St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Friday Night Lights

From 1961-1965 I rarely missed a Friday night football or basketball game with my team, the St Croix Falls Highs School Saints. I didn't play sports, except for a brief spell as a would be tackle in my senior year, but I liked the excitement of being associated with the glamour of the players and cheerleaders and the thrill of Fridays as I gained a little independence from my parents, often getting home no earlier than midnight.

A Friday game day was exciting from start to finish. For me, the first part was making sure I had brought along a dollar. Just the idea of being left to be my own boss and go to a restaurant after school for supper was a thrill. I would have to make the big decision if I would go to the homelike Chatterbox or the edgy and smoke filled Fort Café.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We knew it was game day when we saw the cheerleaders bubbling down the halls wearing their blue and white sweaters and knee length pleated skirts. The uniforms changed them. No longer were they irritating, scrawny girls you had know since first grade. Roaring rivers of testosterone turned the cheerleaders into goddesses. Suddenly guys turned into a cavemen capable of only ughs and grunts when faced with the glamour of cheer leader uniforms!

Friday afternoon was the pep rally. The pep club aided by the pep band gathered in the old balconied gym and put on a pre-battle fest. The band played rousing numbers. The cheerleaders whipped up the crowd with cheers, jumps, twirls and a shaky pyramid.

"We have got a new cheer for tonight. We will do it for you once, and then try it a couple times together." Pompoms waving, voices strained, they danced their way though the routine for a oddly literate cheer "Perambulate on the turf, .."

Coach Harris or Kennealy (football and basketball) gave a pep talk. "The guys have been practicing hard all week. They are ready to give their best against a much bigger Frederic team. If we remember the fundamentals, and our guys give it 110%, we can beat them. While the team is out there trying their hardest, we need your support in the stands, so let's hear those cheers even if we are down."

Then the players came on the floor to the roars of the crowd and the captain of the team gave a talk that echoed the coach. The cheerleaders whipped us up some more; the pep band played a last number and everyone left to clear out for the day, excited for the battle against the invading barbaric hordes from Frederic.

It was still too early to eat, so I hung around the gym, shoes off, shooting baskets with some of my friends. Many times Principal McDougal came down and joined us, seeming almost like a regular guy, friendly and kidding with us. We had a bunch of basketballs and sometimes scrimmaged. Bryan Jackson, another farm kid and I often paired off for a game of horse.

Bryan, when I first bumped into him at HS, was a fractious kid, always getting into a fight or scrape of somekind. In gym class, when we played shirts and skins basketball, he went out of his way to bang into me. Finally, being about a foot taller and 50 lbs heavier than Bryan, with muscles from tossing hay bales all summer and pitching manure (hidden underneath my soft exterior) I grabbed him, pinned him tightly against the cement wall, and said calmly "Bryan, you keep banging into me like today and I'm gonna get mad and toss you into the balcony." For whatever reason, he and I became good friends almost immediately.

Bryan was mostly a wrestler, being too small for other sports. Farm boys, like Bryan and me, didn’t get much time off from the farm work, so sports were hard to accommodate with the after school extra hours, but Bryan managed to make it and excelled in wrestling. Bryan always was watching his weight to stay in his 118 lb weight class.

After an hour in the gym, we headed down the big hill to main street and headed to the Chatterbox Cafe to spend our dollar. A burger, fries and a coke took 75 cents, leaving enough for a pop and candy bar at the game. We might have gone to the Fort Cafe, but it was a little scary, smoke filled with James Dean type "outlaw" kids who preferred the combed back look of Johnny Cash to the neatly trimmed Beach Boys style I tried to get Dad, my barber, to do (why waste a buck on a haircut when I can do it myself, was Dad's view, pleased that he saved $50 a year with his four boys).

"I've been hearing about this new pop, TAB," said Bryan, "It hasn't got any calories so I can drink it and keep my weight." So with our burger and fries, we each got a TAB. "Tastes terrible," said Bryan. "It needs sugar," I replied taking a heaping teaspoon full dumping it in the filled glass.

The drink started bubbling, foaming up and over the glass, emptying more than half of it on the table running onto the floor bringing Marge, our frowning waitress over with a rag to clean it up.

"Better give her a tip or you might be banned," cautioned Bryan. We never tipped as our dollar was too precious to share with anyone. Well, I felt guilty and left a nickel tip, so I would be welcomed next time.

My freshman year was my growth spurt. It left me unable to coordinate my feet to the marching band rhythm, so Mr. Builderback allowed me and Tim Nagler to march in the practices, but not on the football field. At half time the band in their royal blue uniforms with the tall blue stovepipe caps and white chicken feather plumes and heavily braided coats and white shoes, played and stepped in rhythm into all sorts of wonderful formations that, after the announcer told you what they were, you could see them just as clear as the big dipper overhead. So, banned from marching band, parents not allowing me to get out of farm work to be the football star I would surely have been, that year I joined Chuck Twiet filming the games, getting Friday nights off from farm chores for good behavior and good grades during the week.

Chuck Twiet, a boy of many odd talents, and I were the film crew in my freshman year. We had the old spring windup 8 mm black and white movie camera on a tripod in the announcer's booth high above the 1939 elegant WPA built football stadium; probably the best field in the whole conference with its back nestled into the giant esker left by the glacier a dozen millennium earlier.

For basketball, we setup on the back of the balcony looking down on the crowd and floor. I don't remember an announcer's booth there, and I can't remember if the pep band sat up on the stage or elsewhere. The inside gym with its roll out seats tucked under the balcony doubled as our auditorium, the site of our extravagantly staged musicals and plays, our prom dances, convocations, lyceums, graduations, and more.

Chuck and I loaded the 8 mm camera with a roll of 16 millimeter film; stuck it on the tripod and filmed the action on the field or floor. We were far away, without zoom lenses so mostly picked up the overall field action, the blimp view. If there was any film left at halftime, we burned it on the cheerleaders and marching band. Halftime was when we removed the film spools, swapped them and ran it all through again backwards. The camera used 16 mm film exposing the right half the first time through the camera, then the left half after the swap. It was developed and then the whole role split and spliced into a single movie with track holes on one side only, twice the footage for half the cost.

Tuesday noon the players and coaches gathered in Mr. Gipson's room to watch the game, and to learn from their mistakes and glory in their successes. My first few efforts had me intensely following the football as it was run, thrown or kicked across the field. Rod commented kindly "pretty good, but gives some of the guys sea sickness!" a hint I took to let the camera alone. I always wondered what happened to the old movies stored away in odd closets in the old school, and heard later that in the move from old to new school, they were tossed.

With the game ready to start, we will pause here for station identification and commercials with the game to come next episode. We still have the game itself, the marching band, the sock hop and the bus ride home to explore.

What I would like you to do, is to help me with these memories. I know I have details wrong, probably have missed a lot; have seen it only from one point of view (a nerdy farm boy from the country thrilled being on the side lines of the action), and in general, as my mind has gone flabby to join my body, I have forgotten great chunks of Friday, game day and night. So, in the comment sections (just click on the word comment). It would be wonderful if you added your own memories and made this a discussion. If you are shy, just email them to me at