All my Christmas gifts were great but one stood out.
It was just a piece of wood but as far as sentimental value, it meant much more than that. Where it came from was what made it very, very special.
My nephew Chris, his wife Marlana and their son Jake gave me a small portion of the hardwood floor where I played my home basketball games for the Hamilton, Ala., Aggies. The pieces of wood were sold as a fund-raiser for my alma mater. I’m not sure how much they contributed to the cause, but to me, it was well worth the price.
It read – “Hamilton High School; Home of the Aggies; Original ‘Old Gym’ Hardwood Floor; #22.”
I spent hours upon hours on that floor from the seventh grade through my senior year of high school (1979).
Some were good hours and some not so good, so the memories vary.
There were sprints, lots of sprints.
There were laps and laps around that court – typically culminating in a mile or two.
And then there were the suicides. Touch the baseline, turn quickly and sprint to the free-throw line on the opposite side of the court. Touch the free-throw line, turn and sprint back to the baseline. Finally, sprint from your starting position all the way to the opposite baseline, touch the line, and sprint back. That’s just one suicide. I sure wish coach Neal Childers, coach L.E. Tyra, coach Richard Franks or coach Freddie Burnett would have stopped us after just one.
I recall the blisters, even with two pairs of socks.
And we wore those white Converse high tops, far from the fancier, bright colored shoes high school players wear today, and short shorts.
I recall losing an away game once to a team we should have easily beaten and getting back to our home gym about 10:30 p.m. and having to practice.
And I remember the 7 a.m. practice sessions, too, typically after a loss.
I took a lot of chewings on that court and my share of praise, too. I learned quickly to take the constructive criticism, learn from it and move on. And the compliments made me better, too.
I respected my coaches. And after leaving high school, I respected them that much more.
We won some big games on that court. My senior year we went 23-7, setting a record at that time for most wins in a single season at Hamilton High School.
I wasn’t a big-time scorer. I think my all-time high in a game was 17 points. Typically I scored less than 10. I liked to play defense. I spent a lot of time on the court, on my back, because one of my specialties was taking charges. A defensive stop meant more to me than a basket. Of course, we didn’t have a three-point line back then.
But what stands out the most from those days of playing high school basketball is my relationship with my teammates. And each time I look at that piece of wood, I remember Jeff Clark, Tony Fincher, Phillip Norris and all the others.
It’s been 39 years since I walked off that home court the last time. And thanks to this small piece of the wood, I can cherish the memories.