Some things seem to go hand-in-hand, and for as long as I can remember, attending a Hillsboro basketball game and seeing Galen Neal sitting at the scorer’s table is one of them. They say that all good things must come to an end though, and about a month ago Galen decided the time had come to end his nearly six decades as a scorekeeper.
For me, it is hard to imagine walking into a Hillsboro boys basketball game and not seeing Galen’s familiar, smiling face beaming from his customary courtside position.
He was there when I was a little kid tagging along with my dad to games. He was there during my playing days in the late 1970s. He was the person I went to for the official tallies after games for years as a sports writer. He was there to lend me a hand when I became a basketball official. He was there when one of my sons played on Hillsboro teams that won back-to-back South Central Ohio League championships not so long ago. It seemed like he would always be there.
Over 52 years, Galen has kept the book for 17 Hillsboro varsity coaches, one of them twice. It started with Harry Hall during the 1965-66 season. Then came Vernon Hooper, 1966-69; Dave Larimer, 1969-71; Bob Ream, 1971-75; Bill Hogan, 1975-77; Bill Newland, 1977-79; Sam Snyder, 1979-82; Gary West, 1982-86; George Barnes, 1986-87; Joe B. Stewart, 1987-90; Rick Earley, 1990-92; Thom Snyder, 1992-95; Pat Stevens, 1995-96; JR Moberly, 1996-2003; Joe B. Stewart, 2003-07; Tim Davis, 2007-11; Brett Prince, 2011-14; and Bruce Miles, 2014 to present.
I know those names and dates are accurate because Galen’s wife, Lynn, provided me with the list a couple years back. Lynn was a secretary at the school during the years I attended Hillsboro High School, and in the years from then until now, I do not remember ever attending a Hillsboro boys basketball game or wrestling match when Galen and Lynn were not present.
In all those 52 seasons, Lynn says Galen missed five games. For many of those years he drove the team bus to the game. He also kept the clock for Hillsboro home wrestling matches for about 25 years, kept the book for a handful of Hillsboro girls basketball games, and for a while drove the Southern State basketball team to games and kept their book.
But it all started before Galen arrived in Hillsboro. When he was a senior at Sinking Spring High School during the 1954-55 season, and had decided to give up playing basketball to work on the family farm, coach Glenn Armstrong – who will soon celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary (his wife Opal was one of my elementary music teachers) – asked Galen if he’d being interested in keeping the book for his classmates. He accepted, then kept the book at his alma mater for a few more years.
I assume everyone has a favorite Galen story, or more likely several. I fall into the latter category.
Back in the 1980s, when I was a young and poor sports writer, Galen and Lynn asked my girlfriend (who is now my wife of 29-plus years) and I to ride with them to a Hillsboro game in Portsmouth, since I would be covering it as a reporter and Galen would be keeping the book. With the game being so far from home, my wife and I did not expect we would be stopping afterward to eat, and when the subject of where were going to stop came up, my wife and I did not know what to say. Like I said, we were poor, living paycheck to paycheck, and we did not have enough money to cover our bill, or the courage to reveal our predicament.
When the bill came though, Galen and Lynn graciously picked it up, and we were spared the embarrassment of asking if we could borrow some cash.
Here’s another Galen story. A few years ago, in this very space, I wrote a column about the first time I went to have dinner with my wife’s parents during our early dating years. One item on the menu was turnips, but I did not know it, largely because I had never tasted one before. To me, those things on the table looked like big, peeled baked potatoes, and I like baked potatoes.
Anyway, when the potato-looking things came my way, I grabbed one, lathered it up with butter, added salt and pepper, and took a big bite. It was all I could do not to gag. I did not know what I was eating, but I was more than certain that I did not like it. Somehow, I forced the whole thing down. That was more than 30 years ago and I have not taken a bite of a turnip since. Barring some type of catastrophe, I never will.
A couple days after that column was published, I pulled into my driveway one night. There was a big grocery bag sitting in front of my garage door. Did my wife leave some groceries outside, I wondered? I walked up to the bag and peered inside. It was full of some ugly vegetables I didn’t quite recognize. Then it dawned on me – freaking turnips!
Who in the world left them, I asked my myself.
It took me a day or so, and some asking around, but it finally dawned on me. Since Galen lives just down the road from me, and he says he reads my column, and he likes little better than a good joke, there was only one person it could be.
I don’t think he’s ever completely admitted to it, but we both know that we both know.
It’s hard to find the words to appropriately describe what Galen and Lynn Neal have meant to their community. And I haven’t even touched on all the help they’ve lent to unknown numbers of kids and others over the years.
So, I’ll just say thank you, from all of us, and safe travels to the games.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or email@example.com.