Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Make-Believe World of REAL Fun!!!

I've often been accused of having a photographic memory, and so here's the proof: Back around the time that I was in the first grade, my dad bought a basketball hoop and put it up in one corner of our basement. It was a smaller-than-regulation-size hoop, and he attached it to a piece of plywood which served as the backboard. For the next several years my friends and I spent countless hours playing basketball in the basement.

Not being content to just shoot hoops though, my imagination quickly shifted into overdrive as I turned that basement corner into a make-believe basketball Mecca called Wines Field House. In the top picture, that's me posing in front of the basket holding a volleyball, which we used instead of a basketball, which was too big to fit through the smaller hoop. On the backboard I taped three homemade pennants representing the 3 high schools in existence in Ann Arbor at that time - Ann Arbor High, St. Thomas and U High. Then I bought a box of multi-colored chalk, and on the wall directly under the basket I drew the logos of all of the Big Ten schools.
On the wall to the left of the court I drew the logos of all of the area high school teams, organized by league. In the bottom picture which shows my friend Jim Childers lining up a free throw, you can see some of these chalk logos. Four leagues were represented - The Six-A, consisting of Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Jackson, Lansing Sexton and Lansing Eastern; the Catholic League which included St. Thomas, Detroit St. Hedwig, Hamtramck Immaculate Conception, Ypsilanti St. John, Wayne St. Mary and St. Francis Xavier; The Southeastern Conference which included Saline, Dexter, Chelsea, Lincoln and a couple of others; and a 4th league, the name of which I have forgotten that included U High, Whitmore Lake, Dundee, Carleton Airport and Manchester.

Hanging from the rafters above the free throw line were homemade pennants for all of the NBA teams at the time. Included were such long-forgotten teams as the Minnesota Lakers, St. Louis Hawks, Cincinnati Royals and a team from Syracuse. The basement stairs served as the bleachers. Sitting on a small table courtside were imitation microphones that I made out of tinker toys. Placards in front of each mike identified the radio or TV station(s) there to cover the games. It wasn't WAAM, WPAG or WOIA that came to broadcast the games though, but our own make-believe stations like WJEH (James Edward Heddle) and WJSC (James Scott Childers). On 8-by-11 inch sheets of paper I drew pictures of TV cameras and placed them at various locations around the court.

Here's a story that goes to show just how hooked I was on playing basement basketball: One day the volleyball sprung a leak and started to deflate. For reasons that I no longer recall, my mom was not going to be able to take me to the store anytime soon to get a new ball. So the next day after school, I walked from our house all the way to Stein & Goetz downtown, bought a new ball and walked all the way back home!

Jim Childers and I would play these make-believe games where one of us would shoot for both teams and the other person would watch. One of us would do the broadcast play-by-play of the game, and the other would cheer and whistle in the background to simulate crowd noise. One year at Christmas I got a small tape recorder as a present and we actually recorded some of these games. Only a short 10-second snippet of one of these "broadcasts" has survived through the years, and I still get a kick out of listening to it.

Eventually I came up with the concept of a league made up of the 4 elementary schools that I was most familiar with: Wines, where I went to school; Burns Park, where my grandmother would take my sister and I to play on the playground when we went over to visit; Mack, where my friend Craig Curtis attended; and John Allen School, where another friend, Wendy Baker went. The powerhouse teams in the league were Burns Park and Wines, while Mack was a .500 club and John Allen was the bottom feeder.

As the teams came onto the court, I would play their fight songs on my little record player, from an extended-play 45 of military marches. Wines' song was Anchors Away, Burns Park's was As The Caissons Go Rolling Along, John Allen's was the Army Air Corps Song. The last "official" make-believe game played there took place early in 1966 with Wines beating Burns Park for the league title. I have to admit - the game was fixed! But how else could all of those years of joy be wrapped up, than with a happy ending!


Blogger steve said...

Hey Jim. Long time.


7:14 AM  

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