Last Sunday afternoon, we gathered in friend Scott’s pole barn near Collinsville and Troy to play basketball.
There were a dozen of us. We’re all at least 57 years old. We sat in lawn chairs in the pole barn and talked more than we played basketball. But to us, it was basketball as an excuse to get together again.
It was a reunion of an original basketball tourney that started 41 years ago when we were juniors in high school. Three-on-three. Make it, take it. Barger’s backyard court in Loisel Hills. Members of the winning team won an engraved beer mug.
After a few decades, the tournament transitioned to the next generation. Sons and their friends took over and most of us stepped aside about a decade ago. But last Sunday was for the old guys only.
For the record, every guy wore tennis shoes last Sunday. As one guy said, “At our age, a pair of tennis shoes lasts forever!”
Every guy wore his shirt, too.
Like other years, T-shirts were made to commemorate the event.
K-SHE-95 Real Rock radio blared from the stereo just as it did 41 years ago when it all began.
Sure, there were a few “call 911” jokes. But at day’s end there was only one minor injury reported — a twisted ankle. “Put a little tape on it and get back in there,” we told him. And we laughed. We laughed a lot last Sunday.
This year’s official tourney didn’t consist of real basketball games. We’re foolish but not crazy. We broke up the group into teams of three players and did some organized shooting. Free throws. Around-the-world. Shooting spots were marked on the pole barn floor with masking tape.
There was a lot of pressure in that pole barn. It’s not routine to shoot a basketball at age 57, period, when you shoot once a year. But there’s added pressure with all your oldest friends on the sidelines calling you every nickname you’ve been called over the past five decades.
I had one friend singing to me while I was shooting.
And all the old and new nicknames:
“Red Klotz” of the old Washington Generals who always lost to the Harlem Globetrotters.
“Jody” from the old “Family Affair” TV show.
I made about half of my 10 shots. That was OK, considering I was laughing. I sat down. It was my turn to be Don Rickles in a lawn chair.
It had been many years since this old crew gathered to play basketball. Some of us get together every Sunday morning to play golf. But basketball? Knees hurt. Feet sore. Back aches. Shoulder pain. Great golf excuses.
We had a remembrance of a few old friends who once played in the tourney but have passed on. Donny. Bronco. Wolf. It wasn’t a formal moment of silence. But it was a tribute and moment of reckoning. You never know, from year to year. Enjoy the day. Pass the Ben Gay.
Not much improves with age, but our ability to eat pork steaks, brats and burgers is championship level. We checked one another’s shirts afterward for the most barbecue stains.
I was in the Top 5.
We also played “bags” or “cornhole” or whatever you want to call throwing a small bean bag through a hole in a piece of wood. Our aims were about as good with a beanbag as with a basketball, but not as many air balls.
Of course, there were a few impromptu two-on-two basketball games for a friendly wager that never gets paid off. Very slow games — but intense. Clutch and grab. And jokes from the stands.
There were also a few games of “pig” and “horse.” I don’t remember a game of “pig” lasting close to an hour until last Sunday.
Funny thing about playing basketball in a pole barn. We couldn’t make a layup consistently. But a few of the guys were pretty good at trick shots. Off the rafter. Through the beams. Off the backboard. Nothing but net!
Once upon a day, when our legs were younger and our minds number, we didn’t know when to go home. At this time of our lives, as dusk began to settle, we collected our coolers, phones and loaded our cars and trucks and headed home. Most of us had to work Monday. Until next year.
No one said it aloud but instinctively we knew we should be home before the street lights came on.