Exploits of a 12-year old
I swear I need to discipline myself to post every day during 2019, no matter how short or how silly it might be. Actually, short posts might be better considering I have the tendency for posts which fall just short of the length of War and Peace.
I didn’t get to Kansas City until 1915 last night. I had to stay behind in Hays due to an eye exam with Dr. Stacey Jones at 1415. It was the last time I’ll visit her at the corner of Canterbury and 22nd in Hays, because in January, she and her husband will open their own ophthalmology/dentistry private practice in downtown Hays across the corner from the Hays public library, Fox Theater and James Motors. I’ve been seeing Dr. Jones since moving to Kansas in 2005, and she has picked up right where my ophthalmologist in Louisiana, Dr. Martin Schoenberger, left off. Both have been great caring for my vision.
I ended up sending out 73 Christmas cards. So, far one has been labeled returned to sender. One person was not happy that I looked up their address and sent a card. Peggy, Caitlyn, Brenda, Dorinda and a few others, some of whom were middle school classmates of mine in 1988 and ’89, were much happier. They’ll stay on the list for 2019. The complainer won’t.
Tuesday was the 30th anniversary of my only memorable athletic achievement.
I played youth basketball for the local playground, Carolyn Park, for three years in the 1980s. My last year was in the 1988-89 season, when I played on Carolyn Park’s 11-year old team (I was 12 by time the season started, but since I had an October birthday, I played with the 11-year olds, as did my Arabi Park Middle classmate, Jason Malasovich). The goals were only 8 1/2 feet high, and the free throw lanes were trapezoidal shaped like they were in international basketball at the time, albeit narrower than what was used both internationally and the NBA.
On the afternoon of Dec. 18, 1988, Carolyn Park played Versailles, which was located at the junction of Paris Road and St. Bernard Highway in Chalmette, not too far from the ferry landing where the boats which ran between Chalmette and the Algiers section of New Orleans would take on cars.
There were six playgrounds in St. Bernard Parish. Carolyn Park was the farthest west, taking in the community of Arabi, which stretched from the city limits of New Orleans about two miles to the east. Three–Vista, Versailles and Rebel–were in Chalmette, the largest community in St. Bernard. Bournemouth (spelled the same as the city on the south coast of England) was in Meraux and Violet, and then Kenilworth took in the eastern third of the parish.
Carolyn Park didn’t have its own gym, so the game was played at Bournemouth. Four nights earlier, my team played Kenilworth at Bournemouth’s gym, and I had a decent game, scoring six points and blocking a shot from behind. I blocked the shot from 12 feet at its apex and it flew out of bounds. I could hear my mother and brother cheering that one.
Jason was one of three very good players that Carolyn Park team had. The others wer the guards, Chad Nuccio, son of our coach, A.J. Nuccio, and Trey Guillot, who later enjoyed a stellar baseball career at Holy Cross before pitching for Tulane. I wasn’t athletic enough to be a starter, but I came of the bench and did what needed to be done, mostly rebounding, good defense and points here and there.
In the game vs. Versailles, I scored on a pair of jump shots from the foul line in the second period, and it helped Carolyn Park lead 30-15 at halftime.
In the second half, Versailles came back. It had a couple of future high school varsity starters, Brett Tessitore (Archbishop Hannah) and Michael Marques (Brother Martin); Michael was in my graduating class at Brother Martin, and his dad and my dad worked together at Air Products and Chemicals.
Foul trouble nearly crippled Carolyn Park. Five players fouled out, including Chad and Jason. I would have been on the bench the entire second half, but the starter who played my position, Alex Dupre, fouled out with three minutes left. I knew it was his fifth foul, and coach Nuccio sent me into the game.
As the fouls began to pile up, I got so angry I slammed the ball with 90 seconds left. It was right in front of an official. I should have been given a technical foul. He let it go. He must have known I was frustrated.
With 30 seconds left, Carolyn Park was down to four players. Basketball rules allow a team to play with fewer than five if players foul out or are ejected, but you cannot start a game with fewer than five.
I thought I would be gone with another foul, but it turned out I had three. With 12 seconds left, Versailles missed the front end of a one-and-one (the double bonus was not adopted in high school basketball until 1995-96), leaving it ahead 45-44.
Trey pulled down the rebound and sped down the left sideline with a beautiful left-handed dribble. His layup was off the mark.
The rebound came down to the right side of the lane to #14. ME.
From seven feet away, I put an awkward-looking jumper.
It skimmed the backboard and fell through with two seconds left.
Versailles called timeout. I was mobbed by my teammates and coaches. All we had to do was defend and my shot would be the winner.
Versailles threw a long pass which was tipped and bounced harmlessly away. Carolyn Park won 46-45.
Of course, I got a hugely inflated head over the shot. I bragged about it the next two days at Arabi Park. Thankfully for Jason, Shawn O’Neil (who was a damn good player for Vista) and my other classmates, school let out that Tuesday for the holidays.
The shot went to my head. I played like crap the next two games, and my dad suggested after the second, a 19-point loss to Rebel, that I quit because I wasn’t committed.
The Thursday after Christmas, I wasn’t feeling well. I was battling a cold, and I had to wear long sleeves under my jersey. Carolyn Park played Bournemouth all the way at Kenilworth at the other end of the parish.
I was on the bench in the first quarter. In the second quarter, I went off.
Ten points in six minutes. I went to the foul line for the first time that season and swished both shots. I played the entire second half and finished with 14 points in Carolyn Park’s 53-34 victory.
The night before my big game, Shawn O’Neil held his 12th birthday party at Showbiz Pizza in Algiers, across the Mississippi River from St. Bernard Parish. Showbiz was Chuck E. Cheese’s competitor in the 1980s, and both places advertised heavily on the four main New Orleans television stations. Chuck E. Cheese was on the Metairie-Kenner line on Veterans Highway in Jefferson Parish.
Shawn’s dad insisted on taking the ferry to Algiers. I begged him not to. I HATED HTE FERRY. I hated it. I knew all about the infamous incident in 1976 (exactly one week after I was born) when a drunken ferry pilot did not see a huge tanker crossing the river in St. Charles Parish. The boats collided, and all of the cars went into the river. Of the 94 people on board the ferry, 78 perished.
My mother took the ferry often to visit her mother, who lived in Algiers from 1970 until her death in 1992. It made some sense before October 1988, when the second span of the Greater New Orleans Bridge (now the Crescent City Connection) opened. When it was one bridge and there were only two lanes of traffic in each direction, an accident could cause delays of up to six hours in some cases.
I tried to get girls in our class at Arabi Park, especially Stacie Dauterive (now Seube) invitations, but the O’Neils said no way.
Jason and I had to play in a Christmas concert in New Orlean’s’ Jackson Square with the Arabi Park Middle band the day before I hit my game-winning shot. It was chilly and windy. Good preparation for my future life as it turned out.
Shawn, Jason, Stacie and a few others from Arabi Park were on my Christmas card list. I would give anything to see all of them. I’m very happy that rift has been repaired. It was pretty ugly when I left Arabi Park after seventh grade for Brother Martin. I lorded Brother Martin over them much worse than that game-winning shot, and it was little wonder why they were glad to see me continue my education at 4401 Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans.
Apparently, forgiveness is a four-letter word to some I’ve known through the years. Sad.