Athletics With Cents to Spare
JUVENAL first brought it to my attention, but John Locke made it acceptable in public education - the sound mind in a sound body. So it is perfectly proper for all the basketball coaches to rush in when school budgets pinch and clamor for big money in the sweat areas. I have made only one suggestion - that nobody be allowed to argue for sound bodies unless he can supply the third word in the famous trilogy: amo, amas, ****. For which I have not been hoisted to the shoulders of an adulatory crowd and given a victory in the public square, alas.
I have been thinking about the abuses of athletic advantages in my youth, when taxpayers felt a boy could get all the exercise he needed after school hours at the family woodpile. I played baseball faithfully, enthusiastically, and with considerable originality, and it never cost the taxpayers a cent.
Our high school baseball team paid its own way, although the diamond we played on was town property and had been built for the semi-professional "town team." It had been scooped and scraped long since when every man in town turned out with his horses, and with rakes and shovels, and no money had been raised for it in town meeting. It was never in the school budget. Our high school team used it in the late days of mud season, and before we began to practice we would smooth and rake the infield.
By the time the infield was really dry, school would be in summer vacation and the town team would be in action. Left field, where I played, trailed off into a swamp and never did dry out.
Uniforms were supplied by the storekeepers on Main Street. Mine was supplied by S. Fitts, Grain, Feed & Flour, as authenticated by letters stitched to the back. Sam Fitts, my benefactor, got little return on his investment, since the letters could not be seen from the single bench for spectators by first base. Only when I came to bat would anybody read the letters, and to Mr. Fitts's approval I batted left. However, since I was usually lifted in the late innings for a pinch hitter who was not sponsored,
the whole thing was a dubious venture. Our pinch hitter wasn't much of a hitter, really, but he had a gift for stepping into a pitched ball.
As for spikes, or cleats, they did not come from the merchants along with the uniforms, and they were not provided from educational funds. Some boys had hand-me-downs from older brothers, or cast-offs from the town team, and one rich boy bought his own.
Because of the swamp I used to play left field in my knee-high clam-digger's rubber boots, and I'd shift to sneakers when I was at bat. I didn't get many hits, but the coach said if I ever did get one he didn't want the agony of watching me run to first in rubber boots. He used to say that he had to keep me in the lineup because I was the only boy on his squad who dug clams.
The best advertising spot on the teamwas the first baseman, whose message could be seen clearly nearly all the time. Kip Goldrup played first, and spoke for D. Lewis, Fine Jewelry.
Baseballs? The taxpayers never found our baseballs a burden. We passed the hat during games, and if that didn't fetch us enough to buy a new ball when needed, we "put on" a tag day at the post office. It was customary for the visiting team to bring its own baseball, which gave us two for a start. There were times when a game would be held up while both teams scoured the bushes for a lost ball. When we practiced, we generally used old balls that had lost their leather covers long since and were wound wit h
electrician's tape. We had a garage man in town, Dave Longway, who was clever at winding baseballs for us - he had a way of keeping them fairly symmetrical. Dave, of course, did this without charge, except that a roll of tape was 10 cents.
Perhaps this sounds as if we were terribly put upon as we sought to maintain sound bodies for our exceptional minds to be accommodated by. If we were, we didn't know it.
The possibility that voters would appropriate money to pay for athletic frivolities didn't enter our heads, or the heads of the voters, and we muddled along in abysmal ignorance of the finer days in the golden future. But we did have one hero in our impoverished alumni list - it wasn't every town that sent a Jack Coombs to the majors. When he'd come home now and then and play fungo with us, and give us some pointers, we never realized we were underprivileged.