The Alley: My Favorite Playground-Revised


When I would visit relatives in the suburbs of Detroit, I could not figure out why they didn’t have an alley behind their homes. “Where do they play?” I would ask myself. When I was a child, the alley behind our house on Candler Avenue was my favorite place to play.

The alleys in Highland Park was how people would park their cars in their garage. The alley was also used by the sanitation workers to pick up the garbage. Early in my life, Dad would put our garbage in a large oil drum, which most people used for their trash. I always had sympathy for the sanitation workers who had to lift those heavy drums and empty its contents into the truck. Later, the city passed a law against using those large oil drums. I am sure this was a relief to the sanitation workers in Highland Park, but my Dad wasn’t happy. He would complain about the smaller trash cans getting damaged.


A sample of the large oil drums that we used for garbage.

For me, however, the alley was my playground. It was a handy meeting place for all children to meet. More importantly, it was a great place to play until the lights in the alley would come on at night. The lights coming on were a sign telling us that we all had to go home.

We would play a variety of games in the alley. We would play softball. Unfortunately, a couple of garage windows fell victim to an errant softball. Of course, hitting the ball in a backyard was an automatic out. We discovered that kickball was a safer choice.

Some other games that we played were touch football. I don’t know how we were able to play this in our narrow alley, but we did. In the winter, we also would play hockey on the iced-over pavement. We played in tennis shoes, but we felt like we were Gordie Howe with a hockey stick.

One of the most problematic games in the alley was basketball. One of the kids in the neighborhood had a backboard connected to their garage. This was great, except the lady behind this house worked on the night shift. She would always complain about the noise though we were playing during the day. If we continued to play after her complaint, she would call the police. We didn’t scatter when the police would come down the alley. They understood our predicament; however, we would be back playing basketball a few days later.

There were other games that we would play, including hide and seek. We played in the alley as well as several yards where the owners surprisingly didn’t mind having a bunch of children running through their yards, as well as hiding in them. I wonder if this behavior would be acceptable today?

Another game that we would play in the alley was Strikeout. This game was played by making the strike zone on the garage across from our parking space. We didn’t have a garage, so our parking lot would be the pitcher’s mound. This game would work out well until the owner of the garage would check out the damage on his garage from the rubber baseball consistently hitting his garage. The amazing thing is that he never really kept us from using his garage as a strike zone. If the batter hit the ball in my backyard, it would be a double. If he hit the house, it would be a triple. Over the house would be a home run. There were a few broken windows, but we still enjoyed playing like the Detroit Tigers.

One terrifying time in my life came when I was about seven years old. I was at a friend’s house. A storm was coming, so I started to go home through the alley on my little sixteen-inch bicycle. The thunder, lightning, and rain surrounded me. The alley had never seemed so dark to me as I sped home. I cried all the way. I still remember my Mom trying to stop all of my tears because I was so afraid.

As time went by, the alley would become silent. Many of my friends would move away. Those of us who were left would go in different directions. I soon found myself spending less and less time in my favorite playground. I had found other interests, including playing tennis at Ford Park.

After all of these years, I still haven’t forgotten all the great times and all the friendships that I made in that little stretch of concrete that we called our alley.

P.S. Please visit my other blog: I have articles such as “God’s Waiting Room” and “Moving Beyond Fear to Courage.”

Winter Memories of Highland Park-Revised

Scan 38

My friend and I in 1959 (Candler Ave. between Brush and Oakland)

In spite of being in my sixties (I do hate to admit this), I still have a love for winter that I had as a child. Winter was not only Christmas, but it was also a special time of year for me. My memories of winter are probably similar to other people who grew up in the fifties and sixties.

Snow coming down always excited me. The snow meant making snow forts, snowmen, and having snowball fights. Unfortunately, the snow in the playground at Midland School was wasted during recess because snowball fighting was not permitted. I never tried to break this rule, so I never did discover what the punishment would have been. It was one of those rules that I didn’t understand in elementary school.

Winter also meant cold weather. As a Safety Boy, my corner was at Brush and Ferris. It was the furthest post from Midland School. When the temperature reached ten degrees or less, all the Safety Boys would get free hot chocolate in the gym. The hot chocolate sure helped warm up my cold bones after standing all that time on my corner.

One day, in second grade, the temperature went down to minus twelve degrees. Mom didn’t see a problem with the cold; however, she did drive me to school that day. There were only four other students in our class. Looking back, I wonder why they didn’t cancel school.

One year, we experienced a big snowstorm. I am sure that we had a couple of rare snow days. When we returned to school, several of us on our walk home took a detour through Ford Park. We were quite pleased to see that the city had dumped a lot of the excess snow by the running track. These dumps made perfect snow mountains where we could play, hide and toss snowballs from our hideouts. It is still a memory that I cherish in my mind.

Whenever we had snow, the city would do a great job of taking care of the snow on the streets and even in the alleys. Dad didn’t appreciate that the snowplow threw snow upon his car, but we didn’t have a garage. There was also the small snowplow that plowed all the sidewalks. This was an expensive luxury, which later in my teen years had ceased to exist.

As I became older, I also learned that winter meant work. I soon would be recruited to shovel snow on our sidewalks. To me, it seemed like our sidewalks never ended. Shoveling this white stuff was not my favorite part of winter.

Winter also meant that I would spend more time inside the house, watching more television than I should. Of course, there was Captain Jolly at 6:00 P.M., and then there were the Hanna-Barbera cartoons at 6:30 P.M. My favorites were Quick Draw Mcgraw, Yogi Bear, and Huckleberry Hound. I felt fortunate that there was an alternative to the 6:30 P.M. news. Living in the Detroit area meant that we had access to the Canadian station in Windsor.

Besides watching television, we would have family game time. We enjoyed playing Jeopardy, Password, and especially Scrabble. I always enjoyed trying to make up my own words with the letter tiles given to me. My favorite sentence was: “Is this a word?” My mother was quite patient with me during these games, though my older brother was not amused.

One last thing about winter that I remember was how cold my bedroom would become. The heat from the basement barely made it up to my second-floor bedroom. After reading to me, a story mom would cover me up with several covers and give me a kiss goodnight.

The winter appeared to go on forever. The snow stayed on the ground for three months. However, the snow would eventually leave the ground. The temperatures would rise, and spring would arrive. Baseballs would replace the snowballs. HIres Root Beer and Vernors would replace the hot chocolate. With warm weather, we would return to the alley to play our favorite games. However, the joy of winter would return.

Christmas Memories from Highland Park (1960s)

“The helicopter is coming!” Seeing Santa Claus would be one of the greatest highlights of my young life. Yes, I had sat on Santa’s lap at Hudson’s and Sears and Roebuck’s, but this would be special. Santa was arriving at Ford Park in a helicopter. The helicopter soon landed, and there he was! Santa climbed out of the helicopter as gracefully as possible for a man of his girth. He then gave a hearty “Ho Ho” and passed out candy to all of us children. I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come.

Reflecting upon my Christmas memories takes me to a time where life was quite simple for me. My parents helped make Christmas the special and joyous time of year that it was.

Our Christmas season would begin on Thanksgiving. Dad would make all of us sit in front of our black and white television and watch the Hudson’s parade through the streets of downtown Detroit. The floats were a sight to see for a young child as well as the marching bands. However, one of my greatest memories is Dad’s complaining about Sonny Eliot talking too much during the parade as he did the commentary. He would also say: “Why do they have so many commercials? They are wrecking the parade.” Yet, every year, he would have us in front of the television for more of Sonny Eliot’s jokes and more commercials.

The other highlight of the parade was Santa Claus coming at the end. As a child, I thought he was the real thing. He sure looked the part. To this day, I never have seen a better Santa than the one that would stand in front of Hudson’s and receive the keys of Detroit from the mayor.


The “real” Santa Claus-Photo by permission from:

The next step of the Booth Christmas was to check out the Christmas lights in downtown Detroit as well as a brightly lit neighborhood somewhere off of West Outer Drive. The lights in Downtown Detroit gave me great joy as I would say: “Look at those lights!” There was nothing like the lights in Downtown Detroit during the Christmas season.

Hudson’s Christmas lights-1960: With permission from:

I also enjoyed the lights on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. Early in my childhood, the lights would be surrounded by real evergreen and wrapped around the light poles. The actual evergreen around each light pole made Woodward look classy during that time of year. I never did like the artificial lights that the city eventually used on each pole. I am sure it was cheaper, but it also looked cheaper.

After the parades and lights, the next step in the Booth Christmas was the Christmas tree. The great Christmas tree hunt was always an adventure as Dad had to find the perfect tree for just the right price. The experience of putting the Christmas tree up in the living room is too lengthy to tell.

During our preparations for Christmas, Mom loved to decorate the house with all sorts of Christmas decorations. She always loved to make the house as joyful as possible during this particular time of year. She would also layout several Christmas books. My favorite was “The Night Before Christmas”. I would love for Mom to read it to me. It made my anticipation for Santa’s coming even greater.

Christmas Eve created a considerable amount of excitement in our home. The lights on the tree showed brightly. The cookies and milk were placed by the tree for Santa Claus. Once, when I was a bit older (maybe six years old), I asked my parents, “How can Santa Claus come into our house? We don’t have a chimney.” Dad had the perfect solution. He told me: “We will leave the front door unlocked for him.” At the time, it made perfect sense to me.

Before going to bed, the last thing I remember doing was turning on the television and checking out Santa’s present location. At that time, a local commentator would come on throughout the evening, giving us the location of Santa and his sleigh via “radar.” Dad and Mom would then say: “He is getting closer; you need to get to bed.” I didn’t argue. Six o’ clock in the morning couldn’t come soon enough.

Christmas Day began early for us. Looking back, I realize that it was because of me everybody would wake up at 6: 00 A.M. We would head downstairs to check out what Santa Claus had brought. Every year, Santa would bring what I had asked. I always was excited about the toys and games that I received from Santa. However, the one gift from my parents was still the same, clothes, which brought no excitement on my part.


My brother and I enjoying the tree. (1960?)

My parents went out of their way to make my Christmas a special time of year. They sacrificed a lot to keep the wonder of Christmas for us. I never thought about thanking them for everything they did. As I reflect upon my early years, Christmas revealed how self-centered I was. Christmas seemed to be all about me and what I wanted for Christmas.

It wasn’t until later did I understand the true meaning of Christmas. I remember songs like “Hark, the Herald” and “Joy to the World”. I knew that there was a baby born in a manger named Jesus, but I didn’t know Him. I didn’t know that He (God in the flesh) came to earth to die for my sins. When I was nineteen years old, I finally received the greatest gift, which eternal life from Jesus Christ, my Lord.

There are many other memories of my childhood Christmases, such as the Ford Rotunda, and Hudson’s 12th floor, but I will save those for a later post.

P.S. Please check out my other blog in which I write upon spiritual topics. Here is a link to my Christmas post called: “The Wonder of the Babe in the Manger” Here is the link:

Franklin Spencer III: A Man who Greatly Influenced My Life

People come and go in our lives. We often don’t think about their influence upon our lives;  however, God has a purpose for each person that He places in our lives. For this reason I thank God for every person that He has placed in my life. One of those people was  Franklin M. Spencer III.

I never knew Franklin Spencer as Franklin, but as Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer was my high school guidance counselor at Highland Park High School. When I told my wife (Sharon) that I was writing about the impact Mr. Spencer made upon my life, she said: “But high school guidance counselors don’t really have much influence over our lives.”  Mr. Spencer was different.

 “This is what I think we should do.”  I was on the other side of Mr. Spencer’s desk as he was mapping out my future. “You will go to summer school and take some classes to get ahead. As a senior, you can then take classes at Highland Park Community College.”  Taking Second Year Algebra  during the summer was not my idea of fun, but I became a willing summer school student.

I didn’t realize that those few minutes in Mr. Spencer’s office would have an immense effect upon my life. I followed his plan completely. As a result, I was able to graduate from college (with studying each summer) in the summer of 1975. This was two years ahead of schedule.  If I had graduated in 1977, I would have never met my wife. I would have never taught in Baltimore. South Africa and Portugal would just be places on the map instead of places where we have left our hearts and many friends.

Mr. Spencer also affected my life because he encouraged me to go beyond my own expectations. He helped me to see that I could do well in college and beyond. He didn’t speak down to me, but he spoke as through I could actually make some responsible decisions as a high school student.

I also learned from Mr. Spencer leadership skills that have helped me to this very day. As a senior, I was elected president of the National Honor Society. Mr. Spencer was our sponsor. He didn’t lead the group, but he guided us.

He allowed me to take the initiative on some projects. One project was bringing together all the National Honor Society chapters in the Detroit area. We had the first meeting at our school. Mr. Spencer helped, but several of us students worked together and we saw forty-two schools represented. Mr. Spencer gave me the chance to lead, but he also taught me that a real leader allows others to use their talents and abilities to fulfill projects. As a pastor, I still see the importance of the principle of delegation.

Mr. Spencer would leave Highland Park High School in 1973 to teach in South Korea.  Unfortunately, he would die of cancer shortly after his arrival there. His death would be a great loss for the cause of education.

 I remember the last time I saw Mr. Spencer.  We had an Honor Society banquet the night before graduation.  I never thanked him.  I never communicated with him.  At the time, I didn’t know what a great impact he would have upon my life.  When I heard he had died, I was saddened by the news, but it wouldn’t be until later that I truly appreciated why God had brought him into my life.

 I thank the Lord that He placed Franklin Spencer in my life.  I can’t imagine what my life would be like today if it wasn’t for those few minutes that Mr. Spencer laid out a plan that made all the difference in my life.


My Friend, Mike Bartnikowski (Long-time teacher at Ford School)


My visit with Mike in 2011

Today (February 5th) would have been Mike Bartnikowski’s birthday. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to celebrate. While I was living in Highland Park, Mike was a great influence in my life during my teenage years.

The first time, I ever saw Mike was while I was a student at Ford Middle School from 1966-69.  Mike was a seventh grade teacher, and I would see him walking down the halls with his class. You couldn’t miss Mike because of his size. Many of his students would affectionately call him “Big Bart”. I never had Mike as a teacher; so I really didn’t know him or even speak to him.

My opportunity to meet Mike was when he started to work at Ford Park in the summers.  I spent a lot of time at Ford Park even as a young teen because there wasn’t much else to do. I would play shuffleboard with the old men, play some table games, and play a lot of tennis. It was during these summers that I developed a friendship with Mike.

Mike treated me as an adult though I was only a young teen. He would listen to what was going on in my life and he would share things that were happening in his life. I remember that he was quite excited when his daughter, Barb, was born. Unfortunately, I didn’t really appreciate Mike’s friendship and kindness until later in my life.

One of the things that Mike greatly enjoyed was playing war games (mostly board games).  Mike and I would spend time each summer playing some of these war games at the park.  Eventually Mike started a war gamers club that met at Hackett Field House every Saturday morning. He loved the competition. One of his most favorite games was Diplomacy. He loved the deceit and backstabbing that was part of the game. Because of Mike’s very competitive nature, Saturday morning was the highlight of the week.

Mike also enjoyed playing practical jokes. One evening at Ford Park, I was playing tennis when I heard this voice over the loudspeaker say: “Mark Booth, your mother is calling you!” Many of those playing were laughing as I ran off the courts to see what was up. Mike then comes up to me laughing because he had pulled off a brilliant prank.

After I graduated from Highland Park High School in 1973, I never did see Mike again until 2011.  Like many people, we were able to get reconnected through Facebook. I enjoyed spending a couple of hours with Mike and his wife, Barb. He talked about Ford School, the teachers in the school, some of his students, and he also wanted to relive his prank that he played upon me forty years before. I am glad that we had that chance to get acquainted again.

During my last visit, Mike was surprised that I was a pastor of a Baptist Church. I shared how God had used him to greatly influence my life. I reminded him how through his advice, I was able to convince my parents to transfer me back to Highland Park High School after a very miserable ninth grade at U of D High School. This decision enabled me to eventually finish college early. If I hadn’t, I would not have met my wife, Sharon. I would not have gone to South Africa and Portugal. My two sons would not be in Portugal now. I could just go on and on.

During my high school years I didn’t know how God was working in my life. I thank God for having an adult friend like Mike with whom I could talk. I am sure Mike didn’t know until my visit two years ago how important his role was in my life. Yes, Mike is missed by many, but I will not forget Him. God is still blessing me by having placed Mike in my life.

P.S. Here is an article about the Wargamers Club that Mike started:

 If you are interested I have another blog in which I write about about spiritual matters such as “God’s Prescription for Pain” and “Verses for the Valley”. Here is the link:

My Fifth Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School

Midland School, a few years ago.  It is now torn down.

Midland School, a few years ago after being in disuse for many years. It is hard to imagine this school when it was just built for classes in 1961.

Before school began in September, I learned that my fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Newman. This was not good news. My brother had her for his sixth grade teacher three years before. From the discussions that I heard in our house. Mrs. Newman and my brother didn’t have a good relationship. Would I also face problems with Mrs. Newman?

Fifth grade would be my last year at Midland School. This did include some privileges such as becoming an “audiovisual boy.” This meant that at the beginning of school, I would deliver audiovisual equipment to the classrooms. Then at the end of the school day, I would get out of class ten minutes early to pick up the equipment. This equipment today would look like museum pieces. I would deliver filmstrip projectors, 16mm movie projectors, 16 mm movies, filmstrips and on occasion an opaque projector.

This was the "modern" movie projector which threaded when it worked properly.

This was the “modern” movie projector which threaded itself when it worked properly.

As school began, I didn’t find Mrs. Newman as difficult a person as my brother had stated. She didn’t seem to smile a lot, unlike my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Jung. She also seemed quite old and ready to retire. However, Mrs. Newman did teach me a lot of things. She helped me a lot with my spelling and math skills. She also had us do some group projects. One project that I did with three other students was on the subject of spices. She would allow us to go out in the hall and talk about our project. This was trust that I hadn’t known before in school. The spice project not only taught me a lot about spices, but also how to work with other students.

The worst part of my fifth grade experience was the SRA reading program. This program was a color coded curriculum that was supposed to help a student in their reading skills. You would read a short story and then answer the questions. I must not have been considered a good reader because Mrs. Newman started me in the color Aqua. This was only one level above Orange which was for the worst readers. Perhaps, the educators thought that by using colors, we wouldn’t discover how slow we were, but everybody knew the significance of each color.

Fifth grade was quite awkward for me because I had developed an overwhelming attachment for comic books. I would go to our corner store every week and buy several comics. After reading them, I would actually rate them from the best to worst. I even had a six-foot tall poster of Spiderman above my bed. He did a great job of protecting me each night!

With my attachment for comics, I would embarrass myself by attending school with a big sweatshirt that showed on the front and the back “The Incredible Hulk”. The front of the shirt had the words: “Here comes the Incredible Hulk”. The back of the shirt had the words: “There goes the Incredible Hulk”. Looking back, I can’t believe that I would wear such a thing.

I can't believe I wore this!

I can’t believe I wore this! This photo is from an Ebay ad.

One great thing about fifth grade was my involvement in the Highland Park Recreation Department baseball program. This is when we played “fast” pitch baseball with the other elementary schools in Highland Park. For some reason, Mr. Monroe, our gym teacher, made me the captain of the Midland One team. We didn’t have adult supervisors; so I had to figure the positions each person played and when they would bat. I was probably a lot like Charlie Brown except I preferred to play first base. This was a great opportunity to learn leadership skills at an early age.

When fifth grade was over, we had no graduation ceremony. The last day of school was simply the last day of school. My five years at Midland school was over. I entered the school not being able to read or do math. I didn’t understand any history when I entered the school and now I had an interest in history.  My writing skills were still far from perfect, but I could write complete sentences. I learned some grammar and phonics in the process as well. I still hadn’t learned to swim. That would happen later!

Those years at Midland School were good years. I am thankful for the teachers that dedicated themselves to teach me the many skills that I have today. I also treasure the friends that I made while there. Most of those friends left Highland Park by the time I would graduate from Highland Park High School in 1973.  Many of my classmates names and faces have been forgotten. My school photos of my friends have also disappeared.  However, many of my good memories of Midland School still remain!

P.S. Please visit my other blog at In this blog I look at various spiritual topics such as: “God’s Seven Medications for Pain”

Christmas Memories of Growing Up in Highland Park

Though I wrote this last year, the memories are still vivid! Thanks for subscribing to my blog. I am sorry that I haven’t written any new posts lately. I do hope to get started again soon. May each of you have a Blessed Christmas.

Growing Up in Highland Park, MI

“The helicopter is coming!”  This would be one of the greatest highlights of my young life.  Yes, I had sat on Santa’s lap at Hudson’s and Sears and Roebuck’s, but this would be special.  Santa was arriving at Ford Park in a helicopter.   The helicopter soon landed and there he was!  Santa  climbed out of the helicopter as gracefully as possible for a man of his girth.  He then gave a hearty “Ho Ho” and passed out candy to all of us children.  I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come.

Reflecting back upon my Christmas memories, takes me to a time where life was quite simple for me.  My parents helped make Christmas the special and joyous time of year that it was.  Here are several random memories of my Christmases as a child growing up in Highland Park.

Our Christmas season would begin on Thanksgiving.  Dad would make…

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A Detroit Lions Fan Growing Up in HP


I can only blame my Dad for my sickness of being a Detroit Lions fan. I have yet to find a cure for this illness. It all started on Thanksgiving Day at Tiger Stadium. Dad took me to watch the Detroit Lions play the Green Bay Packers. It was a glorious day. I was only seven years old, but I understood what was going on down on the field. The Lions were decimating the Green Bay Packers. The defense had sacked Bart Starr eleven times. The Lions eventually won the game 28-14.

Dad would never take me to another Lions game, but I was now hooked. There was only one football team for me, the Detroit Lions. Little did I know that I would follow this team for fifty years, yet never find the joy of having “my team” win the Super Bowl.

The Sixties and early Seventies were the years that I followed the Lions. It was a time when the Lions had such famous quarterbacks such as Milt Plum, Karl Sweetan, Bill Munson and several others that would soon be forgotten. The most memorable play by a Lions quarterback was when Greg Landry (the best quarterback for the Lions during this era)  ran a quarterback sneak for seventy-six yards against the Packers. Greg Landry would also disappoint me when the Lions lost their only playoff game in my growing up years. They lost by the unusual score of 5 to 0 against the Dallas Cowboys in 1970.

The Lions have always been a team without luck. One year, I remember the Detroit Lions drafted the All-American halfback from Notre Dame named Nick Eddy. In the preseason, he returned a punt for a touchdown. The future looked bright for Nick Eddy and the Lions, but the Lions bad luck came back to haunt them when Nick Eddy had knee troubles and he never lived up to his potential.

Of course, I can not list all the foibles in my experience with the Detroit Lions. I remember that one of their head coaches, Harry Gilmer, was a terrible coach. The fans said farewell to him after one miserable game with snowballs. It is good that the Lions no longer play in Tiger Stadium.  It would be hard to imagine how many other coaches or quarterbacks may have been victimize by angry fans with snowballs.

I remember one day the Detroit Lions were on the wrong part of history. They were playing an expansion team by the New Orleans Saints. Neither team was good, but the Lions were ahead; however the New Orleans Saints needed a sixty-three yard field goal to win. The kicker Tom Dempsey only had half a foot on his kicking leg. The commentators were almost laughing as he attempted the field goal. The rest is history. It was good. The Lions walked off the field in great humiliation.

The Lions also were part of a great tragedy. I was listening to Van Patrick broadcasting a Lions game when he spoke in a very hushed tone. Chuck Hughes, one of the Lions wide receivers was down on the field. This was different. It was as though Van Patrick couldn’t speak. He could only say this doesn’t look good. Yes, in front of all the fans at Tiger Stadium, Chuck Hughes had died as a result of heart problems. Here is a link to an eyewitness account of this tragedy:

Doctors and trainers attending to Chuck Hughes on the field at Tiger Stadium

Doctors and trainers attending to Chuck Hughes on the field at Tiger Stadium

Being a Lions fan meant that every year, I would have some hope that this year would be the year. The opening game of 1967 the Lions played the Green Bay Packers who had won the first Super Bowl the year before. The Lions had a rookie cornerback by the name of Lem Barney. He would intercept Bart Starr three times. The Lions ended up losing their lead at settled for a 17-17 tie. I thought to myself that this would be the year. Of course, it again ended in great disappointment.

Yes, the Lions had good players in my growing up years. There was Mel Farr who could run with the best of them. There was Charlie Sanders, the best tight end of his era. In the early Sixties, the Lions had a vaunted defense lead by the original Fearsome Foursome, as well as Joe Schmidt, Night Train Lane, and Yale Lary. In spite of these players and many other good players, there was never a championship.

I sometimes wish that Dad had cheered for another team (like Pittsburg), but I have yet to find a cure for this ailment of being a Detroit Lions fan. I will stay a Detroit Lions fan in spite of their follies, their near misses, their tragedies, and the Ford family as owners. I must admit that my disease of being a Lions fan I have passed on to my two sons. Perhaps, when they are old, the Lions may win their first championship. Of course, I can still hope that in my lifetime, the Detroit Lions will hold up their own Super Bowl trophy. Go Lions!!

P.S. Please check out my other blog in which I write about life from a Christian perspective. I have a five part series called: “Life in the Valley”.

Playing Highland Park Little League Football (1964-67)

The 1966 Highland Park Chargers Varsity Team-I was number 67,

The 1966 Highland Park Chargers Varsity Team-I was number 67,

Football season has arrived! Like many boys, I had the dream of one day playing football for the Detroit Lions. I had several gridiron heroes on the Detroit Lions, including Gail Cogdill, Yale Lary, and Pat Studstill.  I also enjoyed watching the original Fearsome Foursome who played for the Lions (Sam Williams, Alex Karras, Roger Brown and Darris McCord.)  The only Lions game I  ever attended was the 1962 Thanksgiving Day when the Fearsome Foursome sacked Bart Starr eleven times. This game is probably still the highlight of the last six decades of Lion futility.

My preparation to enter the NFL began when I was nine years old when my parents paid the four dollars to sign me up for the Highland Park Polar Cubs (later called Chargers). The Polar Cubs consisted of three different teams: Freshmen, Junior Varsity and Varsity. My team would be the Freshmen team.

After signing up, I went to the Ford Park locker room and had a physical. This was a brief two-minute check for a hernia and a heart murmur. After the physical, the practice uniforms were distributed. The uniform and padding seemed quite bulky on my skinny nine-year old frame, but if I was to enter the NFL I would have to suffer with this slight inconvenience.

Before practice began, my Dad had to go to Epps Sporting Goods and buy my football cleats. These were black high top canvas shoes with rubber cleats on the bottom. They seemed quite harmless, but I am glad that I never experienced having those cleats land upon my body. I also had to buy a tooth guard. I felt like a real pro with this in my mouth.

Now that I was equipped to play football, I would soon get into the routine of having practice every afternoon at 4:30 P.M. Happily, the practices were at Ford Field which was a very short walk from my house. I only had to cut through two backyards and there I was at practice.

Practice began with calisthenics. I had never done a jumping jack, or a sit up before. The worst part of the practice was the running. We had to run one time around the Ford Field track. Yes, it was only a quarter-mile, but it wasn’t easy for a skinny nine-year old with a ton of equipment on him.

Our Freshman coach was Mark Storen Jr. who was the mayor’s son. He seemed like a good coach and cared about each of his players. Unfortunately, I must not have impressed Coach Storen. One day, he had me throw a football several times to see if I was quarterback material. Unfortunately, I failed.  A matter of fact before the first game, I discovered that I was a second-string lineman. This meant that I only played one series of downs each half.

Once the season started, we played our home games at Ives Field. It was neat to go to other cities to play our away games. This was like the NFL. We played in places like Wyandotte, Garden City, and East Detroit. My parents were my best and probably only fans. They would take me to every game and encourage me in my fledgling football career.

As a player for the Highland Park Polar Cubs, we were required to sell twenty-four one pound boxes of Sanders Chocolates, which helped pay for our uniforms. The price was only a  dollar. I had never sold anything before. However, many family members bought some, and my Dad took some boxes to work to sell. I also hit up on some of my neighbors. One neighbor, Mr. Walker was always good for two boxes. In my last two years of Little League, we would sell a ten ounce box of Morley Chocolates, instead of the Sanders chocolates.

The next year, I would once again go through the same routine, except there was one major snag. When I went to get my physical, I failed. I don’t remember why, but I cried and cried. My NFL career would never materialize. However, Mom and Dad comforted me and took me to our doctor, Dr. Wreggit.  He gave me a clean bill of health, and I was back on the team!

Now, I was on the Junior Varsity team; however once again, I was a second-stringer. I always thought that I was a great football player. Why weren’t they seeing my talent as a wide receiver? Once again I was a lineman, who played sparingly.

One day, I was going up and down my street selling the Sanders chocolate.  I knocked on a door, and my Junior Varsity coach opened the door. He invited me in and I met his wife. The interesting thing was that he only lived in one room of the house with a very small kitchen. I came away from that experience feeling sorry for Coach Leo. He didn’t have much; yet he sacrificed his time to coach football.

The Highland Park Polar Cubs Junior Varsity Team-1965. I was number 51.

The Highland Park Polar Cubs Junior Varsity Team-1965. I was number 51.

My last two years of playing Little League Football were basically a repeat of the first two years. Yes, I was now on the Varsity team. Our uniforms were no longer blue with white trim, but they were maroon. We were no longer the Polar Cubs, but we were the Chargers.

For those two years, our team went undefeated. Mr. Dobson, Mr. Williams and Mr. Marone were our coaches. Mr.Dobson was a great head coach even though he never recognized my ability either. He placed me in the safety of the second-string team where I couldn’t do any damage to the team.

The 1966 Undefeated Highland Park Chargers Varsity Team as featured in the MIchigan Chronicle (with practice uniforms)

The 1966 Undefeated Highland Park Chargers Varsity Team as featured in the Michigan Chronicle (with practice uniforms)

One highlight of all four years of playing Little League football was the year-end banquet. This was when we each received a trophy for playing on the team. The most exciting part of this banquet was that a Detroit Lion football player would attend. One year, I remember having Ernie Clark sign an autograph for me!

Were the four years of practice and playing a little of each game worth it? Yes, I have no regrets about those years. I enjoyed the practices every afternoon. I also remember a couple of games where I actually made a tackle. Also, playing football gave me some discipline in my life. I also learned that I needed to think about another profession. It didn’t look like the NFL was in my future. However, I did learn to something about salesmanship by selling those boxes of chocolates each year.

As I look back upon those four years of football, I never thought about the sacrifice of all of my coaches. They didn’t get paid to coach us, but they gave all of their energy and concern to help us learn to play the game of football. I am sure most of my coaches are no longer with us, but if any Little League football coach reads this, please accept a great big “thank you” from me,

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Olivet College, Here I Come! (Leaving Highland Park)

Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan

Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan

Today, I rode my bicycle to Olivet College, my alma mater. As I rode through the small campus, I noticed a great amount activity. The students were returning to school. There were parents leaving their students and helping them get organized. As I was observing all this, the thought popped into my head: “This was what I was doing forty years ago!” Soon, the memories started to flow through my mind as I rode the twelve miles back to Charlotte, Michigan.

During my senior year at Highland Park High School, I was trying to decide where I should go to college. I had taken several courses at Highland Park Community College; so I would begin my college experience as a sophomore. After looking at various schools, I chose Olivet College because I really liked its small campus and small town atmosphere. Also, Olivet College was affiliated with the church that I attended which was the Highland Park Congregational Church.

Leaving home would not be easy. I had only been away from family and home for a few days during eighth grade camp at Camp Rankin. I would miss my Mom’s cooking and all the other things that she did to spoil me, including making my bed, and taking care of all of my clothes. Also, I would be leaving all that I had known for the first eighteen years of my life, including friends, the many bike rides through the Detroit Metro area, playing tennis at Ford Park and many other activities.  My life would be changed forever.

The day finally came when Dad would take me on the two-hour trip to Olivet College. We arrived on campus and soon found our way to the third floor of Blair Hall. As I walked into my room, I was surprised by its smallness and great simplicity. The walls were yellow. There was a single bed, a desk and chair, a dresser and a small closet. The heat would come out of an old radiator by the window. This would be home. I had a single room which was nice, but it also made life a bit lonely.

Dad looked at my room and didn’t say much, but I could tell he wasn’t real pleased.  Dad being in his late sixties was a real trooper in helping me bring up all my belongings to the third floor. After we were almost done, my Dad went to the restroom. Upon his return, he seemed quite upset. He told me in an angry tone: “The stalls don’t have any doors on them!.” This fact caused him to lodge a protest with the dorm supervisor, but nothing ever changed during the time that I was at Olivet.

Blair Hall in 2012

Blair Hall in 2012

When Dad left, I was there alone in my small room. I didn’t know a soul at the school. This would be a challenge for me because I wasn’t the most outgoing person in the world.

The school provided us with orientation activities where we would learn about the school, spend an evening with a community family, and play games to help us to get acquainted with one another. My group leader was “Big John”. He had come to school as a football player, but an injury would sideline him.  I didn’t know then, but “Big John” would have a great influence upon my life, even to the point that the following year, he would take me to the very church of which I am now the pastor.

I would soon face many adjustments. One adjustment would be the food. Breakfast was okay because I was quite happy with breakfast cereal and juice. Lunch and dinner were quite challenging. I had to eat food that my mom would never serve us. The food was so bad that the following year, the college had to hire a new food service.

Another great adjustment was my clothes. I would soon learn how to wash my own clothes. I must have walked around with wrinkled clothes because I don’t remember ever doing any ironing.

Of course, dorm life was quite different.  I soon noticed an unfamiliar smell from a room a couple of doors down. It smelled like burnt rubber. I must have been a bit a slow about this because I had never taken drugs, but I soon came to realize that my neighbors were smoking pot.

Another adjustment would be the noise level. I still remember somebody practicing with his electric guitar on full volume almost every day. The main problem was that he  played the same notes over and over again. I can still remember the notes that he played each day. There were stereos blasting away into the night. Sleep sometimes was difficult to find.

When the school year finally started, I soon made some friends. I also became involved with a group called Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. We would meet every Tuesday night. We would sing, share and hear a Bible message. Everything was vague to me. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Christian at the time; however, it was a great place to meet other students.

The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship 1973-74

The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship 1973-74

As I started my classes, I found myself in a class called Intellectual Traditions. This class was a six-hour class that would cover four semesters. The goal of this class was to study the “Great Books of the Western World”.  My teacher for this class was William Buchanan. He looked the part of a teacher for this class. His longish beard and thick glasses hid the quick mind that he possessed. Mr. Buchanan would guide us in discussions of the “Great Books of the Western World.” The reading for the course was immense. One Christmas break, he made us read War and Peace. Mr. Buchanan had a great knack of helping his students to think deeply about what they were reading. His questions for our class discussions were sometimes vague, but they were always challenging. He would have some classes at his house and he even invited us to his cottage on Lake Michigan for a weekend. Mr. Buchanan would help me to learn to think for myself though I am sure there were times he disagreed with me.

Mr. Buchanan is the teacher in the center.

Mr. Buchanan is the teacher in the center.

When my Dad left me that day forty years ago, I realized that my growing up days in Highland Park were nearly finished.  Yes, I would return home for a couple of summers, but life would never be the same. Highland Park was now in my past. My future was ahead of me. My two years at Olivet College would be life-changing in many ways.

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