“That Got Me to Thinking…?” Chapter 3 “The Basketball Game”
By Bruce Williams
I had the opportunity to attend a basketball game at my former high school earlier this year with three old friends, two of which I hadn’t seen in over thirty years. Gone were the swagger, posturing and pointed barbs of male adolescence, replaced by a melancholy gratefulness and self-deprecation that we soaked in (sometimes silently between game analysis) while taking in the Tumwater victory. Andy was taller and had darker hair than I remembered; Rich had a scar on his cheek that I didn’t recall; and Brian remains miraculously unchanged. Three of my other friends had sons on the team (Tim, Doug & Brett), and there were several of our former teachers floating about (Vernon & Kruse—who was keeping stats). As we softly bantered, exchanging old stories (one particular tale about Andy & I in Hawaii when we were teens that is 16-year-old-boy gross has cracked me up twice since while driving in my car) and catching up on the bits and pieces we knew about classmates, we settled into a comfortable repartee that I quite enjoyed, except for the pain in my back the bleachers were causing and my eagerness to get home and go to bed. As we split up in the hallway outside I passed by old team photos picturing some people I recognized (shorts too short, hair parted in the middle), half expecting Robin Williams to rasp over my shoulder, “Carpe diem…seeeizze the daaayy…”
More recently, a friend sent me our sophomore basketball photo. Most of us weren’t good enough for the JV or varsity teams that year (I got to suit up for JV a couple of times–they had much nicer uniforms, but the bench felt exactly the same). We had slicked our hair back a la Mr. Brooks our coach, whom we belovedly referred to as “Buzzco” due to his merciless wit and general disgust with our fledgling basketball prowess and festering teenagerdom. Thickly Vitalis-ed and Aqua Velva-ed, Mr. Brooks would bellow, “Bounce pass!” throughout practice, leading us to believe that that was the only thing of merit in the entire game of basketball. I put up some gaudy numbers in that be-pimpled season–topping 20 rebounds in a game a three times while consistently scoring in the mid-teens. A lot of those rebounds were collected caroms off of my own missed, bricklayed layins though.
When we hit JV as a group our junior year it was sort of the same thing, but we had the Kruser as our coach (mentioned above, diligently keeping stats some 36 years later). He’d apply healthy doses of exasperated sarcasm to get his points across, and was the king of the “chalk talk”–even though he’d always be suppressing his acid reflux from his pre-game McDonald’s meal (nearby greasy sack, noted). He exhorted us each to “shuffle your feet” and we all respected him dearly, demonstrating it to him by the concentrated squeaking of our Converse sneakers.
Our varsity coach wore a terrible toupee, and word had it that some of the other teams in the league had a bounty out for their players if they could get near enough to jostle that possum pelt to the ground. He meant well and was just a couple of years short of retirement, but his out-of-touchedness dangled deep down to the tops of his highly anchored tube socks. I didn’t play a lot that year—I still couldn’t do much other than grab rebounds—our team had a winning record but didn’t go too far in the playoffs. What I remember most was my teammate that mysteriously always carried two duffels…come to find out that the extra Nike bag contained nothing other than a 3-foot, tiered plastic smoking device and all of its hazy accoutrements. Gotta love the ‘80’s.