Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 18, 2017, 10:27 a.m.
Little did I know that the first basketball games I would write about would be contested on January 17.
Oh, I’ve attended a bunch of them: Clinton High School varsity and junior and Presbyterian College men. The popcorn is good. The people are friendly. The referees are embattled. Most fans scream “walking!” every 15 seconds or so. Me? I prefer to scream “traveling!” just to be different.
Get him off of him!
He’s on his back!
Hoddamighty, ref! Ain’t you even watching?
Football took a little longer this year. The Red Devils and Raiders made the playoffs. The Raiders won their region, but the Red Devils won their game. It all got pushed back because Hurricane Matthew wrecked the Low Country. Even after the county teams had been eliminated, I drove down to Newberry to watch a great game between the homestanding, higher-seeded Bulldogs and Chapman, which went on to win the state. I was there for that one, too, courtesy of an assignment from an Upstate daily.
Tuesday night was the first time I even sat at a scorer’s table, which meant it was the first time I watched a game calm and irreverent, cracking jokes to relieve the tension. In the stands, tension is encouraged. At the scorer’s table, it often results in crucial error in the retelling.
I have known the new Clinton High School boys’ coach, Eddie Romines, since he was our town’s great gym rat. It was hard to go to the Clinton Family YMCA without finding Eddie working on his game. I knew he loved it with a fervor that four decades could not possibly erase. He deserved a chance to show it. He has the Red Devils hustling. They’re at their best racing up and down the court. Before the games with Broome commenced, I chatted with him and told him his team was getting less and less selfish. Early on, a player giving up the ball on a fast break was uncommon. Now they sometimes overdo it. By and large, it’s a good thing.
The Red Devils (11-3, 3-0 Region 3-3A) came from behind in the fourth quarter to defeat Broome, 63-57. Three minutes into it, they trailed by six. In the final minute, they led by eight. When all was on the verge of being lost, Romines sent the lads back oncourt in a full-court, man-to-man press. For the next four possessions, it wasn’t a full-court press because the Centurions couldn’t get it past the time line. Once they took too much of that time. Broome descended into a maelstrom of intercepted passes, filched dribbles, routine layups and a roar made up mostly of students cheering them on.
Cheer, cheer for old Clinton High!
When I attended the Clinton High that is now officially old and retrofitted for middle school, the crowd that has plenty of room now packed the gym. The middle school now plays in a gym, constructed in the 1980s, that is almost as spacious as the one at the new school, which is about a half mile away. In the 1970s, a pep band played. Now it’s banned. Banned! A pep band! I estimate I clapped to the fight song – it’s the same as Notre Dame’s – a thousand times and “Rock Around the Clock” a good five hundred.
I was in junior high, back before it moderated into middle, when, almost by accident — varsity head coach Bobby Brock taught me science at the time — I witnessed Ronald Worthy scoring a school-record-by-a-lot 54 points against McCormick.
In the early 1970s, Clinton High didn’t even have a girls’ basketball team. The crowd filed in during the second half of the junior varsity game. One night, a JV guard named George Byrd ran out the clock when he thought a one-point deficit was a one-point lead. With the crowd still filling the seats, George thought he was Walt Frazier, ignoring the pleas to “Shoot, George, shoot!” and failing to realize that his dribbling artistry was enhanced by the opposition’s disregard. I can see his face now when the clock ran out. He lifted the ball high above his head, leaped and then slammed it to the ground, only to hear one of his teammates say, “George, you dumbass.” It was a JV game. I’m probably one of the few who even remembers it, but I have no idea whatever happened to George Byrd.
In an opening game one year, a jump ball with one second on the clock turned into a Mike Williams tap-in for the win against Christ Church, but the greatest trick ever occurred at Boiling Springs, where, with three seconds to play, the Bulldogs in possession, leading by one, a referee handed the ball to a hapless and nervous Boiling Springs guard.
Dick Vaughan, one of the more resourceful, sly and intelligent athletes in Clinton history, yelled, “Check on the ball!” The Boiling Springs player tossed it to Dick, as if it was a pickup game on an asphalt court in Joanna, and Dick laid it in for the win.
Nothing that dramatic happened in the glistening, antiseptic, pep-band-less Clinton High School gymnasium of today, but it was still pretty damned exciting.
Here’s what I wrote about the evening at GoLaurens/GoClinton.
Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced.
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Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.
The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.
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