Posted by: trevormeers | January 20, 2011

Hoopin’ in Sweatpants

If you start to forget where you came from, just reorganize a few shelves in the basement. When we dug into our store room this week, the 1980s flooded back like Richard Marx music at the dentist’s office. As we looked at yearbooks and listened to the Hoosiers sound track on cassette and Allison tried on her mom’s sophomore-year cheerleading outfit (a near-perfect fit on 9-year-old Alli), ghosts of my high school sports career began to walk about.

Me in 7th grade, when I won Most Improved Player. For scoring 4 points. All year. Lame? The coach DID ask me to quit my first week.

Nebraska organizes its high schools into classes descending from Class A to Class D-2. My high school would have come in somewhere around Class F, had we competed against public schools. Instead, we played basketball in the Every Game’s A Road Game League, which covered small Christian schools stranded like King James-Only islands in a vast farm-country rectangle covering four states. In big tournaments, we generally faced schools with more guys in uniform than we had in high school. But in league play, we waged epic contests against other teams built on the same basic formula: two guys who desperately loved basketball, a couple of guys who kind of cared some of the time, and a couple of guys who would rather be practicing trumpet but played because the school really needed them to fill out a uniform.

But the real stars in the EGRG League were the gyms. The league’s principals/coaches/athletic directors/pastors/fathers of the starting point guard were masters of saving a buck by renting out decrepit buildings better suited to livestock auctions than athletic events. The first time my hoops-obsessed buddy and I watched Hoosiers—a movie set in the 1950s, I might add—we kept saying, “Hey, that looks just like where we played last week!”

In honor of these memories, the 25th anniversary of Hoosiers (observed in 2010) and every sweatpants-wearing hoops nemesis I ever faced, here is the official list of the all-time worst gyms visited by the Parkview Patriots of the late 1980s:

10. The Painted Concrete – Home to “The Ambassadors,” one of our opponents who wore sweats in games because shorts were deemed indecent, this Missouri court featured rubberized paint on concrete, making it a garage floor to envy. The building’s most famous moment occurred when our Missouri-native coach announced during a timeout in the regional tournament, “Brothers, I can’t stand up because I’ve just split my pants.”

8. The Naked Concrete – This gym’s Hall-of-Fame form was fleeting. With three games left in my high school career, our team moved into its own long-awaited gym. In the rush to let me (the school’s only senior boy) play in the building, we scheduled games before the wooden floor was installed. But we barely noticed the shin splints, since we were distracted by shooting at hoops set at about 10’4” to accommodate the yet-to-be-installed wood planks.

9. The Cyclone Throwback – We tacked on a Friday-night game in Ames, Iowa, to justify a roughly 4-hour drive to central Iowa to meet the team we really wanted to play. The gym had no heat, and no one on the team assembled from area homeschoolers stood over five feet tall. But playing with a Hoosiers-style scoreboard with an actual minute hand? Priceless.

7. The Carpeted Lounge – On a Saturday afternoon in Kearney, Nebraska, we played on a court covered in Berber carpet, which made for an eerily quiet game except for the screams of someone suffering a rug burn. As a seventh grader, I looked forward to some playing time in the JV game that day, until we fell behind and our coach (who literally lived in an AMC Pacer for a while) put all the varsity players into the game to ensure a win.

6. The Coliseum – Here we enjoyed a wooden floor, but no seats. So spectators stood around the rail of a walking track that circled overhead. My mom was nearly ejected from The Coliseum after getting into a smack-off when an opposing mom at the snack bar said, “You know, we’re going to beat you.” They didn’t.

5. The ‘Hood – In my junior-high years, Coach Pacer decided that the best gym to rent for a bunch of rural/suburban kids from a Christian school was in the heart of what passed for Lincoln’s inner city. After we spent two years sliding around the tile floor, Coach Pacer decided it was a good idea to take on the gym’s resident “all-star team.” It was during this game that I learned what it actually looks like when someone jumps.

4. The Ballet Studio – This was site of our first game against “The Neanderthals,” a marauding band of thugs who abused us under the watchful eye of their pastor/principal, who also happened to be wearing stripes and carrying a whistle. The site was a ballet studio roughly the size of a large kitchen, and after one Neanderthal shouldered me into the pads under the hoop, I distinctly remember feeling a ballet barre shove into my kidneys and hearing a mirror break somewhere.

Senior year, rockin' the shorts that scandalized the league. (Yes, those are the same unis we had 5 years earlier.)

3. The Neander-Dome – By my senior year, the Neanderthals rented another building that sat between two freeway on-ramps in Omaha and boasted an arched white roof. My final game against them came down to me shooting free throws, and as the hordes in the stands stomped their feet, I watched the hoop swinging a good three inches side-to-side. Fortunately, I was adept at leading a target, and we won the game.

2. The Opera House – Clearing out the orchestra pit of this Kansas performance hall created a basketball court with tight dimensions and a short wall, sort of like a backyard hockey rink. The cheerleaders stood among theater seats and tried to avoid scraping their fingers on the underside of the low balcony. The clock hanging on the stage was notoriously unreliable, but the ref (school principal) told us not to worry about it because the scorekeeper was keeping time on a watch. But if the stage clock’s buzzer went off as we attempted a quarter-ending shot, it suddenly became official.

1. The Eagles’ Nest – Home to more Wearers of the Sweatpants, the Nest was miniscule even by EGRG League standards. Located upstairs in an old elementary school, it featured a furnace that stuck into the corner of the court, but was helpfully wrapped in foam. Once when our forward pulled down a rebound under the hoop, he brushed the ball against the wall. The visiting evangelist/pastor blew the whistle. I think he was ruling my teammate out of bounds, but there’s an excellent possibility that it might have been a reprimand for our shameless shorts.

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Responses

  1. Absolutely fabulous – and worthy of the phone call we are about to make to you so that we can get a little more commentary on the top 10 🙂 Reminds us of the Cornerstone National Guard Armory Volleyball Days!!!

  2. Okay, time for me to weigh in. I take issue with the Ballet Studio at #4, I would vote that #1 or at least a close #2. You forgot to mention the post in the middle of the court, the plaster dust that reigned down whenever the cheerleaders moved on the balcony & how the Neanderthals used masking tape for numbers.

  3. you have a very good memory.

  4. Thanks for the memories, Trevor. I laughed out loud – loved it!

  5. Oh, the memories . . .remember we were told that it was building character! At least I remember hearing that more than once.

  6. Oh, this is funny! and a bit too much truth. We just loved the game!

  7. Hilarious stuff Travis!

  8. I don’t remember any of this – must have been before my time …

  9. Wow this sounds freakishly familiar to 2000-2004 ACA basketball; barns, lunchrooms, outdoor cracked cement courts, leaky roofs leaving puddles in the lane and around half court, spinters in your backside from cleverly crafted “benches”, uneven hoops…and the infamous road trips to play at these great establishments!


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