You can demolish a gym – but not old LHS memories

Published 6:34 pm Friday, January 31, 2020

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Well, there will be no more LaGrange High School basketball games in that old Hoosiers-like gym. I expect I started going to the old gym when I was about four. At least, I know that by that time I had begun heaving the sweat-soaked black ball toward the rim in hopes of it falling through the net. Attending games at LaGrange High could not have been far behind. I’m not sure which one came first.

 My big brother Wayne long ago told me of the early years of my basketball career, since I was too young to remember. It was a cold, wintry day—kind of like it is right now—when it all began. Ice was on the ground and the wind chill was hovering in the teens as my family snuggled in our old 901 Juniper Street house. I imagine Mama had some hot chocolate on the stove, and the fireplace was spitting fire. The family got to looking around that day, and one of the kids was missing. It was the little one, the one who had not yet gotten all his teeth and probably would lose one or two of the remaining baby ones when a future ill-timed rebound would pop him in the mouth.

 They looked through the house for the missing boy, and they couldn’t find him. Mama’s skin crawled just for a minute, I know, when she realized her baby was gone. But Wayne went out on the front porch and hollered out:

 “Here he is, Mama!” Come quick!”

 They all ran to the porch and looked down the hillside to the Whatley house, a family who lived down in the valley below us. We lived on a big hill, with a big white house that sat up on Murphy Avenue looking down on us; and our house looked down on the Richardsons and Whatleys, and theirs, looked down on others that lay below them. 

The Whatleys had something we didn’t have at that time but would get later. They had a basketball goal in their back yard, and—from our red-concrete front porch—you could see the goal clearly two-hundred yards away. One of my earliest memories is shooting baskets there even before I was old enough to rare back and sling the ball to the rim. Wayne stood on our porch that cold morning and pointed out to that basketball goal and his little brother down there shooting baskets and freezing half to death. The rim must’ve had ice hanging down off of it.

Mama breathed relief when she hurried out on the porch and saw me down there shooting baskets as if I owned the place. She hollered for me to come home “right this minute!”It was magical down at the Whatleys’ at six years old, and it was magical every cold night that I made my way to that Hoosiers-esque LaGrange High gym.

 I’ll never forget the night in 1969 Ray McKensie hit a turnaround fifteen-foot jumper from the right wing to give the Grangers a 62-60 win over Newnan High at the buzzer. WTRP must have about exploded as it broadcast that moment. I know I did. I never jumped up and down so much in my life. Next day I saw Ray at the Y and thought he was a giant when he walked by me. I soaked in all of those memories in those years, even thought I’d freeze nearly to death at times up on the top of the hill by LHS waiting for Mama to come pick me up after a barn-burning, late-night game. I love to walk in the gym. Since January 1, we’ve been walking in every day at 5 a.m. There’s still nothing like it. And I never walk in without hearing the memories — the popcorn popping, the feet stomping, the nets twanging, and the balls kissing softly off the glass. Alas, I guess those sounds won’t echo from the old LHS gym anymore. But you can only tear down a gym; you can’t demolish memories —especially when you’ve been storing them up since you were four.