Competitive basketball at the junior high, high school and collegiate levels is fast approaching. As we look forward to the start of a new season, it would be an understatement to say the game has changed a lot since my childhood playing days in the 1940s and early 1950s.
Today’s game is played in top-notch venues, where the emphasis is on triple-digit scores and fan entertainment.
My brothers and I were introduced to the game in a side yard we shared with 200 white leghorn laying hens. Our court was off limits while the hens were feeding on shelled corn we shucked and shelled for them on a daily basis.
Our backboard was built with 1-inch by 5-foot pine planks nailed to a skinny tree trunk. A metal band from a discarded wooden nail keg was used for the goal. It was about 9 or 10 feet above ground and had no net.
Our mother made us a ball by stuffing lint cotton inside a cover made from a guano sack, which she sewed on her pedal-operated sewing machine. The ball was about the size of a volleyball and served its purpose as long as we didn’t leave it outside and let it get wet. We’d shoot baskets for hours at a time, as long as it wasn’t feeding time for our flock of laying hens. H-O-R-S-E was the game of preference anytime two or more players could get together.
We were overjoyed when we moved up to junior high school and had the opportunity to play ball inside. We were blessed with a gym that had a wooden floor, two goals with nets and a regulation-size, air-filled leather basketball and two-row bleacher seating on each side of the court.
The basketball was reserved for game use only and was stored under lock and key in the principal’s wall cabinet until game time. Scraps and pieces of balls were made available for practice.
The boys’ game was played with five players, two guards, two forwards and a center. Two points were awarded for a made goal, and one point was given for a made free throw. There was no such thing as a three-point shot.
Games were played mostly during school hours. Admission was 10 cents for students and 25 cents for adults.
Girls played on half court with six players per team, three on defense and three on offense. Offensive players were not allowed to cross middle court and vice versa. Girls were not permitted to play competition basketball in high school.
Geanell and I both played basketball at the same junior high school and share some of the same memories of our young playing days. Most notable are the handmade uniforms we wore and the squeaky sounds our high-top tennis shoes made when we walked and ran on the gym floor.