I got to Hamilton, Ala., about five hours before the basketball reunion.
I met teammate Phil Norris for lunch. The lunch was good, but the reminiscing was better.
We decided to ride over to our alma mater and visit with a classmate, David Markham, now a science teacher at Hamilton High School.
We walked down the hall of our old school, noticed the lockers hadn’t changed much, if any, and walked straight to the same room where we studied science. After sharing hugs, we relived lots of good times. David and I used to even ride the same school bus growing up – Bus No. 12 driven by Grover Burleson.
We laughed the loudest as we recalled one of our classmates riding a motorcycle from one end of the school hallway to the other during school hours. Needless to say, that did not go over well with our principal, Louis Goggans.
We wrapped up the afternoon visit by walking down the hall a short distance to the old gym, first stopping at the trophy cases which line the walls in the foyer. We found a couple our first-place ones.
Then we took a glance into the old gym itself. Some young Aggies were practicing.
There’s no telling how many hours I spent in that gym from grades seven through 12. It was tough, but it was rewarding. We ran those suicide drills, with blisters on our feet, plus miles and miles around the court to get in shape. We got yelled at a lot but praised some, too. Our coaches really pushed us to be our best. And because of their guidance and our hard work, we earned lots of wins and many trophies from junior high through high school.
We were 23-7 my senior year – Marion County champions, area runners-up and state playoff participants. At the time, it was the most victories in HHS history.
When I got to the new gym later that afternoon for the 40-year reunion, the first two people I saw were Freddie Burnett and Neal Childers. Coach Burnett was my high school coach, and Coach Childers one of my junior high coaches.
The special night was off to a special start.
The former teammates started arriving – Shane Russell, Jeff Clark, Mark Braswell, Jay Lawler, David Shaw, Tracy Vinson and Phil Fowler – plus another one of our coaches, Richard Franks, joined us.
Jeff Clark said, “This can’t be real. It’s like a fairy tale. It hasn’t been 40 years, has it? We’re old, aren’t we?”
As we gathered in a reception room, stories started flowing and they kept coming.
Coach Burnett’s memory amazed us all. One of his stories was about the time I hit my head on the floor (after taking a charge) and likely had a concussion. I went back into the game, and he even let me drive home from the gym that night because I told him I was OK. My mother, who had to miss that game, wasn’t happy. But it all turned out just fine.
Coaches and players spent more than two hours together, never sitting down and never stopping the conversation. We barely took time to enjoy cake and refreshments.
We relived many of the wins and a few of the losses. But most importantly, we rekindled the friendships. We realize, it’s more about the relationships.
We were honored in front of a packed gym at halftime of the Hamilton-Winfield game.
We all felt at home.