Decades of sports, mostly spectating
Lonnie Morken, Hall of Fame volleyball coach at Mabel-Can¬ton, once suggested I should write about all of this. I dis¬missed any c o n s i d e r ¬ation of add¬ing anything to an already c r o w d e d sports writ¬ing sched¬ule. But now – with high school sports interrupted by a pandemic – there is time to challenge my sports memory. If this venture turns out to be a roaring suc¬cess, I will gladly accept praise. But if it turns out to be a poor idea – just remember, it was Lonnie’s idea.
Entering my 76th year of existence, I surmise that I have been a sports fan for close to seven decades. During my boy¬hood, I was interested whenever there was a winner declared, be it a wrestling match or the motion picture Academy Awards.
I have played some games, refereed quite a few contests, coached a few sports and been a sports writer and photographer for several years. The first soc¬cer game I ever saw – was scary, because I was the coach. The first girls basketball game I ever saw was 6-on-6, and I was assigned to referee it (scarier yet). But not surprising at my age, my sports experience has been mostly as a fortunate spectator.
Taking a sports photograph afforded me a serendipitous experience of a lifetime. There was no game, but I certainly felt like a winner. As a young adult and a lifelong Chicago Cub fan, I sat in a family room with two-time National League MVP and Hall of Fame member Ernie Banks.
The intent of this column will be to delve into what captivating details I can muster from mem¬ory, which must involve some sports history as well. Delving into details begins next week, but it began in Houston (Texas not Minnesota) – where my first formal competition was play¬ing church league football. My parents, aunts and uncles took me to minor league baseball and big-time college football games. There was not yet NFL or Major League Baseball in Texas, but as a boy, I was fortunate to attend a couple of those contests, too.
My career in uniform was almost all basketball (alas, before the 3-point basket), which began in junior high through a high school championship and very competitive college intramurals before ending at age 33 in adult leagues.
My life as an official includ¬ed basketball and soccer. I took advantage of the opportunity to be licensed both as a referee and coach by the United States Soc¬cer Federation. In an emergency, I was cajoled into umpiring a high school baseball game. And that one game was one too many.
As a single young adult, I was living on a teacher’s salary with an inexpensive social life. That allowed me to save money for thrifty travel, often involv¬ing a road game. I feel fortunate to have been in the stadium for some unforgettable athletic events, including the 1976 and 1996 Summer Olympics, 1978 World Cup Soccer Finals, sev¬eral World Championship Ten¬nis tournaments of the 1970s and – at least once – almost every college football bowl game site of the 1970s. Sneak preview – the Rose Bowl is the best.
In jest, I have told current high school athletes that I am older than the 3-point basket and the 2-point conversion. I usually receive a facial reaction of con¬sternation that there ever could be an era when a football team could not go for two points (after touchdown). However, I am not as old as the 4-point touchdown (1883-1896) or the 5-point TD (1987-1912).
Except for career coaches or referees, the rest of us will be sports spectators more often than participants. The high school players of today will likely wit¬ness some major changes during their lifetimes as well. Hopefully, they will cherish the memories of how much fun they had playing the games way back in the 2020s. I will be gone, so they will be responsible for telling the players of the 2070s about how is used to be.
But first, I will concentrate on the last half of the 20th century and 20 years beyond. And if this column does not work out well, just remember – it was Lonnie’s idea.