I was a rather skinny, uncoordinated kid. My father’s difficult Depression Era childhood didn’t include athletics. I had few role models to teach the skills of basketball, baseball, or football. I did play on an elementary school level Pop Warner football team. I think I was a tackle and recall making one tackle in a game. I’d play some pick-up ball games with friends, but don’t remember it being particularly rewarding.
Truth is, I felt I was a real klutz, totally uncoordinated with long limbs hindering more than helping. This was reinforced by a knack for spilling things. (My wife would probably suggest that fault hasn’t been totally cured.) When I was about 11, there was a long stretch when I couldn’t avoid spilling something on the table, at least once a week.
The worst disaster occurred the first and only time Dad took Don and I to a drive-in movie. It was Pork Chop Hill, about the Korean War. Dad bought us all Cokes. In my defense, it was a ridiculously huge one. By today’s standards it probably would only be a “medium.” But within the first five minutes, I spilled the entire drink into the floorboard of Dad’s car. I don’t recall the exact expletives he uttered, but he could cuss with the best when upset.
My only youthful prowess was jumping, a benefit of having long legs. I showed off my skills by leaping over various obstacles, chairs, tables, and fences. There was a fence between our lot and the Cottrell’s. About the time I entered junior high, I found it easier to leap over the fence, sprinter-style than to walk around it. I was leaping confidently until one day while returning from Bud’s at full sprint, I left the ground with wonderful form, but clipped the top of the fence with my toe, sending me spread eagle onto our asphalt driveway. The souvenirs of my blunder included an array of scabs and scratches on my arms and knees and a useless pulverized wristwatch.
When we moved to Kalida my sophomore year, I volunteered to be the basketball team manager. I enjoyed it, since most of my best friends were on the team. I got to ride on the bus to all the games and even sit with the cheerleaders!
In Kalida, basketball is king, and the year-round focus of the entire community. Kids begin shooting hoops, as soon as they can walk. It was a year round activity, even when snow has to be shoveled from the driveway. Winning the league championship is celebrated, and making it to the state finals gives that team an aura of celebrity that lasts for decades.
I began playing in pick-up games and increasingly loved the game. I did try out my junior year and was “admitted” to the team. Mostly I sat the bench, unless we had a significant lead. I didn’t mind, but hoped to get better. In the summer, we played pick-up games almost every day, even when it required shoveling snow off the driveway.
Dunking a basketball earned status among the b-ball crowd. I could jump some, but the problem was my hands are too small to palm a basketball. Throughout my senior year, I was satisfied with dunking volleyballs. The week after our senior season ended, I walked onto the basketball court and dunked a basketball for the first time — with two hands!
My first week at the university, I met several guys from Putnam County, including Bob
VonLehmden, who became my roommate the last two years there. Being a guy from Putnam County pretty well meant you played basketball. These Putnam County guys began calling me “Kalida” on and off the court. Other boys heard them call me that, and the next time the new guys saw me, they would typically call me “Clyde.” I gave up and answered to either. Please, don’t call me “Clyde!”
I took much advantage of those wonderful facilities, throughout my student days and later when I returned as a professor. I also coached the freshman basketball team at Ottawa Hills High School. The academic atmosphere provides a unique opportunity to develop one’s body as well the mind.
I was one of those odd guys, whose athletic prowess peaked late. I played several times a week throughout my college years. I actually developed a pretty decent hook shot (rarely seen these days). I dunked a basketball with only one hand once! To do that I had to wedge the ball between my fingers and inner forearm, requiring a jump almost to the elbow above the hoop.
(Note the similarity of the poses in the two photos. I peaked to early!)