Category Archives: Sports

Swing for the Fence

When I look at my second son Gabe, I can’t help but see a “McGee” man, a near-clone of my lovely wife’s side of our immediate family. 

Gabe's Big SwingAt 22, about 6-feet tall, square-jawed, and with a hairline that already recedes just a little, Gabriel McGee Richey fills a mold cast around his grandfather Jerry and his uncle Matt, almost perfectly.  Gabe’s clearly a different kind of cat than his three “Richey-stamped” brothers.  He always has been.

Unlike me, Gabe’s an outdoorsman.  He’ll feel an urge to take up one of his many rifles and head for the hills – literally – often by himself, to hunt deer and wild hogs.  Hank Williams, Jr., would be proud to know that Gabe can indeed “skin a buck,” or a hog, or most any other creature that’s legally hunted in north Mississippi. He’s a tough, gritty son of a gun.  He’ll need to be.  He joined the United States Army in December. 

Tanner, Gabe & CassieGabe heads to Fort Benning, Georgia, to begin basic training on January 21.  He’ll follow that up with Ranger training, which he’s qualified for.  That’s “Airborne” Ranger training.  That means you jump out of airplanes … routinely.  I’ve got plenty of faith in Gabe’s toughness and ability, but I’m going to worry about him just the same.

When he was a baby, Gabe broke his mother’s heart.  His big brother Gardner, who preceded Gabe to life by only 14 months, was a typical “baby.”  Gardner had to be rocked, and held, and fiddled with endlessly to get him to fall asleep.  Gabe, on the other hand, absolutely refused to be rocked – at all.  Gardner was, of course, fine with the arrangement.  Pop, Gabe & MattThat little McGee baby would stiffen up his whole body when his mother tried to hold him in her chair and demand, expressively, to be put down, let go.  I thought it was cool that if you just laid Gabe in his crib – without anything touching him – he’d go right to sleep.  His mother, the lovely but shaken Rothann, did not. 

Gabe’s never been much of a “hugger.”  And it’s a good thing.  Back then, when we’d arrive at grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ homes with our two car-seat-strapped toddlers, a bevy of kinfolk would emerge and descend on our vehicle.  Consistently, they’d unstrap our chattering first-born and carry him inside, held aloft like baby Simba in The Lion King.  Gabe, still strapped, would look to his ol’ Dad to, hopefully, at least include him with the diaper bags and other baby paraphernalia that had to be carried in.  As far as I know, I never left #2 in the car.  And we – Gabe and I – still call Gardner “Simba” occasionally, when we think he deserves it.

Gabe in WadersGabe was the Richey boy who had the “great pleasure” of having his father coach or manage his entire little league baseball career – from age 9 to 15.  That’s a LOT of father-son time, but we somehow survived it.  Our travelling team – originally made up of players from Baldwyn, Booneville and Saltillo – was called the Devilcats.  Gabe’s close and eternal friends are numbered among those boys – especially Brandon “Dino” Woodruff and next-door-neighbor, “buddy-for-life” Tanner Gaines.

The memorable moments from all that sweat and dirt and stinking, sun-burned boys are innumerable.  But there are two that stand out for me.

First, Gabe stepped up to the plate in his first at-bat as a high school senior, after transferring back to Baldwyn from Tupelo where he had played his first 3 years, and he homered, on a full count.  A lot of batters might have cut their swing down with two strikes in what was for Gabe and our family an uneasy, pressure-filled situation.  Gabe swung for the fence.  That’s Gabe. 

For the second one, I go back to a 9-year-old game we played at Guntown City Park.  In that year right after “coach pitch,” kids begin to run around the bases like the big boys.  Unfortunately, the result is that 9-year-old games generally turn into unwatchable, chaotic steal-fests.  Inexperienced fielders will throw the ball around wildly in ill-advised attempts at picking runners off.  It never happens.  This night, Gabe was catching, and an opposition runner broke from second to third.  Gabe rose up and fired a Johnny Bench rocket down the line.  Our third baseman, of course, didn’t catch it, and the base runner, a hefty hundred-pounder, rounded the bag and headed home.  Somehow the ball was scooped up quickly enough at third to hurl it towards home, where Gabe waited, his mask tossed in the dirt.

Gabe with guitarGabe caught the ball like a pro, but a small bull elephant rumbled towards him, head down, 2/3 of the way home.  In that moment of decision, rather than wait for a collision, Gabe raced up the line.  Ten feet off the plate, Gabe threw his entire banty-rooster body into the runner’s chest, ball and mitt extended, and shockingly knocked an elephant to the ground. 

“You out, boy!”  Gabe yelled, standing over him, and the game was over.

Next week, a tough-as-nails, no-hugs, “McGee” outdoorsman will take his place in the U.S. Army.  I expect he’ll compete like a “Devilcat.”

Swing for the fence with all you’ve got, Gabe.  This game’s just starting.

6 Comments

Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Happening Now, Just For Fun, Sports

Readers, Ping Pong & Pee Wee Football

Coaching pee wee football is currently my favorite thing to do.

I have been assigned a group of 5th and 6th graders in a league at Saltillo, and we’ve notched two division wins so far in 2013 against only a single, out-of-division road loss at Tishomingo County (5th and 6th graders are still fed on cornbread in Tish County).

Three BroncosWe’re the Broncos.

My 10 year old son Maddux plays quarterback, flanker and outside linebacker … with gusto and confidence.  He almost perfectly reflects what I look for in a player.  He studies the game, he plays in the yard every day, he is aggressive far beyond what his 85-pound frame suggests he should be, and he has talent enough to succeed.  He has already run for, thrown for and caught multiple touchdowns, and if he doesn’t lead our team in tackles, he’s close.  I’m very proud of him.  You probably picked up on that.

But beyond being able to spend time with my youngest child, I just generally like coaching.  To see a group of varied and unique individuals come together for a common purpose is satisfying in itself.  To have that group be successful is more.  To gather up a team from a “park league” environment – always a hodgepodge of budding athletes, non-athletes, and those who are frankly unclassifiable – and somehow win football games is the ultimate.

Park leagues take all comers.  If your child wants to play football or baseball or soccer, you simply go fill out a registration form and pay a fee.  Soon, your offspring will be roaming a field at the W.K. Webb Sportsplex in Saltillo, in Baldwyn’s Latimer Park or in some other municipal venue.  It’s a great community service.  Kids need it.

Sports teach things that you don’t get anywhere else.

Wanting something does not guarantee you will get it.

A good friend off the field, where life sails along smoothly, is not necessarily the guy you want with you in a conflict.

Sometimes you can pick your battles, but sometimes they pick you.

When you get knocked down, the proper response is not to cry, but to get up.

How to win with grace (if you have a good coach).

How to lose with dignity (if you have a good coach).

Learning is not confined to the players.  I contend that it is impossible for even coaches, at least open-minded ones, to go through a season without gaining new insights.  If nothing else they will get to know the kids who play for them.

Football is a loosely-controlled, physical battle for the acquisition of territory, and the bodily stress of such a demanding sport reveals what a person is made of.  Over the course of a single football season, a coach will likely learn more of a person’s true nature than a classroom teacher will see through years of instruction.

Now, the parents on the sidelines are the real hard-cases.  It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks.  Mom’s and Dad’s protective parental instincts almost always override visual evidence, sometimes comically so.

Lee County Bronco Pre-Game“He’s holding him!  He’s holding him!” said the mother, whose son was being tackled … while carrying the football.

If you don’t realize why that’s funny, don’t fret.

I was games director at a children’s church camp a couple years ago, and I mapped out an elaborate schedule of games for 1st through 6th graders.  Each group of boys and girls would go through “stations,” where an assigned camp leader would manage their activity.  While Group A was playing Noodle Hockey on the softball field, Group C would be playing Frisbee Golf along the hiking trail, and so on.  One of the stations I set up was Ping Pong.

I assumed that playing Ping Pong – table tennis – was universal.  Generations of my extended family had long battled in pursuit of made-up “championship belts” in my parents’ carport.  The competition was always intense.  My son Gabe and his cousin Grant garnered reputations as paddle-throwers.  My brother Clay and I broke many a table by diving on top of it, trying to prevent some cousin’s game-winning point.  Even my mother would join in on occasion before finally, intentionally losing to some pre-teen family member, who none of the rest of us would let win.

At church camp, the deacon’s wife I had assigned to Ping Pong duty came to me holding her score sheets.

“I’ve got this ‘Ping Pong’ thing, Clark.  How do you play that?”

In response to the stunned look on my face, she continued.

“Now, Clark, you know we are not ‘athletes’ at our house.  We’re readers.”

Maybe it goes without saying.  Maybe it doesn’t.  But I do not consider Ping Pong an “athletic” endeavor.

However, I do very much appreciate “readers.”  I have a few playing for the Broncos.

But when they button on their chinstraps and jog onto the field next Saturday to take on Marietta, they’ll be football players.

Leave a comment

Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Just For Fun, Sports

Don’t Let Fatigue Make a Coward of You

Baldwyn-Booneville Football is a game of aggression and pain.

I have a co-worker, a Booneville alum, who routinely spouts off – as is their nature – insincere tidbits of Blue Devil “wisdom” for the sole purpose of riling me into a fit of anger and retribution. While I, being the bigger man, discard most of his biased ramblings, generally derogatory towards our beloved Baldwyn Bearcats, out of hand, he does occasionally stumble upon an acorn of truth.

“The winners in football are the ones who can endure the most pain. That’s what it’s all about,” he professed this week. And on this point, I felt compelled to pause and agree with him.

I played organized football for 13 years – from the spring of 6th grade through a 5-year collegiate career that included 3 seasons in Division I. Nowadays, I may be getting old and overly opinionated, but the way I see it, kids are simply not as tough as they once were.

They are pampered and petted and told how good they are based on how fast they run a 40 yard dash or how much they can power clean, but on a good night, about 50% of them, maybe, get through an entire game without having to come out due to “injury,” or cramps or – I choke as I say this – fatigue.

I looked up at the starry sky, as I lay on my back in a grassy Tippah County field in 1981, unable to breath. One time, in one game, playing left defensive end for the Bearcats against Walnut’s Wildcats, I had to come out – hurt.

I had herded and trapped one of their tailbacks against the Walnut sideline. In front of the home crowd, I maneuvered and prepped myself to force him out of bounds – or I’d clean his plow if he stayed in – when all of the sudden he cut back towards the field … and me. What he saw, that I didn’t, was Walnut Wildcat fullback Willie Poole sprinting at my right side, my blind side.

Poole buried himself under my ribs and ejected all the air from my right lung. When I hit the ground and slid under the feet of the Walnut scrubs, most of the air from my left lung also made its way to parts unknown. I have no idea what happened on that play after that moment. I remember blinking my eyes and seeing strobing images of smiling Wildcat B-teamers.

“Way to hit, Willie Poole!” I distinctly remember hearing, with laughter.

I did not immediately get up. I just closed my eyes and waited for air and Coach Willie Bender.

59 BearcatsCoach Bender showed up and used the time-tested method of grabbing my belt and lifting my butt off the ground several times to somehow pump air back into my lungs. It must have worked, because after about 20 seconds, I got to my feet and wobbled to the sideline. My pain had just started, however. By the time I reached mid-field, I saw defensive coordinator Bud Reynolds, glaring at me, arms folded, and I seriously considered returning to the Walnut sideline, where people were smiling and happy.

Coach Reynolds only said one word to me. I can’t put it in print. And I jogged back on the field the very next play. I did not come out of that game or any other ever again due to pain.

There’s a difference in pain and injury. I’ve had two knee surgeries, both caused by football, and I certainly realize that players break bones and can’t go. I understand, too, that kids tear ligaments and cartilage and get concussions, and when those things happen, they must come out. But I also know that my dad, whose teams won over 900 high school basketball games, said, “Don’t let fatigue make a coward of you.” He could have coached football on that line alone.

My opinion on this subject doesn’t really matter in any substantial way. These days, I only coach a pee wee park league team in Saltillo. But when I’m working with those kids, including my 10 year-old son Maddux, I want them to realize that to go forward, when you feel like you can’t, is itself a true and great measure of success.

I hate it when a Blue Devil is right about anything, even accidentally.

Willie Poole, the Walnut Wildcat, who knocked me out of a game in north Tippah County in 1981, played his high school career, and at Northeast Mississippi Community College, with one arm.

Don’t let fatigue make a coward of you.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Just For Fun, Sports

A Sad Day for Dad

Gardner Richey at Samford UniversityOn a warm, pleasant Saturday in April, I laughed with old friends – the Walkers and the Cruses – down the third base line at New Albany’s beautiful BNA Park. The visitors from Freed-Hardeman University already had the ballgame that was playing out in front of us well under control. The Lions had raced to an 8-0 lead by the fourth inning, and Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker and I were entertaining ourselves with extreme trivia and jokes that could only have originated somewhere in Thomas’ native Tishomingo County. We were texting eclectic song suggestions to the press box to try and get them played between innings when we paused to watch again, as my oldest son Gardner, who is the athlete I always wanted to be, led off the bottom half of the inning for the Blue Mountain Toppers.

As he has done so many times over the last 20 years, he connected perfectly – on a fastball delivered by the Lions’ starting pitcher – and drove it over the left field fence, halfway between the scoreboard and the American flag. 8 to 1. Gardner trotted his 6′-3, 220 pound frame around the bases for the fourth time this season. We cheered.

Tony Cruse called out, “Way to go, G-Baby!”

“G-Baby” is what Tony and Donna Cruse call Gardner. It’s a nickname he picked up when he played for “Tornado Baseball” with their son Sam, a senior pitcher at Blue Mountain. The Tornados were as stacked a group of 11 year-olds as were ever assembled on a baseball diamond in North Mississippi. I say that not simply on the basis of parental pride but also due to the fact that their group won two – not one but two – national championships: the 11 & under USSSA World Series in Kansas City in 2002 and the 12 & under Super Series National Championship in St. Louis the following year. Gardner, G-Baby, hit his first over-the-fence home run with the Tornados at Snowden Grove Park in Southaven, a game-winner to dead center field, in the fall of the year before that first championship run. His coach Nikki White, a lanky left-handed former JUCO pitcher from Pontotoc, high-fived my little boy as he rounded third that night, and Gardner had to hop up just a little to reach the hand of his 6′-5 mentor, the man who would ultimately be responsible for much of G-Baby’s future success. The two of them slapped hands again and again as Gardner trotted past third at least fifty or sixty times over the next four years. At practice, it was Coach Nikki who ALWAYS threw BP. I can see him now, his long left arm almost reaching home plate, putting a little extra zip on one of the million pitches he threw to those boys. Ever after, Gardner has hit left-handers better than righties, thanks to Tornado batting practice. As the Freed-Hardeman starter, a left-hander, walked off the back of the mound and watched Gardner’s ball sail away into the distance, I thought of Nikki White and the Tornados.

My youngest son Maddux hustled out beyond the outfield wall to recover his brother’s home run ball as he’s done many times before. Gardner rounded third and shook the hand of BMC coach Curt Fowler. As he passed in front of us, Dana Walker leaned forward between her husband and me and yelled, “Yay, Gardner!”

Homer at NEMCABBThomas Walker and I handled the radio broadcast of the 2007 Class 6A State Championship Game from Trustmark Park in Jackson, the home of the Mississippi Braves. The series between Ocean Springs and Tupelo, where Gardner had transferred as a sophomore after his grandfather was fired as head basketball coach at Baldwyn, was tied at one game each. No high school player in any classification had homered that year in the professional stadium where Mississippi’s state championships are played. That is until Gardner came up in the first inning of decisive Game 3 and blasted an Ocean Springs offering onto the grassy hill above left center, the deepest part of the park. At that moment, the #1 ranked high school team in the nation held a 1-0 lead. The Tupelo Golden Wave – that incredible year – had by far the most talented school baseball team I have ever seen. The Wave roster included two MLB draft picks and seven Division I collegiate players, not to mention a half dozen others who played beyond high school for junior college, Division 2 or NAIA programs, including the Walker’s son Channing, a Blue Mountain teammate of Gardner’s last season. Gardner hit 24 home runs in three seasons for Coach Gary Enis there in Tupelo and was a 1st team all-state selection as a senior. The homer he hit at Trustmark Park was his 10th that year, and he signed a baseball scholarship with Samford University in Birmingham. But the Golden Wave lost that game to Ocean Springs, 6-5 in extra innings, and the Walkers and Richeys and Thorntons and Matthews and Strattons are compelled to replay it throughout eternity in our minds and at gatherings of two or more of us whenever the topic of baseball arises. But what a ride we Richeys had for three seasons in Tupelo! We will always love the friends that Gardner made there … and their parents, our friends forever.

Gardner redshirted his first year at Samford and then began a second season with the Bulldogs as their starting right fielder on opening weekend. He homered that first Saturday and again on Sunday, and his grandfather who had recently suffered a stroke was there to see it. After that, it was a so-so year, and that’s being generous. For Gardner, a slump out the back end of that first season in the Southern Conference had produced a crushing amount of anxiety, the worst thing next to death in baseball, for both son and father. Nevertheless, G-Baby was assigned to the Hannibal Cavemen, a franchise in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League. There we thought with a fresh start and consistent playing time, he could regain the level of production he was used to … and his swagger.

Right out of the box, however, it still just didn’t click. It was hit or miss over the first couple weeks in Missouri, and there was quite a bit more “miss” than “hit.” Gardner was batting only about .250 with no home runs and was mired in an 0-for-9 streak ten games in. Essentially, my little boy was alone, 800 miles from home, coming off a crappy college season, and things still weren’t going well.

Gardner Richey with the Hannibal CavemenI was driving home to Baldwyn through Union County one Saturday night in mid-June, and I knew at that very moment Gardner was in action at Samuel Clemens Field, where the Cavemen averaged 1,200 in attendance. Driving along alone, I began a negotiation. I made a deal with God, somewhere out there between Ellistown and Bethany. I WOULD be a better person, I promised, if when I got home and looked at my computer screen, Gardner could just have TWO hits in this ball game – any hit, infield, blooper, didn’t matter – but two of them. Baseball parents can be really crazy people when their kids are slumping. However, in this particular instance, getting God involved turned out NOT to be as crazy as one might initially think. In a long dark bottom, a couple miles east of Camp Creek Church, I heard the voice of God say to me “I’m going to show you something, Clark Richey!” It was very clear, and I’m not making it up. Minutes later, I scrambled into the house and logged on to the website that tracked the Cavemen games, but strangely the page would not come up. I clicked and re-clicked for 2 or 3 minutes. My deal with the Almighty was that “when I looked at the site” Gardner had to have two hits. Now with the hourglass icon spinning continuously on my screen, my cell phone started ringing. I was NOT going to talk to anyone before I saw what Gardner had done in his game against Quincy! But with the stupid thing rattling on the table beside my computer, I couldn’t help but glance at it. It was a call from Gardner’s host parents in Missouri. Of course, I had to answer.

“You told me to call you if anything great happened … ”

As soon as I heard the voice of the kind lady with whom Gardner was spending his Missouri summer, my screen instantly refreshed, and I saw it – Gardner Richey, 2 for 2 – a single in the first and a home run in the 4th, his first with the Cavemen. I would be a better person.

The reserved housewife of fifty that I had just met the week before was now screaming into the phone, “He hit it!”

The Cavemen front office had a “bullseye” sign there at Clemens Field, about 3-foot square, right beside the club house in left. The sign was part of a typical summer league/minor league gimmick, this one sponsored by McDonald’s. Should the sign ever be hit by a Caveman home run in game action, EVERY person in the stadium – 1,200 ticket holders – would receive a free Big Mac.

“He hit the Big Mac sign! No one has EVER hit the Big Mac sign! It just kept going and going and then curved and hit it right in the center!” she said.

“And that’s how I roll,” God said.

I haven’t asked God for anything baseball related for any of my children since that day. Obviously, He IS in complete control, a fact settled eternally in my mind by a blessed homer, hit number 2 in a game one night in the city Mark Twain called home. Cavemen fans didn’t call Gardner “G-Baby;” they called him “Big Mac.” And he was 1st team All-Prospect League with 9 round-trippers before the summer was out.

Though Gardner started 33 games for Samford as a sophomore and homered four times in a Bulldog uniform that year, he came to a decision that he would be happier somewhere else for his final two seasons in college. He transferred closer to home, to Blue Mountain. Last year at BMC, he hit 12 home runs for their 2nd-year NAIA ball club, and that number was the most in 2012 by any collegiate baseball player in Mississippi – at any level. His 12th homer came in the TranSouth Conference Championship Game where the Toppers lost 2-1 to Union University, the end of a magical, unexpected late season run. This year he has four dingers with seven games left to play. He’s not getting a lot of balls to drive this go-round as the Toppers have struggled offensively overall and Gardner has been hit by pitch or walked in close to 20% of his at-bats. Still he’s managed a .412 batting average, and he does have the other games remaining. We shall see.

Maddux finally returned to our seats with Gardner’s home run ball, and when Saturday’s game was done, we chatted with the big brother he idolizes for a few minutes before driving home and placing G-Baby’s latest souvenir gift to us with a dozen significant others that rest on a shelf in my office.

In two weeks, barring some last-minute call from a professional baseball organization, my little boy, who was the KING of T-ball at Baldwyn’s Latimer Park 18 years ago, who has homered off eight different pitchers drafted by Major League Baseball, will have played his last game. His dad is very sad. I have enjoyed watching him play ball more than he will ever know.

I placed the home run baseball from the Freed-Hardeman game beside one that says “Happy Father’s Day 2003,” marked in “Tornado green.” The next ball to the right isn’t a home run ball. It’s a ball that Gardner wrote a message on for his mother and me when he graduated from Tupelo. It says, “Thank you for putting up with me for 17 years. You have given me so much more than I deserve. Thanks for everything! I love you.” No, G-Baby, thank you. The pleasure has been ours.

10 Comments

Filed under College Baseball, Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Just For Fun, Sports

The SkiUtah Leaderboard: Mississippian Misadventure in the Wasatch Mountains

I was – at one time – an athlete. I played collegiate football at Ole Miss, Northeast Junior College and Tennessee Tech University from 1983 until 1987 where I held my own against future NFL players like long-time Bronco defensive tackle Andre Townsend and Cowboy Pro-Bowler Leon Lett. I was blessed with enough strength, tenacity and aggression to carry me through a rough-and-tumble, 5-season career and two knee surgeries before settling into normal family life and an engineering job with IFM Corporation in Saltillo, Mississippi, in 1989.

It was early March 1994, when our party of five arrived in Park City, Utah, and unloaded the rented SUV that had carried us into the Wasatch Mountains. I had never been snow skiing myself, but I was assured by our trip organizer, IFM purchasing manager Randy McFadden, that I could “pick it up in a day, a day and a half – tops.” Randy was a fast-talking, former high school quarterback who still liked to call the plays when there was opportunity to do so, and coordinating a ski trip for a bunch of work buddies was a great opportunity.

“Listen Randy, I’ve tried water skiing a couple of times. I never can even get up,” I offered up, as a reason not to go along, two months earlier.

Randy countered, “Man, that’s a totally different thing! This is snow skiing, man! You start up! It’ll be fine! It’ll be great!” Randy spoke primarily in exclamations.

In any case, his line of reasoning made enough sense that I bought a ticket on Southwest Airlines and flew with the gang from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Salt Lake City. I now stood with Randy, his brother Mack, Greg Miller, and Dan Schirmer, the oldest member of the group at 44, looking at the beautiful snow-capped slopes of Utah where the Winter Olympics would take place eight years later.

We (actually Randy) had rented a condo, complete with hot tub, in close proximity to the city center and a wide variety of local restaurants. Our (actually Randy’s) plan was to ski a different resort on each day of the 5-day trip. We would take in Wolf Mountain (now called The Canyons), Park City, Snowbird, Alta and the most elite resort in Utah at that time Deer Valley. President Clinton and Christie Brinkley had both been to Deer Valley the week before us, we were told.

Randy said we would start our snowy smorgasbord at Park City where they had a half-day ski school. Dan, only a second-time skier, wanted to take a little refresher course, and Randy suggested Dan and I use the morning getting our legs under us on the “bunny slopes” before joining Mack, Greg and him in the afternoon for “real” skiing.

The idea of three hours in ski school with a dozen 8 year-olds and a hodgepodge of non-athletes, mostly older women, was hard to swallow. Was it really necessary? I was a collegiate athlete. I had held my own against NFL players. And yet I slid onto the seat of an only slightly inclined two-man ski lift, Dan at my side, aimed towards a soft spot on the gradual hillside 200 yards ahead.

The first indication that the school was perhaps a good idea came as Dan and I reached the point where we were to slide forward on our seats and exit the lift. There was an operator booth on my right with a tattooed 15 year-old manning the lift controls, barking orders at the departing ski students.

“Keep moving! Move out of the exit path!”

I watched five or six seats empty in front of us, the passengers moving out onto a flat, snowy plateau just beyond the control booth. When our turn came, my feet and Dan’s hit the ground at about the same time. Right away, I realized there was a problem. I am from Mississippi. I did not know that ski boots straps had to be tightly buckled – and they hurt my shins – and so I had just let mine flop in the breeze on the ride up. However, when my skis contacted snow, I was surprised to discover I had zero control.

I still point to my exit from the ski lift that day as a testament to my superior athleticism. I did NOT go down. I somehow managed to detach both my loose fitting boots from their connections and essentially “ran” right out of my skis, which were left spinning in the drop zone. I did, however, wipe Dan out. I slammed into him and sent him hurtling past the safety barrier on our left and down a black triple-diamond slope. The tattooed 15 year-old dryly commented, “Now, that’s something I’ve never seen,” as he stopped the lift, and I helped Dan climb back to the exit area. He was on all fours as he peeked over the crest of the hill. Not only did I learn that your boots must be tightly fastened at all times, I also learned that to cause the continuous ski lift to stop was to bring down the verbal wrath of the hundreds already on the lift and of those in line waiting to get on. Clearly, I had committed a skiing faux pas – duly noted.

I did not go down during this event – I mentioned that – but I did go down 22 seconds after exiting the drop zone. I tried to “V-plow” as we were instructed (and that’s not real skiing, by the way) and so navigate down the 200 yards of slope to once again mount the lift and return for lesson number two. But I must have missed the part about how to steer left or right in what the instructor was saying. Perhaps I was still disoriented from the Schirmer wipeout, and I made a bee-line, as if drawn by a magnet, to the pole that supported the lift. It was so out of the realm of possibility the support could be hit by a skier that I didn’t see another set of tracks anywhere in the snow over the last 20 or 30 yards I travelled … just before I crashed face first into a 14″ diameter steel tube and suffered my first concussion of the day.

My next trip down the bunny slope I sailed left off the path into a grove of wonderfully scented evergreens. My left shoulder rammed into a mid-sized fir tree just as my right ski tip caught on a root separating my ski from my boot once again. This time, however, it was just the one. I saw it glide away into the distance as I lay curled around the base of the tree.

Within three hours, I was able to V-plow down the bunny slope, and Dan, who had fared only slightly better than me, suggested we break for lunch and wait on Randy and the others. I feigned a desire to make “just one more run” down the slope before giving in to his lunch offer. I doubt that I was believable.

We went to the top of the mountain after lunch and carefully mapped a pathway back to the base along only “green” slopes. The slopes progress in difficulty on a scale of green to blue to black to black with up to three diamonds. I would have been dead within seconds should I have mistakenly turned down a black triple-diamond slope, but it’s not the kind of mistake someone at my level of experience would have casually made. With a black triple-diamond, you just sort of walk up and look over the edge of a cliff, as tattooed 15 year-olds leap past you and disappear into the mists half a football field below. With my inability to yet steer myself with any confidence, I was in a pretty precarious situation standing there at the top of some unnamed Wasatch peak.

The natural beauty around me no longer registered as we selected a slope that, on our trail map, looked like a winding roadway. And that’s exactly what it was. But nothing was going to be easy on this day it seemed. The roadway most certainly had a modest angle of descent, but it was only about 10 feet wide total. On the mountain side of the trail was a snow-covered cliff wall, and on the non-mountain side was air and a straight drop to eternity. I hugged the cliff wall so tightly that occasionally I would have to stick my ski pole into it to dislodge myself. There was no way I was getting near the drop on my right, so with my steering problem I crashed into this wall maybe 20 times before we reached the bottom, often ending up on my back and skidding a few yards down slope before our trio of actual skiers would gather my loose skis and equipment and return me to a vertical position. They were all smiling. Dan was more sympathetic. I caught a few of his nastier spills in my peripheral vision. At least I think it was Dan. I couldn’t risk turning my head. We made several trips top to bottom, and when the day finally ended, it occurred to me that no Andre Townsend or Leon Lett had ever hurt me the way I was hurt at this moment.

The only thing I remember after that was sitting quietly in a hot tub listening to the laughter of my so-called friends who found humor in the fact that over the course of a couple of hours the only thing I said was “I think I have a concussion.”

It got better. There were times on our second day at Wolf Mountain that I was able to move my skis from the “V” to a correct parallel position and actually travel a few seconds before crashing. I felt a metaphorical kinship with the Wright Brothers. On Day 2, I spent only HALF the morning errantly careening through groves of trees, and by afternoon I kept my skis reasonably parallel all the time. I even began to jump-turn to change direction, and I was falling only every ten minutes or so – progress. I felt great satisfaction when our group came into one particular clearing, ready to proceed down a monstrously wide (but still “green”) slope that had developed a thin layer of surface ice. I was able to navigate down the mountain despite the increased difficulty the ice brought, and Dan – bless his heart – took his skis off and walked down.

That night I was able to converse with Randy and the others, though my head was still throbbing and my body ached like I had been in a car wreck. I took a bottle of Tylenol.

“You’ve got this now, man! I told you this was going to be great! Don’t you love it?! Snowbird resort tomorrow!” Randy exclaimed. I nodded and nodded off.

Day 3 was pretty doggone good. I fell rarely. I was feeling better from not falling so much, and I began to actually enjoy what we were doing. By the end of the day at Snowbird, I tackled one little section of a “blue” run. I am an athlete. I played college football and held my own against future NFL players.

Over my shoulder, I could see Dan at a crossroads, the fork of the intermediate run and the green. He paused, looking down at the four of us sailing off into the blue, and then chose discretion as the better part of valor. He pointed his ski tips to the gently declining bunny path, joining elderly women and a few of the 8 year-olds who hadn’t already advanced to leaping off black triple-diamonds. At that moment, I had a vision. I saw a SkiUtah leaderboard and a tattooed 15 year-old moving Schirmer’s name down a slot to #5 – and then inserting “Richey” in the #4 hole. And on cue, my pecking order possibilities took another sudden and unexpected uptick. Randy’s brother Mack blew his knee out trying to make a quick stop at the gateway to the next slope!

“Come on, man! You can make it to the bottom! I know you can!” Randy exclaimed. But Mack could NOT make it to the bottom. The ski patrol carried him down to the lodge, and two hours later when the slopes closed and Randy declared skiing done for the day, we helped Mack to the SUV.

“Just sleep on it! You’ll be all right tomorrow! We’re going to do Deer Valley tomorrow! You don’t want to miss Deer Valley!” Randy encouraged his brother.

We did not do Deer Valley the next day. We did Alta instead because it was on the western side of the Wasatch Mountains, and that was the same side Salt Lake City was on. Salt Lake City’s where we left Mack at the airport terminal – in a wheel chair – awaiting an expedited flight home for surgery.

“You’re going to be all right, Mack! I know you are! Have a safe trip! Let’s go, guys!”

The four men left standing made it to Alta only an hour later than Randy had planned. Gazing skyward occasionally over the next couple hours, the gang wondered which passing plane might be Mack’s as we immersed ourselves in an equal mix of “greens” and “blues.” Day 4 was the best yet, even though Dan had slowed considerably and spent much of his day drinking at Alta’s mid-mountain restaurant.

“Hey, Dan, let’s go up and do a mogul run!” Randy shouted at our elder one of the several times we passed him during the next four hours. Dan grunted and threw up a hand, waving us on. Or perhaps he was offering Randy a sign. I wasn’t quite sure from a distance and with Dan wearing ski gloves.

The condo was filled with chatter when we returned from dinner on the fourth day. We toasted Mack a time or two. Dan was up for that. I saw a change go up on my imagined SkiUtah leaderboard. Now hanging beside the name that had been at the front of the pack, since we rode the lifts up Park City’s peaks on Day 1, was a “DQ.” McFadden, M. – Disqualified.

Tenacity can carry a person a long way, I thought, looking back at the beating I had taken during those first 36 hours of hell in Utah. Now, only Deer Valley remained, where President Clinton had slalomed with Christie Brinkley the week before. Frankly, Randy, Greg and I had gotten into a pretty good rhythm on the slopes, and now even Dan seemed excited about the day we would spend at Deer Valley Resort, one of Utah’s finest.

Valet parking was available. That tipped us off that we had clearly taken a step forward. There was an air of elegance at Deer Valley, and lift ticket prices confirmed that this particular resort was not a stop on the Greyhound bus route. But we were each only footing the bill for a single skier, so we swallowed the check and had a blast.

The slopes weren’t as crowded, and snowboarders weren’t allowed, which decreased the number of tattooed 15 year-olds we had to contend with. One of the long runs from the top took you by several of the Olympic event sites, then under construction. And the best part, we skied without falling. I skied without falling – maybe a slight spill or two over the course of the full day, but that’s expected of anyone. And we skied fast, fast for us, and we skied through moguls, and we skied through tree runs. We knew this was the last day, and we, especially Randy, wanted to squeeze every ounce of fun there was to be had out of it. Dan dropped out first, and Randy, Greg and I headed back up to mid-mountain for “one last run” to the bottom.

There was a decision made, an audible by our signal-caller, that this run would be a “race.” I am a former college football player who has held his own against future NFL players. I am tenacious and aggressive. Five days did not make me a skilled skier, but I raced anyway. I did not win. But neither did Randy, and now with the sun about to set, he told Greg and I that he believed we yet had even “one MORE run” in us – all the way from the top to the bottom. Greg shook his head and walked away, his victory tucked in the belt of his ski pants. He joined Dan at a table near the lodge and waited.

“Come on, Clark! This is it, man! Don’t go back to Mississippi and leave a run on the table! One more run! When you watch the Olympics, you can say, ‘We did that!'”

Randy was quite persuasive. What the heck. We mounted the lift and went all the way up. It was glorious – sun hanging low, slopes nearly empty – the mountain was ours. We discounted entirely the fact that Miller had won that last race. There were now only two men left on this mountain. Greg had forfeited his title when he walked away and sat down with Dan.

Randy and I flew down the hill – he representing the brotherhood of high school quarterbacks and me carrying the pride, honor and weight of collegiate lineman throughout eternity. After two days of physical abuse and another three days of intense exercise, we were both exhausted. Two-thirds of the way down my arms and legs were trembling, but we raced on. Finally the terrain flattened, and we approached that last stretch, the home stretch that led to the lodge. We saw the huge Deer Valley crowd, their day complete – the skiing elite, drinking and laughing, the soft glow from the string lights shining on the snow with the sun sinking below the horizon.

Randy and I are furiously driving forward with our poles, Nordic-style. The crowd murmurs but parts as we sail towards the smiling faces of Dan and Greg who cheer us on. I edge ahead and refuse to slow up even though the crowd is thick and complaining as we bump past. I am almost at Greg and Dan and a hundred others – and a ski length ahead of Randy – when an elderly couple who have taken off their skis step from the lodge’s patio directly into my path. With Randy barreling in on my right, I have no choice but to jump-turn quickly left to avoid a repeat of the Day 1 Schirmer wipeout, this time involving people I don’t know … and old people. The problem with my left turn was that it was onto the lodge’s brick patio. And I learned a new lesson, even on Day 5, in front of five hundred to a thousand of Utah’s upper crust. Skis only slide on snow.

Immediately my skis came to an abrupt halt. Unfortunately, this time my boots were tightly fastened, so my knees hit first. The circle of on-lookers around me widened as my upper body folded forward, but I was able to get my hands down and thus prevent a full-on face plant. I was a collegiate athlete. I could still react – I had just saved those two old people’s lives, for crying out loud! I could still react, but after 5 days of physical exertion, my strength was no more. And my shaking arms began to spasm and buckle. I used every iota of energy left in my body to resist, but slowly my face descended and with a ‘thunk’ my forehead tapped – some later said “struck” – the brick patio. There was complete and deafening silence from the elite. Some looked on with pity and some with disdain. The silence mercifully was broken by a familiar sound.

“Man, you won’t ever forget this! Man, what a finish! Dan, Greg, did you see that?!”

OK, not so merciful, and yes, Dan and Greg saw it. So did five hundred to a thousand others at the close of day at Deer Valley. I got up as quickly as I could, and soon folks returned to milling and chatting. Occasionally, they would point my way and speak in hushed tones. At first, I was upset with Randy’s immediate promotion of the ignominious end to my Wasatch ski adventure, but after reflection, I think his assessment was right on. I won’t ever forget it.

I was – at one time – an athlete. I played collegiate football at Ole Miss, Northeast Junior College and Tennessee Tech University where I held my own against future NFL players Andre Townsend and Leon Lett. I am blessed with strength, aggression and tenacity. I returned to the Wasatch Mountains, and Deer Valley, the very next year, with a gang of friends led by a high school quarterback who spoke primarily in exclamations … for the rematch, of course.

4 Comments

Filed under College Football, Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Just For Fun, Sports

The Great Sandestin Palm Tree Race

The youngest boys in our vacationing clan froze in their tracks and eyed two plastic palm trees with immediate interest. The winding line to climb to the top of these tropical fakes (two poles with attached footholds designed like the climbing rock walls you often find at ball parks and carnivals) was eight kids deep and stretched into the middle of the boardwalk. Passers-by were forced to at least pause for a look.

Our group of twenty vacationers, immediate and extended family with a few friends in tow, included three boys and a girl twelve years old or younger. There were eight adults in our party, four married couples, each pair with close or reasonably close cousins represented.

My wife Rothann and I had three of our four boys with us – Gabe, Reggie and Maddux. Our oldest, Gardner, was spending the summer playing baseball in Missouri and missed this particular trip. My first cousin Grant Gardner and his wife Laura Jo had their three kids with them – Grady, “Buzz” and Melly Grace, the youngest girl on the trip – and Craig and cousin Mitzi Gaines, my next-door neighbors, brought their two grown boys Rustin and Tanner and a friend along. Rounding out the group was another cousin Molly Goodson, her husband Cole, their two daughters Claire and Halley, and a neighbor, Sara Jenkins. Now Molly’s grandfather was Grant’s and my grandfather’s nephew, and the two of them – uncle and nephew – married sisters. So, in fine Southern tradition, Grant and I are actually double-kin to Molly; we’re both 3rd and 4th cousins. This substantial group of fun-loving, Northeast Mississippians was enjoying Day 3 of a week-long, single-house adventure in Seagrove Beach, Florida, in late July when we launched into one of our typical evening excursions, this night to Baytown Wharf, a boardwalk development in Sandestin filled with restaurants, shops and carnival games.

What must be known about our families, especially the Richeys, Gardners and Gaineses, is that we are sports nuts, ultra-competitive and occasionally downright vicious when a game is afoot. Never has any Indy 500 been as competitive, or ruthless, as the routine, every day turn our family takes on the go-carts of the Wild Woody at The Tracks in Destin or Gulf Shores. If you think dainty, soft-spoken Melly Grace won’t put you into the wall when the opportunity arises, prepare to taste wall. When we spot a Louisiana church group playing volleyball on the beach from our sea-view balcony, our group will typically race to challenge them to a “friendly” game, a game that inevitably morphs into a battle of state-to-state supremacy, often ending with me setting Grant up for a spike into some hapless teenage Cajun’s face. Bless her heart. The women in our travelling party, while outwardly appalled by the worst of our trumped-up contests, require only minor surface scratches to reveal that they too have been indoctrinated into our cult of competition. Many a teary-eyed child has checked out of one of our particularly brutal beach football games, seeking solace under his mother’s umbrella, to find himself greeted with “Oh, my little sweetheart, let me wipe that sand off … Listen, you are going to have to catch the dang football. Sweetie, nobody likes a cry-baby. Now get back in there, and don’t let them push you around!”

Grady, Buzz and Maddux jumped into the lines to ascend the Baytown palms, hands extended for the $5 required for the experience. The object of the palm tree climb was simply to reach the top. There you would hit a button that caused a red light to go off, proving that you had in fact achieved the summit, and then you could descend with the satisfaction that you had scaled the Everest of tropical vegetation. We watched as many a kid returned to earth to the hugs and congratulations of family members. I suspect they all held hands and sung gaily together as they went for ice cream and mochas to celebrate. All our family saw was two – not one, but two – palm trees, side by side. Two buttons at the top. Two red lights. Two vertical paths to glory on the Baytown Wharf.

To Grant’s horror, Melly declined to enter the queue, citing “no chance for victory” in the potential match-up with her older, male siblings and cousin, leaving us with an odd number of contestants for the race to the top of the Palms. Twelve-year old Grady altruistically aligned himself with an unknown kid in line 2, foregoing the sure win he would have enjoyed against his younger brother or cousin. I’ll always respect him for that. Of course, the unknown kid was summarily toasted and then taunted as Grady shimmied up the pole like a Rhesus monkey, breaking decades-old Baytown speed records. The kid never realized he was in a race until Grady let go, as his feet hit the ground, with “In your face!” I felt sorry for the little guy with his stunned expression. I high-fived Grady.

Buzz was, and is, bigger and older than Maddux. Maddux’s chances of beating Buzz to the top of the palm trees were pretty slim. If the boys’ weren’t aware of this pre-race decision by the odds-makers, Grant and I certainly were. I attempted a pep talk. “Move quick, and don’t look down … and, oh, have fun. Just– Just, uh, have fun.” You are obligated to say that last part. There were other people within earshot; you don’t want to sound crazy. Being crazy is OK, but you don’t want people to know it.

What Grant and I both had missed in prepping our horses for the derby was that we were sending seven- and eight-year-old kids up a 20-foot pole with nothing but a ¼” safety rope strapped to a harness they probably didn’t even realize they were wearing. When the starter pistol fired (there was no starter pistol), the two thoroughbreds burst from the starting gates, if inching forward and gazing upward can be described as “burst”-ing.

“Let’s go, Buzz,” Grant screamed in distraught tones. I, with dignity and grace, gently encouraged Maddux, “Move your butt, boy!”

You have heard of the famous race between the tortoise and the hare. Maddux and Buzz topped that fable with the reality of a much more competitive tale – tortoise versus tortoise. Eighteen minutes into our pre-pubescent Olympiad, the boys had risen about 6 feet off the ground. A contest that had begun amid great anticipation by the full contingent of our twenty-member tribe now held the attention of maybe four or five of us.

Melly summed it up, “Good grief! I want to get some Dippin’ Dots! Let’s go.”

Even 7- and 8-year-old men cannot suffer such emasculation, and the pace quickened up both poles. However, at the twelve foot mark, my pre-game speech paid dividends for the underdog, or rather it could be said that Grant’s failure to provide Buzz with similar guidance proved insurmountably costly. In either case, Maddux had been trailing by a rung or two when Buzz’s ascent took the fatal turn. He looked down. All motion on pole number one came to a halt. And now as Maddux moved methodically past his frozen cousin to 14 minutes later trigger the button that would flash the red light of glory for the Richey clan, Buzz’s grip tightened on his plastic palm.

When Maddux descended to earth and we rehydrated him with the last sip of a 20-ounce Diet Mountain Dew, we awaited Buzz’s splash-down. When the place-horse’s feet touched the boardwalk – maybe 30 seconds after Maddux’s – Grant offered encouragement to his middle child with “Good effort!” Of course, “good effort” in our family is code for “you just got your butt kicked.” The fact that Grant followed it up with “At least we had some good fellowship!” was the ultimate insult.

Every good, church-going family in the South knows a preacher will start, without fail, every church volleyball game or softball game or basketball game with the “Lord, help us all have good fellowship”-speech, to suppress the competitive overflow that often occurs anyway. Now our family, in a borderline sacrilegious move, has adopted the “good fellowship” phrase to apply to … well, to guys who had just lost or were about to.

Grant may just as well have hit Buzz in the head with a club. His lower lip and shoulders were at approximately the same elevation, slightly above the knee. Grant’s post-game commentary and Buzz’s reaction to it elicited a quick and certain reaction from Laura Jo, the mother of the endangered cub. Her dark, burning stare somehow physically blew Grant’s hair back. To her credit and to Buzz’s benefit, Laura’s maternal instinct remains stronger than her urge to compete for victory at all costs, at least slightly stronger. After all, she’s not blood-kin to Grant and me, so she has a genetic advantage.

Rothann, for her part, began to apply cold rags to the back of Maddux’s neck. We had to get his heart rate down so that he could properly enjoy his unlikely victory. Just as a smile began to crease his face and he looked over in Buzz’s direction, Grady reappeared.

“Hey, they’ve got bumper boats with water cannons,” he announced.

Maddux’s attention shifted instantly from Buzz to the new matter at hand, and Buzz seemed to brighten up too at the news, his lip returning at least to chest-height.

Melly added her follow-up to Grady’s discovery and tugged at Grant. “I’m riding with Daddy!”

Maddux followed suit in my direction. “Come on, Daddy! I’ll drive and you shoot!”

Grant and I did a slow-turn towards each other. Our eyes met. Round 2. “All right,” we said together. Grady and Buzz nodded at each other, establishing their team, but then Grady added a piece of information that had been heretofore withheld. “And the big boys are getting on, too.”

“What?!” Grant blurted.

“Don’t you and Melly want to ride together?” I offered Maddux.

“Heck no.”

I knew Maddux’s response before I even asked the question. Committing too hastily to team configuration without full knowledge of all pertinent competition information was a rookie mistake. The unknown kid from palm tree #2 had to be laughing somewhere, probably over a dish of ice cream. Grant and I knew we were dead men walking. We had saddled ourselves with seven-year-old ship captains for the Battle of Pearl Harbor that was coming. There we would combat as merciless a group of 15 to 21 year olds as had ever been gathered in Sandestin, Florida.

Grant said he hoped we didn’t drown. I tried to come up with something insightful and poignant to say, to give perspective to the circumstance we found ourselves in, but all that came out was “Crap.” The kids raced ahead, laughing. The wives smiled, but strangely, it did not seem to be only from the joy of seeing their children happy.

2 Comments

Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Just For Fun, Sports

58 Minutes To Wrestle

Beautiful Bobby Eaton

“Beautiful” Bobby Eaton

An old friend of mine – Tim Garoutte – asked me recently about a story I once told regarding an encounter that a football teammate of mine had had with a professional wrestler named Bobby Eaton. It took me a while to scratch this particular tale up from the memory banks (probably because Tim did not use the full and correct name of the wrestler, that being, of course, BEAUTIFUL Bobby Eaton). But it finally came to me anyway, and I recalled the occasion in question when a 6’-5, 275-lb starting right tackle for the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles took a seriously misguided step one winter night and whacked ½ of the Southern Tag Team Champion Midnight Express, the Beautiful One himself, in the back of the head from his second row seat. My muscle bound buddy learned that wrestlers, when touched in such a manner, are apparently released from all restraints that would prevent the pummeling of said offender. When security finally separated Eaton from our tackle, who by this time was on his back in the fifth row, and escorted our humbled Golden Eagle from the arena, Beautiful Bobby leaped into the ring and stood in the spotlight, basking in his villainy, to an equal mixture of boos and cheers from the 5,000 or so in attendance that night in Cookeville. What a glorious night of wrestling!

As I laughed upon this extracted gem of a tale from years ago, I realized something. Maybe my “inner redneck” is not so “inner” after all. If truly pressed, would I not be forced to admit that many of my fondest memories are intertwined with the ridiculous sport/event/spectacle that is professional wrestling?

Just last week, I read in Rick Bragg’s column on the back pages of Southern Living magazine where he said that, in his boyhood, television with only the two or three channels available was much better than today. Now, what 40-something alive in America would not agree with that? Well, I sure do. But then Bragg went too far. He had the audacity to add a throw-away statement at the end of his paragraph that basically said that ‘his day’ was a day when “the worst thing on television was professional wrestling.” I was taken aback. My heart sank just a little bit. “The worst thing”? Had Bragg never seen “Let’s Make a Deal”?

When I was a boy of 14, my brother and I visited our big-city Georgia cousins in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta. Of course, all cultured boys of our age in rural Mississippi in 1978 knew an important fact about Marietta, Georgia, and we were surprised, shocked in fact, to learn that it was something that our Marietta cousins didn’t know. It was common knowledge, we thought, that the very best in rasslin’ could always be found in the famous Marietta Civic Center. We rushed to check the paper and found that, sure enough, on the very Saturday afternoon we were in town, Tommy “Wildfire” Rich, Dusty Rhodes, Bullet Bob Armstrong and Chief Wahoo McDaniel all would be making an appearance within 2 or 3 miles of where we stood. If that didn’t make a kid envious of big-city living, nothing would. The Civic Center was at least half full (which strangely came as a surprise to our Georgia relatives), and right away we got a taste of what we had come for. It seems Tommy Rich’s head had been shaved on one side by Arn Anderson months before, live on TBS, and somehow miraculously it was still in EXACTLY the same condition when he reached the ring on this Saturday. And he was still just as mad about it as he was the day Anderson applied the clippers in the first place. A titanic battle ensued, followed by another, and another. We even hung around outside the Civic Center after the matches ended to watch the rowdiest of rowdy fans throw wadded-up paper cups at the Outlaw Don Bass, who flipped us off before ducking into his car. “The worst thing on television”? Really, Mr. Bragg?

I think now of holding a young cousin up on my shoulders for an autograph from Jerry “The King” Lawler at Northeast Community College in 1985; of watching a short, fat, 60-year-old Tojo Yamamoto chest-chop 6’-8 opponents to the mat on Channel 5 every Saturday in the 70’s with Tojo’s biggest fan, my short, fat, 60 year-old grandfather; of my dad’s encounter with Plowboy Frazier over the last piece of fried catfish on the Freshtastiks Food Bar at the Tupelo Bonanza; of taking a date (my lovely wife Rothann) for a romantic evening in the green building south of Main in Tupelo to see Kimala the Ugandan Giant take on Superstar Bill Dundee in 1981; and of finally having to turn off Wrestlemania XV when my six year-old Reggie elbow dropped on me from the back of the couch as his older brothers tried to apply figure-four leg-locks on each other in the middle of the living room floor.

Tojo and Papa have been gone a long time now, and yeah, I know that Kimala was really from Senatobia, not Uganda. And the truth is – Plowboy actually got that last piece of fish without much resistance from Dad, even though he would still tell you different.

But, the worst thing on television? Really, Mr. Bragg? “Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Banana Nose!” At least that’s what “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton would say.

And my friend Tim wondered if I had enough material to do a whole story on wrestling. Tim, Tim, Tim.  “2 minutes gone, 58 minutes to wrestle.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Just For Fun, Sports