Rob Oller: Competitive juices flow, even during pandemic

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Squint hard while peering through a piece of wax paper and Dustin Fox maybe looks like Ben Stiller, which makes sense since the former Ohio State and NFL cornerback is playing dodgeball in his basement.

After wondering how athletes and coaches past and present are handling being cooped up without competition, or at least being restricted in what they can do because of COVID-19, I texted 50 of them to find out. I received more than a dozen responses.

The answers run the gamut from creative to casual. No one is competing in a homemade pole vaulting contest ? world-class vaulters Renaud Lavillenie of France and Mondo Duplantis of Sweden shared the “gold” by clearing 16 feet 36 times in 30 minutes Sunday in a televised event that spanned two continents and three backyards ? but most are finding ways to maintain their sanity during this real-life “Groundhog Day.”

Fox is putting the “fun” into the dysfunctional stay-at-home fallout that is affecting many. When not doing his Cleveland sports radio show, the 37-year-old is going all White Goodman on his kids.

“Just tennis in the street and dodgeball in the basement, but nothing too creative,” Fox texted. “Also, our own version of ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ in the basement with Nerf guns.”

Reminds me of the time my entire floor played ‘hallball’ in college during winter quarter (Here’s hoping the statute of limitations has run out on being fined for dorm repairs). What else was there to do? But I digress. The point is that when life throws a curve, you go Houston Astros and cheat it, or something like that. Kick that pandemic in its posterior.

That’s exactly what Ben Hartsock plans to do. The former Ohio State and NFL tight end wants to organize a neighborhood Olympics in Georgia to keep kids motivated and moving.

“I’m hoping for classics such as pie eating, who can hit a 9-iron the longest,” Hartsock texted. “I may even time-trial the kids — high school seniors down to 5-year-olds — so I can bracket the different speeds for a photo finish in the 40-yard dash.”

Another option: “We can play that quarter-toss game that Michael Jordan was playing with the security guards on the ‘Last Dance’.”

Whatever it takes.

Nick Price isn’t quite so ambitious, but the 2020 Memorial Tournament honoree is hanging in by hanging out with his rod, reel and sticks.

“Just been doing a lot of fishing and playing a little golf,” said Price, a three-time major championship winner who lives in Hobe Sound, Florida.

Where do I sign up?

The Boren family is taking a different approach to us vs. them activity.

“We haven’t ‘created’ any games, but are HUGE euchre and Rummikub players, so our time during COVID-19 has been filled with many heated family euchre and Rummikub games,” wrote Zach Boren, one of three brothers (Justin and Jacoby) to play football for the Buckeyes.

Who wins the euchre wars?

“Let’s just say Jacoby and I hold the title right now, and we make it known,” Zach said. “We manufacture points like it’s our job.”

Part of Todd Boeckman’s job these days involves “trying to stay sane with a 2- and a 4-year-old running wild.”

The former Ohio State quarterback has managed to find some peace on Sunday nights by watching the Jordan documentary on ESPN.

“The only time I get the TV room by myself,” he texted.

Funny how that works. Boeckman yearns for five minutes of alone time. Former Buckeyes tight end John Lumpkin can’t take five more minutes of peace and quiet.

“This is nuts, man. Just not used to it at all. I’m just about to turn all ‘Shining’ over here (in Dayton),” Lumpkin texted.

My message to Lump, so that he doesn’t go “Here’s Johnny” on anyone, is to find a driveway with a basketball hoop. No one within 6 feet of guarding you is a real stress reliever.

Ryan Pedon also isn’t straying far from home with his approach to staying active.

“We’ve relied strictly on driveway basketball with my son,” the Ohio State assistant men’s basketball coach said.

Matt Wilhelm has been hanging out in driveways, too, but not for basketball.

“Some of our neighbors and ourselves have really dug into cornhole now,” said Wilhelm, who played linebacker on OSU’s 2002 national championship team. “Now that the weather has turned nice, we’re also playing pickleball in everyone’s driveway.”

Pickleball, cards games and tennis in the streets. We find competition where we can, come hell or hallball.


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