When the work phone rang the other day I picked it up to find a polite man on the other end. His name was Dick Rehark and he lives in Fairfield. He has a subscription to The Times-Gazette, said he was running short on time to get his renewal check mailed, and wanted to make sure his subscription didn’t run out.
No worries, Mr.Rehark. The Times-Gazette has a grace period for such instances.
Mr. Rehark said he really likes The Times-Gazette, so much that he didn’t want to miss a single edition. He was even kind enough to say he likes these columns, especially when I write about old athletic escapades.
We struck up a bit of conversation and Mr. Rehark told me about his high school days in Delaware County. He said his graduating class only had six boys and the only full sports team they could field were for reserve and varsity basketball. But he said they got an hour for lunch, and that they ate in five minutes and then played baseball or football the other 55 minutes, depending on the season.
I could relate to that, I told him.
He told me that one of the schools his high school competed against had a gym with a low ceiling. If you tried to take a very long shot, he said, the ball would hit the ceiling. He said that wasn’t quite fair because the other team had learned to make bank shots off the ceiling. But, he added, it was different matter when that particular team traveled to his school.
Back when we used to work together, John Wend, a Greenfield resident and former sports writer for this paper, used to tell me stories about some of the gyms he grew up playing in throughout the hills of southeastern Ohio. He said there was one remote school that had a pot belly stove in the gym. He said one of the sidelines ran straight for a while, looped out around the stove, then straightened back out.
Imagine that these days.
What it makes me imagine is that the people in this country have grown soft. Back in the day people made due with what they had, and were glad to have it. People were tough. They had to be. Now everything has to be almost perfect. We are spoiled and protected to the point of ridiculousness. But, that’s a rant for another day.
The gyms I played my school ball in were nothing like what Mr. Rehark and Mr. Wend had to endure, but they weren’t like today’s. In fact, most of them are long gone, or no longer deemed suitable for contests above the junior high level.
In my junior high days most of our practices were held at Marshall. The locker rooms there were musty, and there was mold and mildew on the shower floors and walls. At one end of the gym there was a stage. The edge of it lined right up with the out-of-bounds line, and if you were running hard on a fast break, that thing could almost cut you in half. On the other end was an entrance with brick walls. They lined part of the out-of-bounds line, too. They could have easily knocked someone on a fast break out, but I don’t remember anyone getting seriously hurt. They might have, though, if not for the swinging wooden doors that were often banged through.
There were lots of similar gyms in downtown Lynchburg, Highland, Belfast, Buford, Leesburg, Sinking Spring, Mowrystown, Sugar Tree Ridge, and all over the country. They were small, but they seemed more intimate, more cozy, more like the top of a barn I grew up playing basketball in.
Back then, if we had a few free minutes, chances were we were playing ball somewhere. And that what really struck a chord when I was talking to Mr. Rehark and he said they ate lunch in five minutes and played ball the other 55.
Through sixth grade, at lunch or recess, practically all we did was play ball, or maybe marbles.
In the sixth grade at Marshall we got into a rut for a while where we played football at lunch, every day, on the far side of the school where there was no playground equipment and few people to bother us. One day we were so engrossed in our game that it wasn’t until we looked up and didn’t see anyone else around that we thought something might be amiss. It was about the same time a few teachers rounded the corner of the building, too.
They were mad, almost fuming, in fact. They marched us back in the building, gave us a tongue lashing, then told us we wouldn’t be playing outside for a while. Instead, we had to sit at a desk and write something like “I will come inside when the bell rings” 500 times.
The thing was, we never heard the bell ring. I never had the slightest idea we were late until I saw those teachers round the corner and noticed the rest of the playground was empty. We’d tried to explain, but our pleas fell on deaf ears.
Man, we sure had fun back then, didn’t we, Mr. Rehark.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.