After nearly six decades, Galen Neal said he decided not long ago he had closed his basketball scorebook for the last time.
It all started with the 1954-55 basketball season during his senior year at Sinking Spring High School. It continued for a few years there, then a 52-year run at Hillsboro High School started with coach Harry Hall during the 1965-66 basketball season.
His wife, Lynn, said that in all that time at Hillsboro her husband missed just five games.
Galen said he struggled with the decision for a while, then decided about a month ago that last season was his final one.
“I had been thinking about giving it up for a while, then Lynn said, ‘Do you want to?’” Galen said Thursday. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to because I still enjoy it.’ But my vision is getting so blurry – I have to have some cataract surgery soon – the numbers on the uniforms are getting harder to see, and it’s hard to drive at night in the rain.”
He said his memory is not quite as good as it once was, either.
Now 80, Galen said he still plans to attend games. In fact, he said he’s been to the Hillsboro boys’ first three games, and last weekend took in three games on Friday, as well as eight more on Saturday at the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic held at Southern State Community College’s Patriot Center.
Once he made his decision to put the scorebook down, Galen said he went to the see Hillsboro Athletic Director Dave Dietrick and all the Hillsboro coaches to personally give them the news.
“There’s been a few tears shed,” Galen said.
What he will likely miss most, Galen said, is visiting with the other scorekeepers. But there are other things to adjust to.
“I was down at Georgetown Tuesday night and hadn’t missed anything until then,” Galen said. “Then when the buzzer would blow, I’d look to my left and my right to see who was subbing in – just by habit.”
“And I can yell at the referees now,” he added with a laugh.
He said that was something he never did, except once. It was early in his career at Sinking Spring, likely his first year, when he made what he thought was a kind of mild comment about an over-and-back call with which he did not agree. But longtime local referee, the late Bruce Taylor, heard the comment, turned toward the scorer’s table, and hit Galen with a technical foul.
“I never said anything again,” Galen said.
He said it’s different sitting in the stands than at the scorer’s table.
“People always said I had the best the seat in the house,” Galen said. “I’d say, ‘Yeah I get to see the game, but I don’t get to enjoy it much.’”
And, he added, “Of all the years I kept score, this is the first time I’ve ever got to sit together with Lynn and watch a game. We never got to do that at a Hillsboro game.”
Born near West Middletown in 1937, Galen said he didn’t know a thing about basketball when his family moved to the Sinking Spring area when he was 13.
“When I started school at Sinking Spring they said, ‘Do you play basketball?’ I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘Well, you will.’”
With only 30-some boys in the whole high school, he got a crash course. He said he probably made five or six field goals in games before he gave up playing his senior year to help his family.
That was when the Sinking Spring coach, Glenn Armstrong, approached Galen and asked if he’d be interested in keeping the scorebook. Galen said it worked out because the games didn’t start until 7:30 p.m. and milking the cows and other farm work was mostly done by then in the winter.
In 1962, Galen took a job doing school bus maintenance at Hillsboro, and then another coach approached him about keeping the scorebook.
“I was driving buses to games for football, wrestling and basketball and Harry Hall said something about needing a scorekeeper,” Galen said. “I said, ‘I kept the book for Sinking Spring,’ so he said, ‘How about keeping score for us?’”
It was 52 more years before he stopped.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Galen said.
If Hillsboro ever got in a really tight pinch for a scorekeeper, Galen said he’d be glad to help – temporarily. But for all intents and purposes, he has hung up the black and white striped shirt he wore so long for the last time.
“I’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of good coaches, a lot of good referees, a lot of good players,” Galen said. “I made the decision to leave on my own. I said, ‘When I quit, I quit.’”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]