

Lots of kids must be asking: What’s “old school”? In sports, it describes an athlete who looks like and plays like athletes from years ago. Watch Ohlendorf the next time he pitches. Unlike most pitchers today, who keep their hands close to their chest, Ohlendorf swings his arms high above his head before he fires his fastball. His windup looks like something out of the 1950s or a black-and-white film clip.

What else in sports is old school? In baseball, it’s a player who wears his uniform pants up at his knees and shows his socks — like Bryce Harper. Some players’ pants these days are so droopy, they look as if they are playing in their pajamas.

Speaking of droopy drawers, any basketball player who wears his or her shorts a few inches above the knee qualifies as old school. But in hoops, the real old-school players are ones who prefer solid fundamentals instead of showy play. They’re players who would rather make a layup or a jump shot than a slam dunk.

Think of the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan or the Miami Heat’s Ray Allen. They are old school.

The Redskins’ veteran linebacker London Fletcher is old school. Fletcher tackles ball carriers by wrapping his arms around their legs. Nowadays, lots of defenders don’t wrap up the ball carrier, they smash into him.

Old-school football players don’t celebrate after every play. Barry Sanders scored 109 touchdowns during his 10-year career as a running back for the Detroit Lions. How did Sanders celebrate? He handed the ball to the referee. Sanders acted as if he had scored a touchdown before and, more important, he acted as if he would be coming back to the end zone.

And offensive linemen who play in short sleeves no matter how cold the weather is are definitely old school.

In hockey, a winger who flicks a wrist shot instead of taking a slap shot every time is old school. Two-way hockey players — those are players who skate hard on defense as well as offense — are old school, too.

The 2013 women’s Wimbledon champ, Marion Bartoli, with her all-court game and variety of shots, echoes great players from the past. Too many of today’s tennis players just stand on the base line and smash the ball as hard as they can every time.

No matter what the game, old school can be cool.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 18 sports books for kids that combine sports fiction and sports history. His latest book is “Perfect Game.”

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