There’s the mirror, of course.
And the blazing birthday cake (count the candles if you dare).
And the energetic grandchildren who run faster and play longer than you ever will again.
But a more subtle reminder of the aging process was a simple quote in this newspaper a couple of months ago. It was attributed to Chris Sheldon, head basketball coach at Western Reserve. He was talking about this year’s two meetings with rival South Central. He made some comparisons between the two excellent teams and then made the comment that got me.
With a laugh he said (I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty close): “Another thing (South Central) Coach (Brett) Seidel and I have in common is the dinosaur gyms we play in.”
He added that they are fun places to play because “the fans are right there on top of the players” and the small gyms get really loud.
How can this be, I asked myself when I read the story.
I know a dinosaur gym when I see one. I grew up just two doors away from one in Wakeman. It was the home to high school basketball for much of my youth. Painted wooden backboards. A ceiling so low an occasional high-arching shot would skim it. Seating capacity of perhaps 450, and that was with bleachers from the football field moved onto the stage to handle a few dozen more fans.
It was a good 15 to 20 feet shorter than the gyms you see now. Had there been a three point line in those days, it likely would have intersected the center jump circle.
And it was not even a healthy dinosaur gym: just in front of the foul line at the south end of the floor — right smack in the keyhole where much of the game action takes place — was a sizable bulging warp in the wooden floor. It was big enough that players unfamiliar with our gym would sometimes trip on it. And woe be unto the player who accidentally dribbled on that warped spot; the ball would either die from hitting the spongy dead floor or squirt sideways off the mound.
THAT, my friends, is a dinosaur gymnasium.
And, get this: the all-time highest-achieving Western Reserve basketball team — the 1963 district champion/Sweet 16 squad; the Mike Hyde, Bob Sherwood, Chet Fairchild, Tom Lasley, Dick Todd, Terry Hilaman team — played all its home games on that floor.
Another interesting thing happened that year. One day our entire high school got to go on a most unusual field trip.
They bused us all to South Central High School.
You see, 1962-63 was the very first year of operation for the new South Central school building.
We Western Reserve kids had been watching our own new school being constructed out on U.S. 20, but we wouldn’t be in it until the next school year.
So our Western Reserve school administrators thought it would be motivational if we could see a sparkling school building with a real library and bright classrooms and clean, new everything.
Of course, the highlight of the tour for many of us was the spectacular new South Central gymnasium.
We were thunderstruck by the experience and could hardly believe that just months later we would have all the same stuff ourselves.
But we did. And it was fabulous. For one year, at least, we had the most up-to-date school in the area.
So perhaps you can understand why I was appalled to hear those stunning new gymnasiums at South Central and Western Reserve are now thought of as past their prime.
But as with most other things (not to mention people), as the years go by those 56-year-old school buildings still seem young to me.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.