It was with a twinge of sadness that I passed by the old Buford school the other day and saw that it was nearly gone.
Maybe I should not feel bad about a structure that had become an eyesore and safety issue disappearing from the landscape, but that’s not my nature. I’m the nostalgic type, and I do not like the fact that most of the school buildings that had a connection to my past are gone.
I never attended school at Buford, but I have many memories of the place.
The first memory, I suppose, is of playing basketball there in my pre-junior high school days. I had played in small gyms before — there were plenty of them around back then — but I was astonished when I walked into the Buford gym and saw that only a couple feet, literally, separated the top of both keys, or in other words the top of the circle around the foul lane.
Belfast, Highland, Concord in Sugar Tree Ridge, the old Whiteoak gym that’s still there and the old downtown gyms in Leesburg and Lynchburg — they were all small, but not as small as the one in Buford.
After playing a couple games in Buford as a youngster, several years went by when I did little more than drive by the old school yard. But then a girlfriend (now my wife) decided to sign her son up to play Knothole baseball at Buford when he was 7 or 8. We spent several summer Saturdays there watching what had to be the longest baseball games I have ever endured.
One afternoon the umpires did not show up. Someone in the stands evidently knew I was a licensed slo-pitch softball official, so I was asked to fill in. It must have went fairly well, because unlike the many misadventures I can recall on the softball field, I do not remember anything in particular about that baseball game.
More years passed and again I did little other than drive by the Buford school, except to notice how some of the area residents — former students there, I suppose — took pride in making sure the place was well kept.
Over the years I heard plenty of stories about the place. Some came from late mother. She was a cheerleader and homecoming queen at Lynchburg, and often told me about the intense rivalry games her Bobcats played against Buford and its fiery coach by the name of Bakenhaster. You could see a sparkle in her eyes and hear the excitement in her voice as she relived those memorable times.
Others stories came from the late Glenn Moberly, an athletic standout at Buford who passed the tales down to his family. When Glenn was posthumously inducted into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame, one of his sons, JR Moberly, told me that because the gym was so small and could hold so few people, some would lean on ladders or whatever against the outside walls of the gym so they could watch games through the windows above the crowd.
A few more years passed and I found myself officiating church league basketball games in Buford. It was probably longer ago than it seems, but in those days a brother and I would go just about anywhere we were asked to officiate basketball. One of several reasons I enjoyed officiating basketball was because I got some exercise jogging up and down the court. Only that was not the case in Buford. It was probably less than 10 jogging steps from my officiating position at one end of the floor to my position at the other end, so the exercise was minimal.
It was in between those church league games at Buford that I wandered throughout the building as much as I was allowed. In one room there was a display of old cheerleading outfits and basketball uniforms, with gray and red as the school colors, if I remember correctly. It struck me how the community took pride in such memories.
Around the same time or not long thereafter I found myself at a haunted house around this time of year in that old gym. Other than a haunted house the Hillsboro Jaycees used to put on back in the 1970s in Hillsboro, the Buford haunted house was better than any other haunted house I have been in, including ones at Kings Island.
That old gym might have been small, but it served its community well for decades, and for many was reminder of better or more youthful times.
So yes, it was kind of sad the other day when I drove through Buford, saw that the old school was nearly gone, and all those memories flashed through my mind. But while time marches on and the school is gone, those good ole memories remain.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.