In "Junkyard Sports — Make sports fun again!," one of two books that have been written by DeKoven, the other being "The Well-Played Game: A playful path to wholeness," DeKoven is described as "being serious about having fun and helping others have fun too."
DeKoven has been reinventing sports for more than 35 years by modifying rules and equipment of existing popular sports to make them more player friendly and to emphasize participation and fun rather than dog-eat-dog type competition. He has designed curriculum for more than 1,000 children’s games and developed the training program for the New Games Foundation.
Although the New Games Foundation does not exist anymore, the concept of New Games has had a worldwide effect on physical education and recreation.
DeKoven, who has a Master of Arts in theater from Villanova University, has invented almost every kind of game — educational, entertainment, digital, physical, social, mental — for companies such as Mattel Toys and the Children’s Television Workshop. He is a member of the Association for the Study of Play.
Junkyard Sports emphasizes fun and creativity, teamwork and leadership, inclusion (as opposed to exclusion and exclusivity) and adaptability, compassion and acceptance, humor, playfulness and community. The activities are designed not only to engage mind and body but also to help participants develop the arts of collaboration and effective teambuilding, acquire leadership, and experience the power and practicality of using problem solving and the scientific method.
The Preface to "Junkyard Sports" states that "Junkyard Sports" is a play on a TV series called Junkyard Wars. Like junkyard sports, Junkyard Wars is a team effort, requiring ingenuity and collaboration in the use of found materials. The similarity stops there. Junkyard sports are not wars or even competitions, and the purpose is not to build machines but to build community.
As one goes over the book, one realizes that it is a collection of ideas for new, fun and challenging invitations to sports. For example, when looking in the baseball section of the book, you will see a baseball-like demonstration game played with a tennis racket for a bat, a beach ball for a ball, five traffic cone bases, and the batter sitting on a gym scooter.
Each demonstration game really is a collection of innovative principles — ideas that can be used to create other demonstration games. Borrowing the gym-scooter idea, one suddenly has a new way to play soccer or basketball. Every demonstration game gets refined as it is played. In refining the demonstration game, players create a new demonstration game, which in turn results in the creation of another and another.
The main impetus for DeKoven’s advocacy of junkyard sports is that it leaves a lot of room for inventing one’s own sport. Junkyard sports are what they are because the sports themselves are throwaway. They’re junk compared to the treasured experience of inventing a sport that brought everything and everyone together in fun.
DeKoven is interested in getting senior citizens, young people and those with disabilities to play together. He aims to get people to create junkyard sports for the tri athlete to play with a person who uses a wheelchair, and the preschool child to play with the adult. His interest is in sports where the focus is on playing together and in celebrating everyone’s abilities.
I share DeKoven’s views that as schools reduce the scope of physical education to sports and calisthenics, as more parents force their children into organized sports for which they have neither the skill nor the inclination, we find ourselves with a growing population of sedentary, obese, disenfranchised, isolated kids who lack basic physical and social skills. Entering the community and the workforce, these people find themselves unable to function as part of a team or to muster the physical and mental stamina necessary to reach their goals. Lack of teamwork is, by the way, one of the reasons why this country has tremendous difficulty putting its act together.
Junkyard sports therefore give people a way to have fun together. It really doesn’t matter what people are playing. It also doesn’t matter who wins what. What matters is that they are all engaged, challenged, involved, and enjoying themselves and each other. As far as we’re concerned, fun is the whole reason for playing the sport. Junkyard sport is an invitation to have fun with each other, with one’s bodies, abilities, minds and hearts. It is an opportunity to create new, funny sports for which winning isn’t the point. Playing together is.
Using the philosophy of junkyard sports, the vision of a Festival of Play has come into the horizon. Without giving minute details, the envisioned festival is a public gathering that combines spectacle with people empowerment, recognizes athletic achievement and affirms the human capacity to play without compromising values and ethics in sport, manifests social justice, equitable development, gender equity, entrepreneurship and provides a venue for new ideas of indigenous artisans of all ages.
One of the concerns of the festival is to include the discards, the things that get thrown away, objects and even lives that get thrown away: the children-at-risk, the adults, elderly, the disabled, the neglected, the forgotten.
The object of the festival is to bring people together. Sports bring people together and the festival of sports will celebrate community and working towards a common goal. And have fun doing it.