I went to basketball homecoming Friday night so you didn’t have to. Let me say, the ‘burg has changed, but maybe only a little. The game was an excuse for one of those AA-KZO Amtrak trips Kathy and I like so much, staying at an AirBnB right downtown overlooking Bronson Park and the lights of the city. You can read about our restaurant forays on my blog (1)). My classmate and Tom Horn teammate Dan Walters agreed to join us, and I was hoping for some sort of alumni tribute. About all I got for being an old fart was free admission. I’d received from the AD Mike Roy a pass for my phone, but couldn’t find it as I was entering. The kid at the desk taking tickets let me in anyway, but still charged my youthful bride 7 bucks. The court is impressive, with its red and white bench seats. An aggressive portrait of charging bulldogs emblazons the west wall.
No stage anymore, that’s relegated to a space near the old Market Place. The game was entertaining as anything a group of skinny white farm kids might muster. The Bulldogs have sucked this year, but put up a good fight against the Edwardsburg Eddies, finally losing by 2 points. Halftime featured homecoming ceremonies, with attractive young couples parading towards Dave Maneikis at the center of the scorers’ table, although he said afterwards he wasn’t the guy passing judgement. King and queen were one of the basketball players (a Smith, I believe) and an exchange student. As the girls were parading across, Dan and I wondered which one’s skirts would have passed the Johnny Mac test. It was like the old Jackie Wilson song “Higher and higher” (2) . There was one fat girl in the bunch, nice face, but not a winner. The boys, of course, looked totally befuddled by their roles. We sat in the section next to the pep band, who were in fine form, except they played the fight song after every quarter, even when we were losing. No cheerleaders in sight. I guess the girls are devoting all their energies to “cheer team” these days, a certified, letter granting, athletic endeavor.
Mike Roy, the AD, had announced to me by email before he’d be by the scoreboard on the west wall. He wasn’t quite the “All-American bullet-headed Saxon mother’s son”, but it was clear he knew football from the inside (he was a scholarship player on the line at UNLV after playing at Paw Paw, when they still were still the Redskins), and was very personable. He’s well respected in his field (3). After I shook his hand and complimented him on the facilities, he brought over his 7th and 4th grade kids, each getting a good education in the Vicksburg Community Schools. Then it was time to walk over and talk to Pitts. He was in the middle of the scorer’s bench, wearing ref’s stripes. I asked him if he’d need to step in if one of the on-court guys suffered a Bartlett, and he assured me his seat was his home. He’d spotted me and Dan across the way early in the game and waved. I’ve learned before that Dave doesn’t like his sobriquet of “Carl Pitts” despite his enthusiastic emblazonment of it back in the day. So it was “Dave” all the way, and he was having a good day. A couple of his careful recordings of on-court events had overturned calls. He waxed how his name was on the walls of this gym (it was) for his contributions to Vicksburg athletics, mainly as the football announcer at Canavan Field for many years. He also recalled how he had caught 2 no hitters his senior year, including one by Bob Cross, who had never pitched before. I’d recalled him only as a pretty good offensive tackle, and at our 50th (plus one) reunion in July, told him he was our class’s Jim Brandstatter. I think since I pointed out that both he and Jim had had weight struggles, he wasn’t too enamored of the comparison at the time. But Dave’s a good sweet guy, a successful electrician, and an example of how a fat kid can make it, even if his knees can’t.
After, there was too much energy built up to truck all the way back to Kalamazoo. Distant Whistle beckoned, where Dane Bosel and Andy Clouse brew what may be the best beer in Kalamazoo County (4).
Despite the energy, we were fading and facing a 15 mile drive back to the city. As we sipped our beer each, some gray hair with a guitar played boomer music. The place was full, but no young ‘uns. It was still wonderful. We got our names on the wait list for the mug club. I think every drinking adult in the ‘burg has a mug hanging on their walls.
So this wasn’t the home I left in ’70, but it’s still a pretty good place to come back to. I expect to do so repeatedly.
1. Ike B. one meatball. WordPress. Posted February 11,2022. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2022/02/11/one-meatball/
2. Wilson J. Your love keeps lifting me higher and higher. YouTube. Posted August 11, 2011. Released August 1967. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzDVaKRApcg