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Vikings just wanna climb

Which serves as a better metaphor for the Portland State experience: a racquetball court or a rock wall? The Peter Stott Center and the PSU Outdoor Program are looking for a few motivated students (again) to help them change the face of athletic adventure here on campus.

I don’t have any experience with rock wall climbing – at least not literally – but I do know a thing or two about the racquetball courts here on campus. About 15 years ago, the weird sport that occurs in a small box of a room came into my life, courtesy of that great disseminator, television. I was watching Monday Night Football with my next-door neighbor.

A commercial came on, and I saw a pair of sweaty white guys in 1980s athletic gear (nice shorts!) holding tiny racquets in their sweatbanded wrists. One competitor felt like going a final round, but the other seemed worn down. The match was destined to continue, however, due to the fierce competitor’s subtle taunt of “How about for a Michelob Lite?”

“You’re on,” responded the other, and a sweeping anthem emanated from my neighbor’s TV set. A studio band that sounded like a cross between Foreigner, Journey and Toto built a heavy beat behind what struck me then as yet another sweaty white guy belted out the inspired lyric, “Michelob Lite for the winner.”

My pal and I looked at each other and realized that this crazy sport, apparently a high-tech cross between wall-ball and badminton, was going to be the sport of our future. After all, racquetball afforded us the chance to make tons of great grunting noises in an acoustically friendly environment. The necessity of plastic safety goggles assured us we had stumbled upon an activity in which participants genuinely could lose an eye or two. Best of all, when the chips were down, we could give voice to the Michelob Lite theme song and imagine ourselves sweating in slow motion.

It isn’t entirely clear to me why we gave up on racquetball. The movie “Say Anything” told us kickboxing was bound to be “the sport of the future,” but neither of us rushed to trade in our safety goggles for padded gloves.

Perhaps the odor of those small, square courts finally got to us. Whatever the reason, we neglected our adopted sport. The courts were left to languish as we transferred our competitive anthem to one-on-one basketball and side-street baseball.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones to renounce racquetball. You can go see for yourself. The Stott Center hosts quite a few underused courts. Now it seems that a couple of those empty echo chambers may be transformed into part of a rock wall for collegiate climbers. The Student Fee Committee, in consultation with PSU’s Outdoor Program and Vice President for Administration and Finance George Pernsteiner has been working on constructing a rock wall for a couple of years now.

In a Vanguard story from July, former Outdoor Program Coordinator Elizabeth Fowler estimated the cost of this project as being somewhere in the $100,000 to $150,000 range. Having never seen a beer commercial that tackled the subject of constructing an indoor climbing range, I can only take other people’s word for it that this is something of a bargain. The wall is scheduled for construction over 2003.

If you think a rock wall would be a pretty nice thing to have around campus, you might want to give a shout-out to the Outdoor Program at its Web site, Big projects like this one only seem to get done around here when a few dedicated folks get seriously involved, scouting out donors and contributors. As you work with your fellow would-be wall climbers, you can keep your motivation level up with the retro adult beverage jingle of your choice.

I can see why people think that the proposed wall would be a nice thing to have here on campus. When students feel that difficulties with financial aid has them up against the wall, they can draw inspiration from their experiences battling the man-made elements in the Stott Center. Racquetball doesn’t seem to express the postsecondary educational experience in quite the same way.

On the other hand, the constantly ricocheting sphere exhibits an affinity with the assorted ideas that shoot around one’s dome like a laser light show over the course of a term. The notion that there is only one way out of a weirdly lit box of a room might work as an allegory for reaching one’s academic goals. Best of all, the empty courts themselves stand as a reminder of trends gone by, and the constantly shifting paradigm of – wait for it – supply and demand (I thought of that myself!).

So maybe the time is coming for me to trade in my old theme song for a new one.

No longer shall I enter final exam week hunched over my notes humming the competitive tune of my adolescence. If enough people care about this fashionable manner of testing their own limits, passers-by just might by subject to the tragedy of my very best Julie Andrews impersonation. My fellow Vikings, I have heard the call! I’ll be the guy wearing a John McEnroe sweatband and out of date white jogging shorts, sitting alone in a dusty old racquetball court, singing the new Viking fight song: “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”