Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Beginning with Basketball
My recent high school reunion sent me back into old yearbooks, and there, in the 1962 edition of The Acropolitan (the yearbook advisor was a classics teacher), on the last page, is a picture of our seventh grade basketball team during the 1956-1957 season. I can still name everyone pictured.
What surprised me when I scanned the image just now--and what I don't recall that I'd ever noticed before--is that someone had snipped out the picture of the coach. Why? and Who?
Our coach that year was Walter Loehr (sp?), who also taught the shop classes, a requirement in my junior high days, and a venue where I displayed, over and over and over again, my abysmal skills with tools. I remember two projects I did. One was a birdhouse crafted from 1/4" plywood, a home no bird ventured near when I nailed it to one of our apple trees. It hung there, unused (and un-visited as far as I could tell) for several years, until I smashed it down one day with a sledgehammer. (I was a subtle adolescent.)
The other project was a little cedar chest, assembled from a kit, which I presented to my mother at the end of the year. When I showed it to her, her face bore the same look I'd seen on birds' beaky faces around the apple tree that held my birdhouse, but Mom, no bird, accepted it with appreciation (if not admiration), put in it a few things she had no use for, stuck it in the back of a closet. I imagine that in her numerous subsequent moves it mysteriously "disappeared." I've not seen it in decades.
I can't really say if Mr. Loehr knew much about basketball because, at the time, I knew absolutely nothing. Well ... not quite. I knew what a basketball was. I knew you had to hurl it through the rim. Perhaps I knew there are five on a team. But maybe not. When this picture was taken in the fall of 1956, I had been in Ohio only a few months. Back in Oklahoma we didn't play much basketball. In the Sooner State, Football was King; Baseball, the Crown Prince. (The Sooners were on their way at that time to their 47-game winning streak.) Basketball was what you did out in the schoolyard when you were tired of "Smear the Queer" (though in our youthful Oklahoma innocence we called it "Smear the Man with the Ball"; it was in corrupt Ohio where I learned the other name). There was an old backboard on an old pole holding an old netless rim out on the Adams School playground.
The only other basketball experience I had in Enid was a terrifying one. Some friends and I had wandered into Weibel's, a little ice cream shop near Longfellow Junior High. It was an archetypal place--booths, fountain, poodle skirts, clerk with a paper hat. My friends were a few feet ahead of me. I was tossing a basketball up and down. When I stepped inside the door, I tossed it even higher, where it collided with the ceiling fan, which was innocently whirling away. The ball pinged! off in one direction like a particle in a collider, one fan blade broke off and helicoptered across the room, where it collided with a booth. If someone had been sitting there, I would have seen my first (and only--so far) decapitation.
I, of course, did the honorable thing. I ran. If a scout for the Sooners had seen me, he'd have signed me up on the spot. What speed that kid has!
For days, my friends told me the FBI was after me. I hid at home. Answered every phone call. No FBI came. And, oh, a year or so later, I ventured back to Weibel's ...
So ... if Walter Loehr was the Red Auerbach of Portage County--or the Red Ryder--or the Red Skelton--I had no way of knowing. I went out for basketball only because there was nothing else to do, besides homework, and there was no way I was going to do that.
TOMORROW: Memories of that team.
BTW: I'm the kid in the front row, second from the left, the dork with the double red kneepads.