The last high school basketball game that I was at was in 1973. I was an athletic director of a large suburban racially troubled high school. I was tired of having the police come to every game. Basketball, with its indoor courts, are a prime place for people to get angry and take out their anger in the surrounding area, or even within the building. Yes, I had gotten tired of it and applied for and got a job as a junior high school principal far away from Philly.
The assistant principal at the Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School (Jasper County) encouraged me (I really did not need the encouragement) to come to the next home game against Bluffton High School. By the way, that is the area in which I live. I tooled into the parking lot behind the high school. The road to the back of the school was kind of gravel and sand. I had no idea who many people would be there. I arrived at six, just in time to see the beginning of the girl’s team game with the same high school.
The girls won by twenty five points. The interesting thing was that the stands began to fill up with rooters from both schools. The crowd was predominantly local. The folks seemed to all be in good humor. There was the normal rooting. What was not there was any question of the decisions that were made by the referees. These three fellows were not exactly the lions of the pride. They seemed to be out of shape for running up and down the court. As I said there were not “kill the ref” antagonists.
As the gym filled up to capacity, I realized that I was once again, as I was many years ago as an athletic director, one of the few white people in the crowd. It somehow didn’t dawn on me that it would be that way. Not that it was uncomfortable. In a school district with 85% of the kids being African American, that’s the way it should be.
The boy’s game was about to begin and I saw one of the young men that I had been meeting with. He is a tall handsome guy who plays on the basketball team. He waved to me, came over and we hugged, not an NFL hug, but a real one. I was kind of surprised. He and I had some conversations about decision making. He is also the starting quarterback on the football team.
The place was filled and the cheerleaders on both sides did some cheers. They were pure 1950’s kind of cheers. The squads were modestly dressed and behaved with decorum. Many of the young ladies in the crowd walked back and forth in front of the stands many times. That was something that reminded me of how they would be checked out by the young men in the stands. That was the way it used to be and still is today.
I got to talk to a number of people in the crowd, including Pastor P. who wants to work with me and the students. Her ministry is with teen agers and seems to be right in step with some of the things that I want to do. I did my famous, “I am so old that when I played basketball, white men could jump,” line for some of the folks that I was talking to.
The game was furious. The players never stopped hustling. The played with such speed that I could hardly keep up. I was happy to have had my cataract surgery and gotten new glasses. One thing that was different was the food that was served outside of the gym at the food stand. It was really supper food- fried chicken and French fries and that kind of stuff. It was brought into the gym and eaten in the stands. I asked the assistant principal about the efficacy of doing that. His answer was so logical; I was embarrassed to have asked it.
He told me that the folks sometime came directly from work and did not have a chance to eat. If he did not have these foods served, they might have not come to the game. The result of the game was a barn burner. In the last 24 seconds, the Ridgeland- Hardeeville team scored a go ahead basket and stopped their opponent from scoring at the other end and won by one point.
There was great cheering and then handshaking by the players with each other. The coach of Ridgeland Hardeeville has been the coach for 31 years. He is greatly respected in the community. The crowd, during the last part of the game, cheered, but never said anything, that I could hear, about the officiating, which I was kind of surprised at. It was the same three fellows from the girl’s game.
I said a few goodbyes and went out to the parking lot and took 20 minutes to find my car. The exodus of cars from the lot was done in an orderly manner with no horn honking or yelling. As I drove down Route 95 to go home, I was thinking what kinds of things these schools deserved from their elders, their taxpayers, and their politicians in their state. I saddened me.


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