I grew up in a happy little midwest Jewish neighborhood in the northwestern area of the city of Chicago, called Albany Park. The neighborhood was perhaps 80% Jewish, and this was at the start of World War II, the events of the Holocaust thousands of safe miles away. When we moved to the Uptown area, as rent control ended, and I graduated from Hibbard Elementary, I petitioned to join my friends of grammar school years, at Roosevelt High, where, it was said, the academic standards were higher. And, that is where I spent the next 3 years, finally, being dragged off to Los Angeles by parents who had fallen in love with the California sunshine during their honeymoon, 20 years before, in a Model A Ford.
But, while at Roosevelt I discovered and fantasized cheerleaders and in the process of chasing their "15 Rah's and Yeah, Team!" I had to go where cheerleaders go. That meant, the big team sports and that meant football, American style, Rhea, and basketball. What a great game basketball is!
Plenty of time outs for the cheerleaders to do their thing, and then this ballet of dribbling and passing and jumping and sweat and excitement. Sam Edelcup was the coach, and by 1952, the Rough Riders had climbed into contention and that was "The Season." Moose Malitz, the center, was in my Spanish class, learning deportment from the diminutive Prussian, Miss Coesfeld, who lisped-him, Castillian-wise, into submission. But on the basketball court, Moose, owned the area under the basket, and defied the lithe and fragile to threaten his dominion.
Morty Gellman streaked up and down the court, occasionally, actually in control, but always entertaining. Mookie Miller collected all the garbage under the basket. Roy Roe had the turn around jump shot, and holy cow, Aaron Lebedow, was on the bench, contributing. The whole team, every one white, Caucasian, and most, Jewish, were winning and winning and winning. Along the way, they knocked off DuSable from the south side, a black team in the era just before black athletes took control of the sport. I remember the cheer and the music and it was just fabulous. Corny though it sounds, the rhythm and the soul was there, and it was an exposure that we just didn't get in our community. There was a great drummer, known as "the Drummer, Abraham," who entertained at half-time, and actually stole the show form the cheerleaders, in my eyes.
Heck, we Jewish kids even went to play in a Catholic high school gymnasium with crucifixes around, and we weren't struck down by lightning bolts. I think it was St. Rita's. Anyway, through game after game in an elimination tournament, the Rough Riders won. Wow!
And, Roosevelt became the City Champs, at the very peak of the pyramid. Earning the right to play in the Sweet Sixteen Tournament against some other victors in the the George Huff Gym, at the University of Illinois, in Champaign. So down we went, via Illinois Central, past the rumoured cat houses of Rantoul and Randolph Field, to Champaign to play some team that had beaten some other teams from the farm country.
They didn't seem to have many guys on the team. It was from Pinckneyville. Huh? Playing the Chicago champs in the first round. With our firehouse fast breaking, uncontrolled, undisciplined, sometimes brilliant game, and their ball control, slow-down pick 'em apart offense. They killed us! Hence, a new respect emerged for the underdog, and for guys who play like a team, and pound it out, if they have to.
And then, Dad and I got into our brand new 1952 light blue.... I didn't pick it...Plymouth Cambridge, with my shiny new driver's license, to drive to California, wherever that was, and leave my memories behind. Of course, I've never gotten over it. I'm in the process of trying to organize a community, as
But a new life, a year at Alexander Hamilton High in Los Angeles, eligibility by residence for a state school, and a brown-bagging life living at home, commuting to Westwood and UCLA. Right colors.... blue and gold. Pre-med, in huge classes, I felt like I was a minnow in the ocean, with the sharks circling. I escaped from my Saturday, Chem 1 lab, to the Coliseum to see Red Saunder's single wing Bruins battle the Pacific Eight's teams, and brighten an arduous college experience.
And before that football season even ended there was the start of basketball, and an old fashioned mid-western coach named John Wooden. Well, the old men's gym, the high temp, the team play, the double headers at the Pan-Pacific, an occasional game that I would go to with my dad, and then 1964, when I was in Fresno, at the County Hospital, and Sally (the First) was pregnant with John, the Bruins of Hazzard and Goodrich won the first of 10 national championships, and I got to see it on an old TV set. John Wooden did it again and again, until it began to feel like it was our birthright.
Time passed and the torch was passed, and at times, it almost seemed like it was extinguished. Along the way, in the Register, recently Lee Henderson made the game seem alive, but for the perfect reporting, I, again owe it to the city of Milwaukee, which gave me Sally (the first), my lovely wife, the former cheerleader, Linda Ellen and, my very own journalistic dream girl, Diane Pucin of the Los Angeles Times. This gal knows sports, and she feels it, and she writes with insight and heart, and if you want to know sports, whatever she is writing, and thank the heavenly spirit, it's Bruin basketball, she is the authority and the wordsmith, the enthusiastic observer, the sage, the explainer. I love her! And my wife isn't jealous!
It's March, and the Bruins are all but in, after beating the Ducks. They play Thursday in the Pacific Ten tourney against the Oregon State Beavers, having split home and home. Naturally, I'll be seeing patients, unless I can figure out a way to do both, but the VCR will be recording the game. I will have the radio on in the office, listening to the acerbic and brilliant Don Maclean, remembering that he played for the Bruins with attitude, and he retains the acidic pH of his youth, as the color man. It's March, my favorite time of the year. USC Diagnosis and Therapeutics at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, a bit of tennis, and MARCH MADNESS!