Physics meets physical in exhibit on sports science

June 19, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

You wouldn't expect to encounter Hugo Black in a museum exhibit about sports. But the thoughts of the former Supreme Court justice nonetheless help define the thrust of a new summer exhibit at the Maryland Science Center.

"When I was 40, my doctor advised me that a man in his 40s shouldn't play tennis. I heeded his advice carefully and could hardly wait until I reached 50 to start again," the justice is quoted as saying in one of the installations.

Although timed to recognize major-league baseball's All-Star Game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards next month, the "All Sorts of Sports" exhibit really celebrates sports for anyone, of any age.

Millionaire professional athletes of the sort that will be playing exhibition ball July 13 at Camden Yards get relatively short shrift in the exhibit, which opened yesterday.

The exhibit seeks to entertainingly teach some of the basics of physiology and movement, in ways all visitors can understand. References to professional sports serve merely as symbols of the ultimate expression of skills.

Your "host" for the exhibit, first seen in the form of a 30-foot inflatable figure on the Science Center roof, is a caricature nicknamed "Jocko," a generic sort of recreational athlete. Science Center artist Leroy Williams' drawings, encountered throughout the second-floor sports arena, portray a genial, sweatband-wearing enthusiast with octopus arms gripping tennis racket, baseball bat, hockey stick, basketball and bar bell.

The principal connection to baseball and the All-Star Game comes via an accompanying exhibit of panoramic photographs by Jim Dow: "Major League/Minor League: Photographs of America's Baseball Stadiums."

In contrast to some previous summer shows at the Science Center, which featured national traveling displays -- remember the dinosaurs and the Hollywood special effects exhibits? -- "All Sorts of Sports" grew in-house.

Charlene Cross, senior exhibit specialist at the Science Center, worked with exhibit developer Bill Haas and other staff members to conceive and construct the exhibits. Technical assistance and information also came from the Center for Health and Fitness at the Bennett Institute and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

"Actually, I think it's a good thing I am not really a big sports fan," concedes Ms. Cross, whose own primary athletic interest is occasional bicycling. Sports that most people can do got the strongest emphasis in her conception of the exhibit.

Thus visitors can stand at a chalkboard and outline their own body shape to learn if they are endomorphic, ectomorphic or mesomorphic body types.

"Could a jockey become a weightlifter? Or a linebacker become a gymnast? Not likely. Your body shape has a lot to do with how well you perform in most sports," asserts the adjacent textual material.

One of the 14 interactive displays celebrates the skills of wheelchair basketball players. Visitors can sit in a wheelchair mounted on the floor to shoot a foul shot toward a hoop at regulation height.

"I think for most of our visitors, this will be difficult to do," says Ms. Cross, She notes the wheelchair display provides a phone number for those interested in wheelchair sports to seek further information.

In other interactive displays, visitors can attempt to balance atop a mock surfboard, learn whether figure skaters spin faster or slower with their arms outstretched, see how muscles actually work through a pulling action, experiment with the uses of spin in a closed Ping-Pong ball shooting gallery, and do gyrations in front of a mirror to see the concepts of center-of-gravity and balance.

In a section on fitness and health, parents of children involved in sports also get a lesson on how to determine the safety of youth sports programs. First aid items and advice from former Orioles trainer Ralph Salvon and current trainer Richie Bancells are included.

"You don't want to preach to your visitors, you want them to have fun. But it seemed important to emphasize this to moms and dads," says Ms. Cross.

Sport/science demonstrations by the center's educational staff, two per hour, take place in a stage area flanked by two sections of real bleachers. (Sorry, no hot dog vendors.)

"All Sorts of Sports" also includes an exhibit on the sport of lacrosse. Oddly, however, given Maryland's prominence in the sport, the display comes from the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, which salutes the game as an American Indian invention.


What: "All Sorts of Sports," an exhibit exploring the science and mechanics of sports

Where: Maryland Science Center, Inner Harbor

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Through Labor Day

Admission: Adults, $8.50; children 4 to 17, senior citizens and military personnel $6.50; children under 4, free. Free Monday for the annual Summer Solstice observance.

9- Call: (410) 685-5225; TDD, (410) 962-0223

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