When I was growing up, I saw my maternal grandparents (Ed and Millie Drake, who we call Nana and Papa) nearly every day. Papa would take my sister and I to and from school every day. He was very interested in our school lives, and knew all of our friends. He had attended high school in the same building as me, 68 years before. Papa had lots of hobbies, but he was never a huge sports fan. He’d casually watch whatever sport was in season at that time, and always followed the Cubs, but otherwise wasn’t devoted to one sport or another. That’s why I always found it puzzling when he asked how our high school basketball team was doing. I wasn’t friends with anyone on the basketball team, and I barely followed our high school teams anyway. I didn’t find out the reason for his interest in high school basketball until I was a freshman in high school.
One day, I was waiting in the lobby of our high school, waiting for Papa to come pick me up. While I was waiting, I looked at all of the sport trophies and awards that were in the display cases in the hall. One particularly old trophy caught my eye. When I looked closer, I saw that the trophy was from 1938-1939 when our basketball team played in the districts tournament (a big deal back in the day for such a small country school!). I was startled to read Papa’s name on the list of players on that team! Apparently Papa had a hidden basketball talent!
When I got into Papa’s station wagon a few minutes later, I asked him whether he was on the team. Sure enough, he played basketball, with his brother and his cousin! He was tall(ish) and lanky and played the forward position. Although he said that he wasn’t the best player, he really enjoyed the game. In the year that they won the trophy, they had been the first Genoa team to compete in a tournament, and played in the Sectionals tournament in Elgin. The beat New Trier in the first game, and lost to Dundee in the second game. They travelled around to the area towns, and the tournament game in Elgin was probably the furthest that they travelled. His cousin, Emerson Medine, was also on the team. His older brother, Charles, had graduated by the time that they competed in the tournament, but was a pretty good basketball player himself.
They played games in what I knew as the “Old Gym” at the high school, and they practiced in the large room above the gym in what I knew as the band room. Papa would tease me about my Converse Chuck Taylors, which I thought were cool, because they were just plain gym shoes to him. They wore high top sneakers for basketball. After that revelation, whenever I passed that trophy at school, I felt so proud knowing that Papa helped get that trophy. I was in the last class to ever attend high school in that building; my sophomore year, the school district opened up a new high school and the old high school became a middle school.
Lesson learned: Always ask about your relative’s high school days. Perhaps they participated in an interesting sport or club! They will certainly have stories to tell.