Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, December 31, 2015, 1:04 p.m.
On Wednesday, I realized that football has dulled me. Games were going on all day. I glanced at the TV from time to time, just to check the score or to determine why the announcers were yelling.
I stayed up till nearly two, not watching a game but reading a novel while Wisconsin and Southern California were bumping into each other like tectonic plates.
I didn’t think it possible for football to lose me. I’m pretty sure it was temporary. The college semifinals are coming up. The school where it was once a foregone conclusion that I would go (but didn’t), Clemson, is playing Oklahoma (seen the Sooners twice, in Boulder and Dallas), and then Michigan State (I have a cap and a sweatshirt, the cap because a friend went there and the sweatshirt because it was cheap and hanging in a truck stop) against Alabama (watched them clobber Clemson twice as a kid, but the Tide lost in overtime to Arkansas a decade or more back). The most recent time I saw the Tigers live was in a bowl game. The Belk Bowl game. South Florida won.
Much has changed.
On Wednesday, however, my boredom was functional. With bands playing, announcers yelling and way too much under review, I finished off a short story and sketched an illustration. I wrote another blog designed to be entertaining even to those who don’t follow Laurens County sports, not that many of them read it. I worked on what is going to be novel number five, Cowboys Come Home, and, then, as night fell, Kindle Publishing sent me its edits for the next publicly available creation, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, a tale of corruption, crime, politics, sex, drugs, good, evil, and corruption.
To paraphrase Blazing Saddles:
You listed corruption twice.
I like corruption.
I’m a little non-plussed at Houston and Florida State right now, which is why I’m writing this. Before the game started, I was editing the Forgive Us Our Trespasses manuscript. The quicker I can get through it, (1.) the sooner it will be published, and, (2.) the more mistakes will slip through.
My course must be both moderate and meticulous. Somehow. It’s impossible to be moderately meticulous, and that’s why writing is such a fine art.
Thus far, I’m pleased with the editing efforts from the Amazon/Kindle folks. This morning I decided I would wade through all the edits: approving, rejecting (none so far), and, changing in slightly different manners. Then I’m going back to the beginning to read it carefully with more of an editorial frame of mind, adding a paragraph here and there, and pondering all the options I’ve already pondered several times before the manuscript was submitted.
I think I may start paying attention to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl at about the end of the third quarter — ooh, Houston just went up, 14-3 — just to emerge from my combat fatigue in time for Clemson-Oklahoma.
I’ve got to marshal my resources. It’s time to spread the word. This next novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is the best one yet because I’m gradually getting better at writing them. As a general rule, readers like my novels. I just need more readers. It’s a big pie out there — egg custard, I imagine — and the slices keep getting smaller. If you’re of a mind to help, whether by emailing, retweeting, sharing, reviewing, direct messaging, texting, or mentioning it to the English professor who’s pumping his own gas at the same time you are, by all means, do so. Left to my own devices, I’m a whiz at everything that doesn’t make money. I’m not greedy. That’s obvious because I’m a writer.
By the way, Happy New Year. And check out my other page, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, every now and again. And join my Facebook group for loyal readers of my books, Similarly Crazy, or become my close personal friend through monte.dutton. I’m on Twitter @montedutton, slightly more irreverent @wastedpilgrim, and slightly more literary @hmdutton. Instagram? Why, Tug50, of course.
Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 30, 2015, 9:12 a.m.
It seems as if everyone is headed to Miami to watch the Clemson Tigers continue their quest for the national, by-God, this-great-game-of-football championship.
Something about football makes people want to say it. This football game. This football team. That boy just loves him the game of football. Coaches never say “this basketball game” or “that’s just the game of basketball.” Football coaches look tempted to stand at attention and put their hands over their hearts when the hosannas ensue.
Okay. I get chill bumps sometimes.
The Clemson fans, though, are filling up their Facebooks with tales of traffic woe in Jacksonville and photos of key lime pie in Islamorada. Instagram seems largely orange and, quite possibly, enhanced.
Meanwhile, last night I watched the finals of a holiday basketball tournament in Newberry and got home happy as a clam and happier than the football team from Texas Tech.
Yet Clinton lost.
It was a Bonnaroo. A track meet. A swim meet, accelerated. Other metaphors, even worse.
While the Bulldogs started covering the Red Devils when they got off the bus, the Red Devils had to wait for the Bulldogs to leave the dressing room because they were already there. You see, that’s really the home-court advantage.
Clinton fired up 65 offerings at the Bulldog-guarded hoops. Twenty-nine went in. Just two of them counted extra. Newberry finagled 35 of its 91 attempts, seven of bonus value, through the holes enclosed by the rims. Given the profusion of shots, rebounds were inevitable, and Newberry secured 54 of the game’s 90.
The final score was 80-74. The final utterance was “whew.”
It was lightning war, which, in German, is “blitzkrieg,” which is not only a part of the history of warfare but also, indirectly, the origin what every football team does at least occasionally on defense.
Both teams used all their rosters and damn near exhausted them. It never slowed, though. The teams never stopped pressing, and sprinting, and dashing headlong in pursuit of basketballs scattered errantly. They were knights errant of a sort, lacking trusty chargers.
Eight players scored in double figures. Tymori Tribble (25) and Kiah Young combined to score 45 points for the Red Devils.
On the surface, the turnovers might have seemed excessive. Clinton surrendered the ball 16 times unduly, and Newberry was guilty of 15 blips on the blooper screen. Given the pace of the game, though, totals were stingy.
It’s fun to cover a game in which the coach of the losing team doesn’t fret about what went wrong. Clinton’s Tosh Corley wrung neither of his hands, sauntered out of the locker room with head held high and, to paraphrase, said the effort was great and regrets nonexistent. He spoke of playing the same team again next week in Clinton with great relish, not to mention Duke’s Mayonnaise. His players left Newberry High School and second place in its holiday tournament with as stately a bearing as one can reasonably expect from a team that just fell agonizingly short.
Coming soon to an electronic device near you is Forgive Us Our Trespasses, a tale of crime and corruption in an otherwise bucolic Southern town. The dates aren’t etched in stone yet, but I expect it will be out in a couple months or so. Stay tuned.
Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, December 29, 2015, 8:50 a.m.
Everyone’s perception is skewed by his (or her) perspective. A man sitting in the stands pays extra attention to his son, or the daughter of a friend, or the son of a man who owns the store where he “trades.”
Last night, when I walked into Willie Scott Gymnasium at Newberry High School, for a holiday tournament game matching the Clinton Red Devils against the Batesburg-Leesville Panthers, my first thought was, Are all the lights on?
Part of my job in reporting on such games is to snap some photos. All I really have to do is provide one that’s acceptable. Willie Scott Gymnasium required some extra effort. I have the type of digital cameras — two that are similar because, back during those hectic times on the NASCAR road, I misplaced one long enough to think I’d lost it — that work well taking photos of kids opening Christmas presents but are not up to the standards that professional photos require.
This is because I am not a professional photographer.
My knowledge of photography is a practical one. My very first sportswriting job required taking a few photos, so I’d stand on a sideline, snapping photos of a running back sweeping in the general direction of me, then letting the camera hang around my neck while I scratched out, on a notepad, 1-10-20, K. Jackson swp l +5 / 2-5-25 …
So, 34 years later, I’m back where I started. The process has been upgraded technologically, which doesn’t mean that I whisper sweet nothings in Siri’s ear and she takes care of everything. It means that I now tweet occasionally: @GoClinton, boys, 2:52 3Q, Johnston lay-in puts Clinton up, 37-28, over B-L.
While snapping photos, I sometimes scrawl tallies (field goal attempts, rebounds, turnovers) on the back of my left wrist, later to be added to the notes on the legal pad sitting idly at a seat behind the scorer’s table, or in the first row of the stands, depending on the width of said table and demand for its occupancy.
Then, of course, I lick my fingers and erase the ink on my hand, readying my makeshift, human (not virtual) chalkboard for the next game.
As Waylon and Willie sang, “Back to the basics of love …”
As long as I sat in NASCAR press boxes, for 20 years and approximately 500 races, never once did I scrawl tallies on my wrist. My racing stories would have been so much better!
I see lots of oddities watching high school games. I was away for so long that I was as likely to see Cesar Chavez High — on the south side of Phoenix, on Baseline Road, which I often traveled to and from the race track — play as the Red Devils. Over the years, I watched high school games occasionally, spur of the moment, saw the teams warming up as I drove by and decided not to. There were Magna Vista in Virginia, near Martinsville; Oxford in Alabama, near Talladega; and the Tivy Antlers in Texas, while I was working on a music book (True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed), several years before Johnny Manziel played there.
In basketball this year, already, I’ve watched one team commit 47 turnovers in a game and another shoot 7.7 percent from the field for a quarter. The latter team was Clinton last night, and the Red Devils shot over 50 percent in the second half and won, 57-49.
Then there was the time another team swished three out of 21 free-throw tries.
It’s still 2015. They’re not even playing the meat of the schedules yet. No telling what treasures await.
Last night I got to watch Jicosha Stewart, Bishop Cannon, QuaJae Wigfall, Jaquarius Hair, Tabius Butler, DreKobe Chandler, the Merritts (Montez and Jontavius), Mikal (Check the Spelling) Hartley, Tyheem Shepard and Zadrius Burgess take on familiar Red Devils such as Kiah Young, Tymori Tribble, Braeden Webb and Tyreke Watts.
Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 26, 2015, 3:21 p.m.
Football isn’t forever. It just seems like it this time of year.
Insignificant bowls started at 11 a.m., and today’s last one starts shortly after 9:30.
Marshall fans didn’t think their bowl — St. Petersburg, maybe? — was insignificant because beating Connecticut (6-7) made the Thundering Herd (10-3) double-digit winners.
At the moment, the Sun Bowl is being played amidst ice. Washington State looks slightly warmer, having just taken a 10-7 lead over Miami.
Tonight’s NFL game fits right in. The Washington Redskins (7-7) are visiting the Philadelphia Eagles (6-8) in as important a game as teams with two such records can possibly provide.
The major development is the passage of the Christmas line of demarcation. As of today, the teams are recognizable.
I like the Sun Bowl. I like stadiums that have mountain backdrops. I’ve driven past that stadium a number of times while making my way from a NASCAR race in Texas to one in Arizona. It’s along the side of Interstate 20 but up above it. It doesn’t seem possible when looking at it from the highway that it’s the same stadium on TV.
Brigham Young’s stadium has a magnificent backdrop. I’d like to go to a game there. I’d sort of like to see tailgate parties where Coca-Colas are taboo. I can see the novelty wearing off fairly quickly, though.
I’ve been talking with my niece about modern-day hassles, her little boys, and going to the zoo sometime soon.
Now I notice games are sprouting everywhere. Indiana and Duke are battling each other in balmy New York. Washington and Southern Miss are in New Orleans. It’s halftime at the icy Sun Bowl.
Based on my hazy memory of recent years, Duke has an excellent chance of losing this game in heartbreaking fashion.
Either that or they’re due.
Conferences were so much better when they were smaller. The schools had things in common and stuff. Conferences actually had the accurate number of schools in the titles. The Big Eight had eight: Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State.
Now it’s the Big Twelve which has Ten, which is less than the Big Ten, which has Fourteen. It also provides such intersectional rivalries as those kindred spirits West Virginia and Texas Tech. Throw out the records when those two get together. The same can surely be said of the rare and precious games matching Nebraska and Rutgers.
Television, with the NCAA as implementation consultant, has, by its machinations, created a national landscape where Texas plays Iowa State but not Texas A&M, and Missouri plays Vanderbilt but not Kansas. Schools that have played each other a hundred times both cease and desist because they don’t tap enough TV markets.
The next one, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, will also be a KindleScout e-book and it will undoubtedly be available within a few months because I’ve already received money, and that generally speeds things right along.
Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, December 24, 2015, 12:44 p.m.
This year my Holiday Lyrics do not include any of my own. It hasn’t been a big songwriting year for me. I’ve written a handful, but I’ve spent most of my time on prose: fiction, short fiction, sports stories, blogs, columns, tweets, posts, spanning the globe of required skills.
They’re not Christmas lyrics. Or uplifting lyrics. They’re just lyrics that rose in my mind as I compiled this collection.
During 2015, I worked on three different novels. At the beginning of the year, I was editing and revising Crazy of Natural Causes, which wound up being published in late July. Then I completed the basic story and went into edits and revisions of Forgive Us Our Trespasses, which will be out sometime soon; and, finally, I resumed Cowboys Come Home, which is now about two thirds of the way to a first draft.
I still try to sit around and play my guitar at least a little every day. Here are a lot of my old standby lyrics, words that linger in my mind.
She was just fourteen / She grew up wild and free / And all the time she’s been waiting on him / She’s been waiting on you and me. — “Ravishing Ruby,” Tom T. Hall.
He looked to me to be the eyes of age / And he spoke right out. — “Mr. Bojangles,” Jerry Jeff Walker.
I raised a lot of Cain back in my younger days / While Mama used to pray my crops would fail. — “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” Merle Haggard.
If I’d had more education / I’d have made a better life for me and you / But just simple manual labor is the only kind of work I can do. — “Able Bodied Man,” Jerry Foster & Bill Rice.
I’d rather drink muddy water / And sleep in a hollow log / Than live here in Atlanta / And be treated like a dirty dog. — “Blue Yodel #1 (T for Texas),” Jimmie Rodgers.
I told you baby from time to time / But you just wouldn’t listen or pay me no mind / So I’m moving on.” — “I’m Moving On,” Hank Snow.
Picked last night in Tucson / Sang ’em a country song / Missed my plane this morning, Lord / ‘Cause I partied all night long / Here I stand using my thumb / Trying to make it to El Paso / Tonight I play at the Cabaret / They done told it on the radio. — “I Ain’t All Bad,” Johnny Duncan.
Are you there? / Say a prayer / For the pretender / He started out so young and strong / Only to surrender. — “The Pretender,” Jackson Browne.
Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter / I remember well the well where I drew water. — “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Loretta Lynn.
Ain’t it strange / How people change / And almost overnight? / Who once was a country girl / Is now a socialite. — “The Old Side of Town,” Tom T. Hall.
I don’t love you anymore / Not the way I did before / Trouble is / I don’t love you / Any less. — “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” Bill Anderson.
Sometimes I get unwound / When fancy cars drive past / Money don’t get me down / But I can’t make it last / I bite my nails / And if that fails / I go get myself stoned / But when I do / I think of you / And head myself back home. – “Blue Eyes,” Gram Parsons.
This ol’ mental fat I’m chewin’ / Didn’t take a lot of doin’ / But I take a lot of pride in what I am – “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am,” Merle Haggard.
It’s my belief pride / Is the chief cause in the decline / In the number / Of husbands and wives — “Husbands and Wives,” Roger Miller.
I couldn’t stay here if I wanted / I couldn’t stay here if I tried / You were always so disappointed in me / Guess I could never do nothing right – “Couldn’t Do Nothing Right,” Gary P. Nunn & Karen Brooks
She never said a word to him / But said a prayer for me / I told her in a way / That I’d been prayin’ for her too — “The Little Lady Preacher,”Tom T. Hall.
There’s only two things that money can’t buy / And that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes – “Homegrown Tomatoes,” Guy Clark.
Pick up all your dishes / Make note of all good wishes / Say goodbye to the landlord for me / Sons of bitches always bore me — “L.A. Freeway,” Guy Clark.
Almost busted in Laredo / But for reasons that I’d rather not disclose / But if you’re staying in a motel there and leave / Don’t leave nothin’ in your clothes – “Me and Paul,” Willie Nelson.
If I could live my life all over / It wouldn’t matter anyway / ‘Cause I never could stay sober / On the Corpus Christi Bay – “Corpus Christi Bay,” Robert Earl Keen Jr.
There’s a road in Oklahoma / Straighter than a preacher / Longer than a memory / And it goes, forever onward / But it’s been a good teacher / For a lot of country boys like me — “Nowhere Road,” Steve Earle.
On a Sunday morning sidewalk / I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned / ‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday / That makes a body feel alone — “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” Kris Kristofferson.
Spent the groceries and half the rent / I lack 14 dollars havin’ 27 cents – “Dang Me,” Roger Miller.
I’m comin’ home / Made up my mind that’s what I’m gonna do / Can’t love nobody on the telephone / I’m comin’ home to you – “I’m Coming Home,” Robert Earl Keen Jr.
They have changed your attitude / Made you haughty and so rude / Your new friends can take the blame / Underneath you’re still the same / When you see these things are true / I’ll be waiting here for you / Where you tossed me on the ground / Pick me up on your way down – “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down,” Harlan Howard
You can see me tonight / With an illegal smile / It don’t cost very much / But it lasts a long while / Won’t you please tell the man / I didn’t kill anyone / I’m just trying to have me some fun – “Illegal Smile,” John Prine.
Inside the walls of a prison / My body may be / But my Lord / Has set my soul free — “Greystone Chapel,” Glenn Shirley.
Never hit 17 / When you play against the dealer / You know that the odds / Won’t ride with you / Never leave your woman alone / With your friends around to steal here / They’ll be gambled and gone / Like summer wages — “Summer Wages,” Ian Tyson.
Past some hound dogs and some dominecker chickens / Temporary looking houses with their lean and bashful kids / Every mile or so a sign proclaimed that Christ was coming soon / And I thought, well, man, He’d sure be disappointed if He did — “Trip to Hyden,” Tom T. Hall.
Better job and higher wages / Expenses paid and a car / But I’m on TV here locally / I can’t quit / I’m a star — “Kansas City Star,” Roger Miller.
From now on / All my friends / Are gonna be strangers / I’m all through ever trusting anyone / The only thing I can count on is my fingers / I was a fool / Believing in you / And now you are gone – “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers,” Liz Anderson.
I know a guy / He’s got a lot to do / He’s a little hardheaded / Kinda confused / He’s got muscles in his head / Ain’t never been used / Thinks he owns half this town / Starts drinking heavy / Gets a big red nose / Beats his old lady with a / Rubber hose / Then he takes her out to dinner / Buys her new clothes / That’s the way that the world goes ‘round – “That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round,” John Prine.
In a town this size / There’s no place to hide / Anywhere you go / You meet someone you know / You can’t steal a kiss / In a place like this / Oh the rumors do fly / In a town this size – “In a Town This Size,” Kieran Kane.
I guess that I’ve fought tougher men / But I really can’t remember when / He kicked like a mule and bit like a crocodile — “Boy Named Sue,” Shel Silverstein.
Now boys don’t start to ramblin’ ‘round / On this road of sin are you sorrow bound? / Take my advice or you’ll curse the day / You started rollin’ down that lost highway – “Lost Highway,” Leon Payne.
He could be the richest man in seven counties / And not be good enough to take her hand / But he says he really loves the farmer’s daughter / And I know the farmer’s daughter loves this man – “The Farmer’s Daughter,” Merle Haggard.
I tried to bring her back / To what she used to be / But I soon learned she love those bright lights / More than she loved me — “Streets of Baltimore,” Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard.
Oh, but I remember something you once told me / And I’ll be damned if it did not come true / Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down / And they all led me straight back home to you — “Return of the Grievous Angel,” Gram Parsons.
See him wasted on the sidewalk / In his jackets and his jeans / Wearing yesterday’s misfortune like a smile / Once he had a future full of money, love and dreams / Which he spent like they was going out of style / But he keeps right on a-changing / For the better or the worse / And all he ever gets is older and around / Never knowing if believing is a blessing or a curse / Or if the going up was worth the coming down — “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33, Hang On Hopper,” Kris Kristofferson.
I know there’s a lot of big preachers / Who know a lot more than I do / But it could be that the good Lord / Likes a little pickin’ too — “The Year Clayton Delaney Died,” Tom T. Hall.
Season’s greetings to your mama ‘n’ ‘em. Tell ‘em I said hey.
Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, December 23, 2015, 8:03 a.m.
I stood out in the hall while Ronny Fisher discussed the game just completed with his Presbyterian College women’s basketball team. The door was open. I could hear every word. Fisher didn’t utter so much as a phrase that could possibly have been misconstrued.
To borrow an old sports cliché, no violation of “the sanctity of the clubhouse” (or locker room) occurred. Fisher had no secrets to hide behind closed doors.
The 60-50 victory over North Carolina Central wasn’t particularly efficient or impressive. It was a victory. Victories are hard to come by for the working class of Division I. The Blue Hose had just gotten back from Boulder, Colorado, and a loss to the PAC-12’s Buffaloes. They’ve fallen to Virginia Tech (58-44), East Carolina (84-57), Vanderbilt (56-38), and the aforementioned Colorado (72-60).
A 49-47 loss to Kennesaw State is the only one Fisher would like to have back.
Both the Presbyterian women and men awakened this morning with five victories and six defeats. The men are off to Richmond today and Marquette Sunday. The women have one more game, at home against High Point on December 29, this year.
Fisher told the young women, none of whom is a senior, to enjoy Christmas but not too much. He prescribed workouts on the honor system and told them when to be back on campus to get ready for High Point. He also talked about the true meaning of Christmas and asked them to find some time for the Lord amid the gifts, sparkling lights, and Santa Claus.
NCCU hadn’t looked like a 1-9 team, but they were. They outscored the Blue Hose, 30-27, in the second half but never got closer than six points. Presbyterian had one player score in double figures, and Janie Miles only had 10. No one had a hot hand, but several’s turned cold. Still, the field goal percentage (45.1) wasn’t bad, and NCCU’s (31.9) wasn’t good. The Eagles’ slippery guard from Arlington, Texas, Kristin Askew, scored 20, but even she was just five of 13 from the field. All five were three-pointers.
Fisher walked outside and talked to me.
“We built a 20-point lead (actually 19) and played really focused,” he said, “but then we relaxed. I don’t think it was the travel (from Colorado). I think it was more that we relaxed and thought it was going to be easy.”
Easy isn’t often in the Presbyterian athletic department. They’re up to challenges, though. The Big South schedule begins with High Point. The conference is plenty tough. The good news is no more Virginia Tech, no more East Carolina, no more Vanderbilt, and no more Colorado.
“Eight minutes into the game, [NCCU] had five offensive rebounds,” Fisher said. “Then we talked about it during a timeout, and I think they had six at half.
“They’re a pretty big team. We give up a little size. We’ve got to block out. … You’ve got to come to play, and we did play hard when we built a lead, but we just relaxed … We were just half a step slow, and we thought it was going to be easy, and it wasn’t.”
Perhaps a bit of unfamiliarity was a factor.
“It’s a great learning experience,” Fisher concluded. “I told our kids, ‘I hope we get to learn again with a -point lead.’
Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, December 19, 2015, 5:47 p.m.
It was a game, of course, that PC was bound to win.
This was because Presbyterian College was playing Piedmont College. PC/PC. Get it?
The homestanding Blue Hose did, in fact, keep the visiting Lions at bay, but the final score was 69-65, and it was even more fortunate than usual that head coach Gregg Nibert had DeSean Murray, the phenomenal 6-5 sophomore from Stanley, North Carolina, on the Templeton Center floor.
“Phenomenal” was not my word. It was Nibert’s.
Those were the first words out of the coach’s mouth: “He’s phenomenal.”
Murray scored 27 points the old-fashioned way, one or two at a time without any of those garish treys. He pulled down 18 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive boards. He was nine of 16 from the floor and nine of 10 from the line. Murray had two assists, and assists were hard to come by for players not passing the ball to him. He had two steals and a block.
Almost 40 percent of Presbyterian’s points were Murray’s domain, along with 35 percent of the rebounds.
Presbyterian (5-6) was supposed to win. The Blue Hose are considered “mid-major,” which is a ridiculous term because, in order to have a mid-major, there has to be a low-major, and low-major is not only a casualty of political correctness but a word that has seldom, if ever, been used because of it.
But the Blue Hose are headed off to visit Richmond and Milwaukee (to play Marquette) soon, school’s out for the holidays, and the Temp contained 200 people, the majority of whom were as old as I or older, and it was a lovely Saturday afternoon for small-town residents to do something like rake the leaves. Fortunately, I have few leaves and have long allowed them to loiter on my disheveled estate, so, to make a long story short, I went to the basketball game.
It was a better game than I anticipated. The Lions entered the game 5-3, but they do not play the likes of Richmond and Marquette — the Blue Hose fell to Clemson only last Tuesday — but have split already with the University of the South, better known as Sewanee.
Piedmont is “mid-minor,” I guess, but it’s a plucky team young Greg Neeley has assembled. I don’t know how young Neeley is, but if he’d walked up to me outside a restaurant, I might have thought it was for valet parking.
The Lions were loose, not loose as in escaped from a zoo, but loose as in nothing to lose against an opponent few expected them to defeat.
Here’s how loose were the Lions. At the start of the latter half, I was sitting at the media table, across the court from the scorer’s table, but wholly unaffected by the water table. Chase England, a stocky red-headed junior from Oakwood, Georgia, who plays forward for Piedmont, walked over to get the ball from the referee. Before he tossed it in-bounds, he turned to me and asked, “How’s it going?”
I told him I was approximately the same. I saw him and his parents as I was leaving Templeton Center later. We spoke briefly. England’s father has a Clinton connection because he remarked on the local football tradition when prompted by the Red Devil hoodie I happened to be wearing.
Nice guy. Hardworking. Mixed it up with Murray, Ed Drew, Austin Venable and other Presbyterian insiders. England scored 15 points. I hope his team has a good season now that the Blue Hose have escaped its clutches.
I’m glad I went. It was a great game. Presbyterian had to play hard, and Murray had to play clutch. The currently fashionable cliche is that he was a boss. I knew it. Nibert knew it. Chase England probably knew it more than everyone else in the gym combined.
“What we really tried to do, we changed the lineup, went with a more defensive lineup, and I think the attitude was tremendous,” Nibert said. “Everybody was thinking defense, and if we wouldn’t have had held them to 25 points in the first half, I don’t know if we’d have won the game.
“[Piedmont] got 40 points in the second half, but we got some stops when we needed to.”
The Lions tied the score (56-56, with 5:03 to go) but never led in the latter half. Murray hit four key free throws in the final half-minute.
Presbyterian plays a tough schedule every year. It is the plight of the “low major,” which contrary to public pronouncements, really does exist.
I’ve known Nibert for more than 30 years. We’re friendly. I bump into him around town. Just last week we chatted at Sadler-Hughes Apothecary. His team has considerably more talent than last year’s. What it has to do is build confidence. All except for Murray. He’s there. Where the team needs to be.
“DeSean can be so overwhelming,” Nibert said. “We might rely on him too much.”
It’s a good problem to have.
“We didn’t shoot well,” he added, and 32.9 percent isn’t debatable in that regard. “I wanted to see, if we’re not shooting well, can we still win the game? I don’t care if it’s against the Sisters of the Poor.”
Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 19, 2015, 11:32 a.m.
Before Friday night, my last three assignments had been in Laurens. That’s the county seat. Laurens District 55 High School drains the northern part of the county. (Forgive me for describing school enrollment like a watershed.) Clinton High School drains the south and is District 56, though not by title.
Maybe it’s because Highway 56 runs through here, too, and it might be confusing.
I am both a Laurens Countian and a Clintonian. In fact, Clintonian is written on some yearbooks I have somewhere because I am a CHS graduate and “my love for Clinton High School will nehhhhh-verrrr faaiilll.”
I bet there are more CHS graduates than any other. That’s because there are many CHS’s. Clinton played one (Chapin) last night. On the other hand, LDHS stands alone a bit better. Sure, Lake Dallas High School is in Corinth, Texas, and Lower Dauphin High School in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, but they are relatively rare.
Personally, when I’m in Laurens, I feel right at home, but in Clinton, I am home.
Much is the same. At both places, I stand around in the corner of the gym, next to an exit, and chat with the athletics director, though it happens to be David Barnes in Clinton and Mark Freeze in Laurens. I’ve known both for 30 years or thereabouts. I’m getting acquainted with the people who keep score in both gyms.
I once enjoyed talking with Clinton’s boys’ basketball coach, Tosh Corley, on the sidelines late in football games while he played for the Red Devils and I was writing about them. Chris Wofford, the girls’ coach, is also a familiar face and a good guy.
I’d never met the Laurens coaches, Ben Sinclair with the boys and Yoneko Allen with the girls, until a few weeks ago, but I’m getting to know and like them. All have been cooperative as I’ve reacquainted myself with high school sports after The NASCAR Years (1993-2012), which I spent with a diverse band of gypsies.
The Red Devil boys (5-2) have lost only to the Raiders (7-2), and since Clinton is a 3A school and Laurens is 4A, it isn’t surprising to most people who aren’t from Clinton. LDHS is improving rapidly at the moment, as demonstrated in recent victories over the previously unbeaten teams of Byrnes and Hillcrest.
In the past week, Clinton has defeated Chapin twice, 45-35 and 57-44. The Red Devils are improving, too, but they’re not as cohesive as the Raiders. Last night, after the game was over (and I had driven halfway home before realizing that I hadn’t copied crucial details from the scorebook), I remarked to Corley that sometimes it looks like his players are bound and determined to beat the player guarding them but less interested in beating the team they are playing. It shows they have pride and spirit, but it needs to be redirected a bit.
He just nodded, taking it in, as coaches are wont to do. The general pattern is for Corley to say, in general, Why, that’s true, but we’re getting better, and it is an accurate assessment. The team is a stagecoach pulled by unruly horses, and Corley has to spend a lot of time pulling on reins and yelling Whoa! Last night, guarding a lead in the fourth quarter, he yelled Whoa! (italics denote “not really”) on his offense and did so successfully, which mildly surprised and impressed me.
The Clinton girls play hard but mostly in vain. They are defensively determined and offensively unpolished. Last night they shot 20 percent from the field and lost, 38-17, to Chapin. Wofford and his charges are doing the best with what they have, and there is honor in that.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow foretold the story of the Laurens girls:
There was a little girl / And she had a little curl / Right in the middle of her forehead / And when she was good / She was very, very good / And when she was bad she was horrid.
At LDHS, it isn’t just one little girl. In Longfellow’s defense, he died in 1882.
I have seen the Raiders play well, and listened as Coach Allen expressed her satisfaction, and I have seen the Raiders play badly, and Coach Allen and I have been similarly mystified by what unseen force was throwing shots and passes wildly off course.
Perhaps the New Year will instill some sense of normality.
I like young people, though it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have any. They pop up, flawed and dysfunctional, in my novels and short stories. I’m too old for them to relate to me, but I try to relate to them.
Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, December 18, 2015, 10:45 a.m.
One of the curious aspects of sports is it is mostly a product of humans. The humans are inside bulky automobiles, at the end of sticks, heavily padded, and/or assisted by teams of mechanics, coaches, caddies, and entourages.
The effect of humanity is nonetheless ubiquitous.
Fans often act as if the sports are simple. They are not.
Take last night at Laurens District 55 High School. Basketball teams consisting of girls and boys, in that order of starting times, played similarly composed teams from nearby Hillcrest High School, which shares its district with others.
The Raider boys played almost as well as is humanly possible, and, again, this is human in the imperfect sense.
And the Raider girls? Vice versa.
Both teams tried. Both teams walked on the floor determined to win. Same gym. Different results.
It’s difficult to handicap basketball games with the season relatively young and region competition just beginning, but, logically and based on rational factors, the Laurens girls should have been favored, and the Laurens boys should have been underdogs.
The Rams (3-3) won the girls’ game, 62-34, over the Raiders (6-3). The Raiders (7-2) won the boys’ game, 92-62, over the heretofore unbeaten Rams (5-1).
It has been a familiar refrain of mine to note the difference, in NASCAR, between a good race and a good story. The same is true in basketball between the good game and the good story.
Those two games Thursday night were like the first lap between the tortoise and the hare. Honestly, I think it’s possible that, when the two teams play again, the outcomes could be reversed, and it’s likely the games will be closer.
Sometimes a mysterious group mentality descends over an arena. It’s not a matter of one player coming down with the flu, or another coping with poor grades or a lovers’ quarrel. It’s not psychology. It’s sociology, and the coach doesn’t have time to commission a study.
I saw something I’d never seen Thursday night. I saw a team commit 47 turnovers, and 31 were in one half. That same team, by my calculation, hit 11 out of 58 shots, many of which appeared to be quite makeable.
Perhaps you have guessed it was the Laurens girls.
Yet that same team had defeated Woodmont, 51-46, two nights earlier.
Afterwards, head coach Yoneko Allen was every bit as mystified as I. To summarize, my questions were related to the general “how bad was it?” and her answers were variations of “as bad as it could be.”
When the Hillcrest boys ran on the floor, they looked a little like an elongated football team. Seventeen players dressed. Given what ensued, all of them played. One difference in the game was the Maddens. Laurens’ Ty scored 22. Hillcrest’s Lavassit and Daylin combined for one.
But Maddens alone could not account for this wide, wide world of blowout. The Raiders slipped out to a 24-7 lead, and the margin briefly reached 31 (48-17) before holding steady at 28 (48-20) during the halfway intermission. The biggest margin was 88-54 with 2:32 remaining.
Thirteen of the 17 Rams scored, though none more than 12. Four Raiders had 10 or more. Laurens shot better and more often, tracked down more of the shots that missed, and committed fewer turnovers.
I can’t account for the differences in the games. Maybe all the girls skipped lunch. Maybe it was a crack in the time/space continuum.
More likely, it shall remain a mystery, and many more will follow.
Most of my non-fiction — as in sports, current events, whatever I happen to think fits at the time — is here. I write short stories, book reviews, and musings about writing — and, uh, whatever I also happen to think fits at the time — at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com – and I hope you’ll sample the fiction-and-books blog from time to time.
Clinton, South Carolina, December 16, 2015, 7:31 a.m.
The national anthem is tough, man. (Cue the Jon Gruden.)
I once sang it before a minor league baseball game. Twice, come to think of it. As a matter of fact, I’ve always sung along before athletic events if it was practical, partly because it’s a longtime superstition, dating back to my inglorious athletic career of antiquity.
I can sing it in D. “The Star Spangled Banner” requires star spangled pipes. The trick is not to drag in the “and the rocket’s red glare” doldrums so that one can triumphantly make it to “and the home of the brave.”
I can sing it in D. I can even play it on guitar. In D.
The anthem provides some amusing moments. Last night at a high school game, I got that feeling of dread that comes from listening to a voice that isn’t going to make it to the end. When a singer strains horribly at “what so proudly we hailed,” then “and the home of the brave” is just not going to happen.
I thought it was kind of heartwarming because when the singer couldn’t make it to the end, when her voice ground to halt in a manner that evoked an engine seizing, the crowd picked her up with a sudden, necessary, almost chanted, ending. “… And the HOME … of THE … BRAVE!”
Chanted ending. Not enchanted evening.
In spite of the save from the bullpen, the singer slumped and leaned over the scorers’ table, where friends attempted in vain to comfort her.
Laurens had already won the girls’ game, and the Raiders went on to win the boys’ contest, too, so I reckon it didn’t do any harm.
High school gymnasiums are generally run by kids. Not high school kids. Little kids. Sons and daughters of coaches. They rule with cute, little, pudgy hands. Sometimes, at junior varsity games, they stand up in chairs at the table, as if they expect to get to play all night with the scoreboard. When Mom’s or Dad’s team is in warmups, the little kids chase after the basketballs that bounce away. Sometimes they decide not to retrieve them and, instead, kick them down a hall and around a corner. Then, when Daddy or Mommy shows up, trying to figure out why a ball and a golden child are missing, the kid flashes that adorable smile, nothing happens to him, and he keeps right on getting into mischief until it’s time to have a Happy Meal on the way home.
Ballgames are events for the students who don’t play, too. They don’t show up in letter sweaters anymore. When the Raiders visited Clinton last week, many LDHS students came in pajamas. The Clinton kids were decked out a different way.
It had something to do with a Twitter war, I’m told. I’m not sure who won that. Laurens won the ballgames.
A few more observations from the high school basketball beat:
It’s amazing how many people don’t know the team’s record. The better it is, the better the memory.
Winning or losing is often a simple matter of playing “our game.” As a general rule of thumb, the winners do it and the losers don’t. For some reason, every time I hear a coach say “our game,” I think of Our Gang, and the Little Rascals’ theme dances through my head, which is distracting if it’s not my last question.
Wah-WAH-wuh-WAH-wuh-wah-wuh-wah-wuh-WAH! Or, as Astro in The Jetsons would exclaim, uh, ruh-ROH.
Depicting music without notes is the adult equivalent of baby talk. It could also be the first sign of dementia, but I hope not.
At the last two games I covered, a referee walked up to chat while I was standing at the end of the court taking pictures. This never happens when I write about college games. Sometimes it would require the public-address system. Referees are not often cheered. They operate in hostile environments. I guess a guy with a camera is someone he feels he can trust. It’s a tough job. The ref never gets to play to the crowd. Showman refs — the late Lou Bello comes to mind — are now rustic memories. These guys would prefer to be invisible, but it’s just not possible.
When I’m taking notes and tweeting the score during timeouts, the forest is often difficult to separate from the trees.
I’m moving along. Crazy of Natural Causes is on sale now. Forgive Us Our Trespasses will be out early next year. I’m, oh, two thirds of the way through a first draft of Cowboys Come Home, a modern western set in Texas after the end of World War II. The first two novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, are also available, along with the relics of my non-fiction years.