Peter, B-Ball, and the Rankled Ankle….

An old friend of mine presaged the colder temperatures that Toronto experienced a couple of weekends ago. I was at Lois’, and when getting up, winced when I put my weight on my right foot. Lois asked what was wrong, and I explained that I had “rolled my ankle” playing basketball 1). Her curiosity aroused, she asked when that had occurred, as in 16 years, she’s seen me hold beer cans and ballpoint pens, but never basketballs.

Her eyebrows shot up when I confessed that the incident had happened 48 years ago. My eyebrows shot up when I realized that it had been 48 years ago. Lots of water under that bridge! Let me tell you about it.

I have always tried to keep physically active, and played baseball and football with my friends growing up. I also played goal as we had a road hockey team on my street. St Bernard’s 2) had no gym when I was there, but it did have a schoolyard the size of which would give a condo developer blissful dreams.

When I started high school, I went out for both the track and cross country teams, and competed in these sports for the whole of my 5 year sentence.  I also tried out for basketball, which I had rarely played  (This was 1968, remember.) Apparently I was the last one “cut” when selecting the team, so I volunteered to be the “scorekeeper/statistician/manager”.

We had a very good team that year, wound up winning our regional athletic association 3) junior basketball championship. We also did remarkably well at tournaments. One incident that sticks out in my mind concerned an afternoon when we were leaving to go play in Waterdown, Ontario. One of the coaches asked me to go back into the school to get some older jerseys. I was about 8 minutes inside, came out with the ancient tops and found the bus gone. (At least it hadn’t happened in Waterdown! I might still be there.)

During my three years as the “s/s/m”, I did learn some good lessons however, about the importance of teamwork and discipline, lessons that I would carry forward into adulthood. I remember one year the team was going to the finals, but my parents didn’t allow me to go as it coincided with my grandmother’s birthday. As I sulked in my room, like Achilles before the walls of Troy, my dad came in and spoke to me. He explained that we had no idea how many more birthdays Grandmother would have, and that it was important to show love, as well as say it. Well put, dad. Colour me chastened.

In Grade 12, I tried out for, and made, the senior team. (We received beautiful new uniforms and I selected number “12”.) I played the next two seasons, as for some reason few boys tried out. I was definitely “a hewer of wood and carrier of water”, but some funny incidents come to mind.

Mr Winch, (the principal), Neil Reid, Tom McGill, Me, Leo Broere, Doug Reid, Mr Hennessey (the coach)

We had no private jet or team bus and we certainly didn’t check into hotels when we went to a tournament. We would leave Orillia at “O God O’clock” in the morning, stuffed into a teacher’s car which normally did NOT have seatbelts, we would be sleepy, hungry and cranky and ride in the wintry dark for “hours”, before changing in a dingy dressing room and entering the arena to defend the honour of our school and our town. This state of disorientation must have been at least partly the cause of the following “disaster”. I was under our basket as a shot was taken. Springing gazelle-like to “snag” the rebound, I sensed, rather than saw, a hand reaching over me to get the ball. I extended my hand a bit more and gave the ball a little flick to get it out of the grasp of the “enemy”.

The ball went up and safely out of his reach…continuing its upward trajectory just enough to clear the rim and drop in cleanly.

I had scored!! On my own net!!! Playing basketball!!!

Thankfully, we were winning 24-2 at the time, but as we were playing the host team, the stands were full of teenagers who had woken up after a good sleep, had a hot breakfast and came to the tournament in a very perceptive state of mind. I learned the literal definition of “the Bronx cheer” that frozen morning in Huntsville. (There were 4 seconds to play in the quarter when this happened. If I had known that simple fact, I would have knocked the ball safely out of bounds, rather than perilously out of reach.) I spent much time on the bench the rest of the tournament, needless to say, but they did let me ride home in the same vehicle as the rest of team. After that, I always kept a close watch on the time remaining in the period.

This came in useful a few weeks later, when playing in Alliston. There were again 4 seconds to play in the half, and Alliston was throwing the ball into play under their net. We had two guys defending down low, two more about 40 feet from the baskets and one lone soul at half court as far as possible from the action and the ball, me. 4)  To my surprise, when the ball was put into play, it bounced out to me. I grabbed it and took a two handed shot from half court. The damned thing went in! That feat produced silence in the stands, not to mention an air of disbelief in our dressing room at half time.

 

Around this time”The barnyard” had had a gym added, and worked up a basketball program, which my brother joined. He and I would discuss basketball offence and defence and talk about the art of blocking shots, which we referred to as “stuffing” someone, giggling malevolently at the very thought. I once got a chance to play a game against their team, as part of a pickup squad. At one point during the game one of their players “dribbled” in to make a layup attempt. As the last defender back, I leapt with impeccable timing and not only successfully prevented the scoring attempt, but because the ball then went out of bounds off their player, my actions enabled our team to take possession and score. We wound up winning this very good game. My teammates later congratulated me on my “highlight reel” play 5), and I walked home glowing in the respect of my teammates and the satisfaction of having played a good game.( You can see where this is going, can’t you?)

My triumphant return to “the homedrome”was somewhat marred when I was met at the door by a very irate “Mummy” Montreuil, who icily asked, and I quote; ” Why did you “stuff” your brother?” Hearing my sweet mother sling that slang at me, I VERY nearly laughed aloud, as it was so unexpected. (For once in my life, I thought better, however.) I explained that I couldn’t just let him go by me and score. She seemed mollified by my logic, but that was the only recorded time in basketball history that “Mrs Montreuil’s little boy” ever checked “Mrs Montreuil’s littler boy”.

There was a player from Port Perry named Jim Zoet 6). He was about 6’11” at the time (1972), and I remember being assigned to check him once in a game. I was guarding him as the ball came in, and when I turned to face him, I felt like I was looking into his belt buckle! (I was 6’02” at the time.) A rapid switch was therefore made in our defensive alignment. (He later played for the Canadian National team, as well as professionally in a number of countries, including a short stint in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons.)

Once we were walking into the gymnasium of a famous Toronto school, to play their team. The atmosphere was quite intimidating, we were looking at all the championship banners, the opulent scoreboard, the floor apparently big enough to house a wheat field. One of my teammates broke the pensive silence by saying “sotto voce”, in a twangy accent “You shore could put a lot of hay in here!” We all burst out laughing, tension broken. In the event they beat us, but we put up a good fight.

And of course, there was the incident previously alluded to in practice, when I jumped and turned my ankle on landing. I iced it and put a tensor bandage on it, because that’s just how we “did” things in sports back then. I don’t remember anyone getting a concussion, but in those days we’d joke about “getting one’s bell rung”. I don’t recall any kind of “hazing” of rookies either.

I really enjoyed my time playing basketball and hanging around the team in high school. At least two of my Facebook “friends” are guys I either played with or against. As I’ve said, I learned many valuable lessons, like how to lose graciously and how to win gracefully. I learned that a team which plays cohesively will succeed far more than one might realize. I have no regrets about my “career”, except maybe that long ago morning in Huntsville.

I’ve often wondered what became of my beloved jersey, good old “12”. I hope nobody got left in Orillia while being sent in to bring it and its (now) aged contemporaries out to the bus.

Time once again for “Gee Peter, there’s no good contemporary music”! Sure there is, but don’t take my word for it. Check out “Let It Go” by Monowhales.

Formerly “Ginger Ale And The Monowhales”, this rebranded quartet comes to play. Their energy has to be seen to be believed. More fine GTA musicians who are better people, and well worth looking out for.

See you soon.

1) As a result of this injury, my ankle, for a while at least, became sensitive to impending changes in the weather. It “calmed down” for many years, but age and boredom have made it start to act up again. Cheaper than subscribing to a weather network, at least.

2) The separate school in Orillia attended by most of my family, colloquially known as “The Barnyard”.

3) The Georgian Bay Secondary School Athletic Association, or “GBSSA”.

4) I had previously encountered this “meritocratic bias” when playing organized baseball, when I had been put in right field. Most balls hit to the outfield go to left or centre fields.

5) In fact, highlight reels had not even been thought of at this time.

6) Also known as Ted

=PJM=

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