|Rolfe Alumni Essay|
|Two Reasons Why Iíll Never
Make the Rolfe Athletic Hall of Fame
Professor of Math at the University of Maine
Rolfe High School Class of 1955
I guess most of us have experienced a modicum of athletic glory in our childhood when the gods smiled our way. The biggest moment of glory I remember while growing up in Rolfe occurred in the late winter of 1952 when Don Firkins made a last second shot against Rodman in the first game of the sectional tournament. Rodman had already clobbered Rolfe twice that year (83-48, 55-27) and was heavily favored. There were only a few seconds left, Rolfe was down by one point, and Don makes this nifty jump shot from the free-throw line. I remember standing on the stage at the opposite end of the gym and the place going crazy. That was the first year basketball was played in the new Rolfe gym, and it was a big deal. After that game, Rolfe went all the way to the sub-state, eventually getting beat by Hull (58-44). Other players on that 1952 team were Daryl Puff, Frank DeVaul, Tom Schott, Johnny Bixler, Bob Puff, Jerry Freeman, and Glenn Kaiser.
Now I don't mean to appear boastful, but Iíd have had my moments of glory too if it weren't for a couple of meddling mishaps that befell me at a tender age. Two minor bobbles shattered my confidence, causing my God-given talents to abandon me, leaving me to pursue a sports career as team manager, where instead of spending my youth being idolized by pretty girls, I spent it washing jock straps for the Rolfe basketball team.
So what put a stain on my athletic career? Why isn't my name listed in the Rolfe Athletic Hall of Fame alongside the Al Budolfsons and the Sara Beckords?
Back in the late 1940's when I was just a little tyke emerging from the pupa stage of life, it was a Rolfe tradition that every fall the third grade boys would play the fourth grade boys in a friendly game of hoops.
That was before anyone ever thought it might be fun for the girls to do those things too. It was our belief that the girls got all the fun they wanted just by cheering for us boys.
The game was a big deal. The high school coach acted as referee, and the moms came to see the Ram stars of the future. The year I was in the third grade, Coach Evans had the honors of acting as referee.
For you younger Rolfe grads, that was back in the Middle Ages when basketball was played in the cracker box gym that ran from east to west at the north end of the schoolhouse. It was so confining that the out of bounds line at the north side of the court was six inches from the wall. No one dove for out-of-bound balls! The main viewing area at court level consisted of two long benches that ran the ends of the court, so close to the playing floor that a person with size 12 shoes would have his toes inbounds. Then there was the balcony, which ran around three sides of the court where people sat on folding chairs. There were a couple of tiny bleachers behind the chairs where you could get a good view of the person's head in front of you.
But, back to the big game. It was generally a fourth grade blowout, but this year it was rumored that the third grade had a fighting chance. Actually, it was my mom feeding me this hyperbole, but I was eating it up faster than she could dish it out.
My natural athletic abilities so impressed our coach, a player on the high school basketball team, that he made me a starting forward for the Rolfe Third Graders. The fact there were only five boys in our class who showed any interest in the whole affair helped my cause considerably.
For days before the big event I practiced the subtle nuances of the game: the dribble, the pass, the shot. I had them down cold.
The night before the game I fantasized for hours what I would do when I got the ball. By tip-off time, however, all my pre-game preparation seemed to have a negative effect. I was getting second thoughts about my mom's premonition that I might be the next Al Budolfson and thinking it might all be pre- game hype. But before I could worry too much the ball went up, and much to my surprise, and horror, it came right to you know who.
A shot of adrenaline ran through my veins. But no one had to tell the next Al Budolfson what to do. I made a sharp fake to the left, a deceptive move to the right, and then tore full bore down the middle of the court. I blitzed the vaunted fourth grade defenses like they were standing still (which, they probably were). I drove towards the basket for a lay up. No doubt the first of many that I would make in that game and my prestigious career. Then, for a split second with my body suspended in air, I hear it.
The referee's whistle!
"What!?" I think to myself. "Did someone commit a cheap foul trying to stop Al Budolfson?" Coach Evans, the whistle dangling from his neck, walks over to me. I look up at him. He takes the ball, looks down and says, "Farlow," in a deliberate manner, "You're supposed to DRIBBLE the ball!"
God! In my excitement I overlooked this one minor facet of the game. I just grabbed the damn thing, tucked it under my arm, and took off! To this day I can remember the horse laughs coming from every corner of the gym. Even my own mom couldn't stifle a giggle.
So there you have it - my basketball career in shambles, before it ever began. For years I was the butt of low ribald humor, forever known as "the kid who never dribbled the ball."
They say time heals all wounds, and perhaps it does.
By the time I got to high school, I had almost forgotten the entire incident and was starting to make a comeback when fate reached out and bit me once again.
In the spring of 1952, there were ten guys on the Rolfe baseball team - me and nine others. I was what they call a utility player, which was another way of saying I handled the utilities: the bats, balls, and uniforms - I even did the team laundry. The only thing I didn't do was play baseball. My game position was sitting on the bench next to Coach Ogren.
Rolfe had a good team that year, mostly for one reason - Daryl Puff. Daryl had a 90 mph fastball and put the fear of death in every batter in the Twin Lakes Conference. He was Coach Ogrenís pride and joy. Coach once said it was Darylís lack of control that kept him out of professional baseball. Personally, you couldn't drag me within fifty feet of the plate when Daryl was on the mound.
So, with Daryl pitching we won the sectional tournament that year and entered district play where our first opponent was Kanawha, a perennial baseball powerhouse in those days, which boasted one of the best pitchers in the state.
Come the day of the Kanawha game, Johnny Bixler couldn't play since he had to go to Ames and pre-register at Iowa State. That meant, of course, our team was down to nine players. Coach Ogren looked down the bench to find someone to fill the gaping hole in the Rolfe lineup. I'm sure his heart skipped a beat at what he saw, but he bit his lip and put in his favorite bench buddy, sending me out to right field.
Well, itís mano a mano for the first inning. Both the Kanawha Ace and Daryl throwing heat. Kanawha managed to scrape up a couple runs in the top of the second, but we came right back in the bottom of the second. Glen Kaiser cracked a single up the middle, and Tom Schott got a double. Rolfe was on its way. A few batters later, there were two outs with the score tied, bases loaded, and the bottom of the batting order coming up.
I guess I don't have to tell you who that is.
I can still hear Coach Ogren utter those dreaded words, "Farlow, you're up!" I sat glued to the bench. My infamous faux pas of a decade earlier raced through my mind. I knew I was going to lay an egg the size of New Jersey.
But a few minutes later, I'm in the batting circle swinging my less than trusty 32-inch Phil Rizutto Louisville Slugger. I'm sure the Kanawha pitcher gave a sigh of relief when he saw the bottom of the Rolfe batting order. I was 4'11" and weighed 95 pounds. My uniform was three sizes too big. I was the baseball version of Charlie Chaplin.
Coach Ogren comes over to give last minute advice. Heís 6'8" tall and weighs 220 pounds. Iím wondering what advice heís going to give me. Would he ask me to bunt or swing away? Maybe heíd put in the Ďol squeeze play. He puts his huge hand on my tiny shoulder and says slowly, "Farlow, just get up there, relax, and have fun, and lean way over. I mean lean waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over." Then he said, "And for gods-sake, Farlow, whatever you do, DON'T SWING!"
So there you have it. Don Firkins makes a winning shot in a big game and has great memories for life. And for me, my memories consist of one coach telling me I gotta dribble the ball and another demanding that I DON'T swing the bat.
But Coach Ogren's advice was a gem of baseball wisdom. I take his advice. I lean way over and donít move a corpuscle. My shoulders are about an inch above my knees. The umpire behind the plate is on his hands and knees! I am the Eddie Gaedel of the Rolfe baseball team. The poor Kanawha kid doesnít have a prayer. His first two pitches are so far from the strike zone I could have completed one of Miss Marcum's Latin assignments up there. After the second ball, the Kanawha pitcher suspects my strategy, and begins throwing the ball without a windup. The third pitch he throws like a dart at a dartboard. But I hold fast, and the ball misses the strike zone by a country mile. Now, the bases are loaded, a 3 and 0 count, the score tied, and a one-inch strike zone with the Ace of Kanawha starting to sweat. The fourth pitch, he throws in there kind of underhanded. I stand at the plate like a block of ice. The pitch is doomed before it is ever thrown. Four straight balls and I walk in the leading run!
My little moment of glory! And to think, I didnít have to move a muscle!
Epilogue: Although my athletic skills havenít improved a great deal since my 1946 no-dribbling incident, I still play basketball twice a week. A few years ago, the university where I teach had an All-American by the name of Cindi Blodgett who was the NCAA Division I scoring leader for two years (1996-97). Her patented play was to tear down the court, make a crossover dribble, go around a befuddled defender, hoist the ball over her head, and with a flick of her wrists - SWISH! Her shot reminded me that when I was growing the worst insult a boy could receive was to be told he "played like a girl." How times have changed.
Occasionally in the off-season, Cindi would play with us old geezers. Now, normally, as kids say these days, I have "no game," but on this day the gods smiled my way, and I "had game." I passed, I shot, I even dribbled the ball!
Anyway, Cindi, the All-American, and "the kid-who-never- dribbled-the-ball" are on the same team. The score is 9-9, and the next team to score a point wins. So Cindi and I are coming down the court . . . itís Blodgett to Farlow . . . Farlow to Blodgett . . . Blodgett starts to shoot . . . someone puts a hand in her face . . . she passes off to Farlow . . . he shoots . . . SWISH! Cindi comes over, raises her hand, gives me a high-five and says, "NICE SHOT!"
So with fifty-five years of playing the darn game, move over Don Firkins. I got memories too!
When I first read Jerryís account of his ball-playing career, I was confused by his sentence "Well, itís mano a mano for the first inning." I know a little Spanish, but no mucho (not much), and I didnít know whether Jerry meant the score was zip-zip or if he was referring to some machismo element of the game. So I called and suggested some readers might need clarification. He said the phrase is indeed of Spanish origin and has to do with male egos - a macho thing - a knock down, drag out fight to the death. But he wasn't sure. He said he did look the words up in Websterís but that the way he used the phrase may be merely his own interpretation.
By the way, Jerry (who is a math professor specializing in differential equations) has written a book The Girl Who Ate Equations for Breakfast that reflects a progressive attitude toward women and has insights into mathematics. Jerry says he based the main character on a girl he knew in the Rolfe schools who was better at math than anyone else he knew. The book can be ordered via amazon.com.
In other notes, Al Buldofson (RHS Class of 1938) was a forward and captain on the Rolfe High team that went to the state basketball tournament two years in a row, bringing home the runner-up trophy in 1938 after losing to Diagonal. Don Grant from the class of 1936 says that Al was fast, a great ball-handler, and a shooter who could shoot any kind of shot well - also, that Al was a terrific team leader. Al went on to have a stellar basketball career at Iowa State College then settled in Clear Lake where he worked in the dairy industry.
Sara Beckord (RHS Class of 1968) was a standout runner all four years at Rolfe High. In 1968, she posted the top time in the nation for high school girls in the 800 meter run. Also, she was the first girl from Iowa to be invited to the Olympic Trials in any sport, and was the first women inducted into the Iowa Girls High School Track and Field Hall of Fame. Sara now coaches the womenís cross country and track teams at the University of Iowa. (See her essay for a more complete report on her track and field accomplishments.)
Both Al and Sara are members of the Rolfe High School Athletic Hall of Fame.