MEMORIES THROUGH A LOOKING GLASS
It is said that sports are like a mirror on life. I suppose that’s true. Many of the lessons learned on the field of athletic endeavor are microcosms of the greater lessons we learn in life. In another way sports and real life are often intertwined, serving as a reminder of the importance sports play in our lives.
I am reminded of as much on this date every year when I recall the events of November 22nd, 1963. It’s one of those moments never forgotten, the details as frozen in our minds as the moment itself is frozen in time.
It was a Friday afternoon like any other in the life of a high school student, one who’s attention was focused more frequently on the sports venues than the classrooms. I was in the locker room at Manchester High School changing for an intramural basketball game. The atmosphere was like that in any locker room of the era, though we didn’t realize at the time how much of a mirror of life it would become, as the seemingly harmless chatter and antics of that day would escalate to the situation society is confronted with today. The usual insults, who would clean who’s clock once the game started, were sprinkled in the usual Friday conversation about Saturday football games and Saturday night dates.
Jack Early, the senior boys gym teacher and director of intramurals entered the locker room and changed our lives forever. “Intramurals are cancelled for today”, he announced, “The president has been shot.”
In total silence, we dressed back into our street clothes. In those days we were taught, and had an appreciation for, American history. I knew President Kennedy was in Dallas that day. Other than that he had been shot I knew none of the details. My mind was filled with a vision of John Wilkes Booth stepping from behind a curtain behind Abraham Lincoln. The details of the events that afternoon in Dallas would unfold non stop and all too clearly over the next four days as television grew out of it’s infancy and became our constant companion.
The sports world would find itself embroiled in controversy and intertwined with stark reality when it was decided the National Football League games would be played on Sunday, while a nation mourned. The Army-Navy football game was cancelled, then reschuduled two weeks later because the president, a navy war hero, would have wanted it to go on.
The weekend careened from one event to the other as the man who killed Kennedy was himself assassinated right before our eyes, on national television. Lines of people extended for miles from the capitol building to view the president, lying in state. The funeral cortege with the riderless horse, backward boots in it’s stirrups. John Kennedy Jr. saluting his father as he was carried to his final resting place.
For me, the return to normalcy returned to where this journey into darkness had begun, the sports world. Monday afternoon, weary from it all, I took my football outside in search of a friend who wanted to play catch. One by one they appeared from their own homes, my touch football buddies, also in search of a return to their lives, and we commandeered as yet unused acreage at the East Center Cemetery, where every touchdown, every completed pass, every sack led to greater jubilation and eventually we even looked forward to a return to school the next day, and the stability it represented.
One of the most indelible images of my life will always be framed by the sports world. It’s an important ingredient in what makes us who we are.
With a memory from that world, I’m Scott Gray.