When the smell of road-killed skunks starts wafting through the air, it’s a sure sign it is that time of year — high school basketball tournament time.
I learned that exactly 43 years ago.
It was my sophomore year in high school and I was riding back from a Hillsboro sectional tournament game at Unioto High School with a carload of neighborhood buddies. Right around Paint Valley High School we hit a skunk. The smell was so overwhelming that tears were rolling out of our eyes and for a couple seconds it was difficult to breathe. Literally.
I retell that story over and over each time I smell a skunk this time of year. Ask any member of my family. They’ll probably respond with a groan.
I remember that night 43 years ago well. At the game, I was sitting behind the Hillsboro bench while the Indians were warming up at halftime, probably dreaming about tournament days of my own to come. Out of the blue, Hillsboro coach Bill Hogan turned around, tapped me on the knee, and said, “Are you going to be ready to take over that point guard spot next year?”
I don’t know if he intended to or not, but those few words motivated me enough to play basketball just about every day from then until the next basketball season started. And those words, combined with how much we laughed after the initial blast of the skunk odor wore off, left me with an evening I have long remembered.
Tournament time has left me with lots of memories. Most of them are good, but some are not. Or, at least, they were not very funny at the time.
I could tell you about my playing days, along with the high points and the last time I walked off the court, but maybe it is some of the not-so-good things that make for better reading.
Take the time I was driving down U.S. Route 50 as a young newspaper reporter on the way to a tournament game, and zoomed around my parents’ car, smiling and waving at them. We were headed to different games, but in the same direction. Anyway, a few miles down the road I got pulled over for speeding. While the officer was giving me a ticket, my parents drove by and pulled over to check on me.
“You know those people?” the officer asked.
“Uh, yeah, you might say that,” I said as I motioned them on.
There was the time I got thrown out of a tournament game at Chillicothe High School — when I was reporter — and was not allowed to conduct my postgame interviews, or get a box score. I promise I was 98 percent innocent, but I have told that story before.
Then there was the time I got pulled over for speeding on the way to Ohio University for a tournament game, where I was supposed to help cover two games. I told the state trooper I was in a hurry, and he said he’d get me on my way as fast as he could. And he did move things along pretty quickly. Until he walked back to my car and said, “Remember when I told you I’d get you on way your pretty quick?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, your driver’s license is expired,” the trooper retorted.
I was unaware of that fact, and it was just a few days since it had expired. But to cut to the chase, he made me park my car alongside SR 32, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, drove me to the sheriff’s office in Jackson, and told me I not only needed to have one person come and get me, but they had to bring someone with them to drive my car.
More than five hours after he dropped me off at the sheriff’s office, one of my brothers and his wife arrived to pick me up. That was an hour or two after the sheriff’s deputies had started teasing me, telling me it was looking like I might be spending the night with them.
There is more baloney to that story, too. Like how the state patrolman told me — while I was sitting in my car alongside SR 32 — that I had to pay both my speeding ticket and the expired license ticket on the spot. If I could not do that, he said, then I’d have to wait in a jail cell rather than in the sheriff’s office lobby for someone to come and get me.
I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay both tickets. So, I paid one with cash, and the other with my AAA card. Yep, he said that if I gave him my AAA card, AAA would pay the ticket, then return my card to me once I repaid them. And I did get my card back once I repaid AAA.
But have you ever heard of such a thing?
The last time I got a speeding ticket was on my way home from covering a sectional tournament game at Huntington High School. That was more than 15 years ago.
I hope I did not just jinx myself, or you. But if you happen to get pulled over on the way to a tournament game, just remember that in a few years you’ll likely look back on it with a grin.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of the Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.