11 November 2011

Sports Talk--Basketball and Tennis

Welcome back. If you’re not getting too stiff sitting there in the bleachers, I’ll continue with my athletic career. 
 
We played a lot of neighborhood touch football, mostly on the street. For one reason or another, I never tried out for our high school team, which was the only organized football program.  

Soccer? Not in the USA when I grew up. That was my son’s sport. My first more-or-less exposure to soccer was in grad school, on a field trip. Spider, a classmate from Malawi, picked up volleyball and kept it bouncing with his toe and knee and head until the bus was leaving.   

Basketball and tennis were different stories, though their plots were remarkably similar to my illustrious baseball saga.

Basketball  
Warren and brother, Howard, 
on the home basketball court.

I learned basketball playing with my brother and neighbors on our driveway, the hoop attached to the garage, doors swung open. There was another hoop inside the one-car garage for bad weather. I did ok at dribbling and became reasonably proficient at shooting, though our hoops didn’t reach regulation height.

The first time I played on a no-kidding basketball court was at age 12, at that same summer camp I wrote about earlier. The counselor coaching us was impressed that I knew how to take a jump shot even if I couldn’t make a basket. 

In high school, I made the freshman and junior varsity teams, playing occasionally. Trying out for the varsity team, I made a newspaper photograph but not the team. 

Cut from my high school team, I started playing with a community team in a nearby city, one or two evenings a week and on weekends. It was fun until we started winning. We were undefeated in an interagency league and entered in a season-ending, weekend state tournament.  

Warren laying it up in practice before being cut
from team (photo by John Chestara, 1958)

We discovered that other teams in the tournament were bringing in ringers, boys that never played on the teams. One team went all out and enlisted a high school player who was picked for the High School All American team or whatever it was called at the time. He enlisted his high school teammate, who was near equally good.  

Tell me, is that fair? Well, our coach didn’t think so, especially since our only ringer wasn’t that much better than any of us.  

My big moment came late in the final game in which…I bet you can guess…we were playing the team with the nationally ranked player. Our ringer hadn’t done much the entire game, and the coach finally sent me in to replace him. (Are you cheering yet?)  

The two superstars were playing so confidently, they began fooling around. I stole the ball near half court, made it to their basket without tripping, double-dribbling or carrying the ball, and…ready?...scored! There’s more. I was attacked on my breakaway and I made the foul shot.  

We lost the game by a wide margin, but I could now feel content hanging up my basketball sneakers next to my baseball mitt.  

Tennis  

Tennis should have been my sport. My reflexes, stamina and depth perception didn’t seem to be a problem. My serve and forehand were solid and looked respectable even if they didn’t make it over the net or stay in. My backhand? Duck! The ball could go anywhere at any time without my consent.  

Coaching or lessons would have helped, but it was a small school, tennis was hardly a major sport and the tennis coach was a teacher who was kind enough to represent us and might never have played tennis himself.
 
Tennis racquets were wood with catgut 
strings in the 1950s.
A two-handed backhand might also have helped. We snickered the only time we saw an opposing player using a two-handed backhand. When he won, we wondered if it didn’t break some rule.  

Suffice it to say that I lettered in tennis. It was a combination of perseverance and an occasional win. Oh, and too few players to drop me from the team.  

Wrap Up  

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll write again next week. If I can find my father’s scrapbook, I’ll tell you about the time he competed against Jesse Owens.

P.S. 

If you’re gearing up to play basketball or tennis, here are good starting points:  
Search Amazon.com for basketball equipment 
Search Amazon.com for tennis equipment 

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