Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Beginning with Basketball, Part II
Yesterday, I began writing about our mighty Hiram Schools seventh-grade basketball team, 1956-1957. As usual, I ended up somewhere else and didn't leave myself space to say a few things about that team. Like this: The boy who played center for us, Paul Misch (#14 in the back row), got his growth early; by the time he was a senior, he and I were the guards on the team, both of us 5'8", a fact that enchanted a local sports reporter so much that he labeled us the "watchcharm guards." I didn't particularly care for that in 1961-62
I realized something else overnight. This picture is from 1957-1958, my eighth grade year, for seated and standing with me are kids a year younger--seventh graders. Oops. Well, I was a better player that year--but not by much.
Besides Paul, I don't remember the starting five the year before--just that I was not one of them. I would not have been on the starting five if there were only five of us. As I wrote yesterday, I knew very little about the game when we moved to Ohio a month before I started seventh grade, and I have grim memories of our early practices when it was clear to everybody that the New Kid Sucked.
Take the routine lay-up drill. Two lines. One line shoots; the other rebounds. The shooter runs to the back of the rebounders' line; the rebounder runs to the end of the shooters' line. I had no clue. Guys had to tell me what to do, shove me into action when I wasn't sure. And then there were the lay-ups themselves. I could not get my feet arranged in the proper order. I had to jump off my left, but when I was ready to shoot, my right was sometimes eager for the honor, and up I went, Coach Loehr's whistle shrieking, his blood pressure soaring.
Running the Figure 8 on offense? Forget it. I collided with guys, ended up on the wrong side half the time. And defense? Coach Loehr explained the fundamentals of zone defenses to us (we played a 3-2 and a 2-1-2), and I knew so little that when we scored, I would run to the other end, right to the middle of my zone, where I'd crouch, arms extended as Coach had shown us, fierce look on my face--Abandon all hope, ye who enter here! I had no real idea how to guard anyone, so when a player ventured into my zone, I relied on facial expressions to dissuade him. They never worked.
And foul shots? I had so little arm strength that I had to use the old-fashioned, underhand way: hold the ball with two hands between the legs, hurl ball up ... and hope! The last player who did that in the NBA was All-Star Rick Barry (I think). It was a few years later before I could shoot the ball overhand.
I remember only one seventh grade game very well. We played in nearby Nelson, Ohio, in a former meeting house. (It's now a bakery.) Inside, a balcony ringed the room, and the floor was so small that our bench was actually on the court. You could not take the ball out of bounds on one side because the boundary line was painted against the baseboard. Also, heat was provided by a potbellied stove in one corner--one kid on our team burned his arm slightly when he bumped up against it. Oh, and another kid on our team got stung by a wasp. Always an adventure, Nelson.
I did get in that game (were we far ahead? or behind? had to be one or the other), and I prayed no one would throw me the ball (no one did--smart boys, those Hiram lads), and when we were on defense, I sprinted for my zone, head down, focused, then whirled around, assumed the fierce position, and dared anyone to try to penetrate. Most of the Nelson boys did so with consummate ease. But I played! I was in the game!
I got better as the years rolled on. Ended up being All-County my senior year (second team, as my friend Tom Davis, a real star for Ohio U, always reminds me) and even coached seventh graders a year at the old Aurora Middle School during the 1967-1968 season. I was prepared for some kids like me--but there weren't any. They could all do the lay-up line, and no one shot fouls underhand. Progress. I don't remember our record--but it was so-so, I think. Coaching.
As I look at that old picture from 1957-1958, I'm startled to realize that four of those boys are dead now, and three are standing next to one another in the back row: numbers 6, 14, 15--Dan Zielke, Paul Misch, Ray Taylor. In the front row, Johnny Kelker (#8) died of Lou Gehrig's disease. The manager, in street clothes, is David Sanborn. Improbably, his older brother, years later, married my wife's first cousin.
Seated in the front row, far left (next to me--the dork with the kneepads), is Lester Detweiler, an Amish boy who left school after eighth grade--an early release program that many of us deeply envied. There was another Amish boy in our class, Melvin Yoder, who also headed for the farm after eighth grade. But Lester ... some of the girls thought he was hot, and, if you look at the rest of us, you can see why. Lester would get off the bus in the morning and head straight for the boys' locker room, where he would dampen and comb his hair into something Elvis-ian. Frequent trips to the locker room later in the day kept the look fresh. Then, just before getting on the bus, he would comb it back down into its normal bowl-cut shape, making sure Mom and Dad didn't learn that he was a Daytime Elvis.
The photographer must have told those of us in the front row to put our hands on our knees, and only Teddy Sanders, far right, seems to have thought, Know what? I like them better between my knees!
So there I sat in 1957, hands on knees, staring into the future, grateful I got out of class to suit up for this picture, imagining my certain future in professional sports, certain that all of us would live forever, bathed in the endless glow of athletic glory.