Friday, 04 October 2013 09:34

Friday Night Lights

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This is a blog about high school sports. If you feel squeamish about reading the thoughts of a fifty-two year old gay man on the topic, this truly is your problem but I do not disagree that at first thought it seems a bit unusual. However, I was myself once the ages of 14-17 and a high school student. I played two sports - water polo and swim team. I had 6 varsity letters. The first one was on my letterman's jacket in the Spring of my freshman year at SLUH. Yep, I always thought I was pretty cool too.

And all of you know how humble and polite and gentlemanly a male high school athlete can be, especially my fellow Jr. Billikens. We were a rowdy bunch to be sure with me being one of the ringleaders of all things mischief. Water polo was in the fall and ended around Thanksgiving weekend. Swimming started right up and went through March. I was never great at either one, but I was a team player and did it. I had been on swim teams since I was ten and loved the thrill of victory in the pool. One of my very best friends from all of my high school days was captain of most of the 8 total teams I participated in over the four years, also including two B letters. Those were nice too.

I played against teams from all over the St. Louis area and visited pools for both sports and practices everywhere. Clayton, the Parkway schools, Lindbergh, Mehlville, Oakville, University City, Ladue, Cleveland. When I was younger I was on a summer South County swim league and swam against teams in Shrewsbury, Sunset Hills, Affton and the area. I was also on a city league at Cherokee Center, which was on Jefferson a block or two past Arsenal. That was interesting. We swam at city pools like Wohl, Vashon, Harris Stowe, 12th & Park, plus a few more. Our team always slaughtered the other teams, but competition wasn't really there. We just swam against each other for the most part. Still fun though, and we got free juice and sandwiches. My siblings and I all learned to swim at the dingy (even then) Carondelet YMCA. It smelled like chlorine and mold.

We were state champions in water polo when I was a senior. That was awesome. What was not awesome that stupid me on a bet hit some poor, large nerdy kid in the face with a piece of pie and got into huge trouble as this was not my first major offense. There was that freshman carnival incident involving a small amount of spirits in some soda. I couldn't play at all during end of the season and the finals. That was a terrible blow for me and I was on top-secret double probation for the rest of the year. My team won state though. This was 1978 and you bet we were rocking Queen's "We Are The Champions."

I swam a year in college too at UMSL. Back then we were the Rivermen, not the Tritons. I wasn't great on that team either, but I was twenty-six at the time. I did pretty well relatively though since I was working full time at Cafe Balaban's at the time and had my first apartment by myself nearby on Waterman right off Kingshighway. This team actually traveled and had a school budget to do so. Once we went to a big meet in Grinnell, Iowa where I blasted past other swimmers in my heat of a race I had never swam before - the 1650, which is 66 laps. I didn't make the finals, but had a hell of a race. I still like swimming distance races.

As a footnote I want to give a proud Uncle Chop shout out to my nephew Max. He goes to SLUH now and had wanted to since he was 10. He is a Junior and has been on varsity football since he was a Sophomore. He is also a monster in size. When he was a kid he was always built like his dad, but so very shy and introverted with no real friends. Now he is a sports hero with tons of friends and plenty of girls to take to dances and proms. He is so massive his nickname is The Kaveman. Uncle Chop is so happy he gets to experience the Friday night lights just like I did. Sure mine were inside over swimming pools, but team sports were an integral part of my high school career and memories I will always cherish.

My evolving health over the past few years has forced me back into the pool again for exercise. I had a bump in the road earlier this summer and was diagnosed as diabetic. Thanks genetics and American sugary foods. Anyway, I am up to swimming between 60 and 75 minutes a day. My flip turns are hitting every time and my strokes are strong and true. Maybe I will join a team again one of these days. I miss it.