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,

P.S. Please visit my other blog which looks at our spiritual life and issues from a spiritual perspective.  I have articles as “A Prison of Mine Own Making: Am I a People-Pleaser? The address is: http://www.markjemilbooth.com

 

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Highland Park: City of Trees

As a baby, on Candler Ave.  Notice the trees in the background

As a baby, on Candler Ave. Notice the trees in the background

While growing up, when people entered Highland Park, they would see a sign: “Highland Park: City of Trees”.  Trees lined every residential street of our city. When a person would walk or drive down a street, they would find themselves in the middle of a tunnel of trees.

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Growing up in Highland Park, I always took our tree-lined streets for granted. The elm tree in front of our house was the smallest on our street.  I would look at our skimpy tree and think: “Why do we have the smallest tree on the street?”

The trees in Highland Park not only provided beauty, but they also provided shade from the hot summer sun. Our house never had air-conditioning; so the shade from the trees gave us some welcome relief from the sun.  The trees also played an important part in our games of hide n seek.  We would use the neighbor’s tree as the place where we counted to ten before we would search for our friends. The trees along the street also provided a great place to hide.

Our backyard also had two trees. One tree was a large maple tree.  This tree provided a great amount of shade for us and our neighbors.  The spot under this tree provided a great place to do battle with plastic soldiers.  We also made small roads in the dirt for our small toy cars and trucks.  The one negative of our maple tree was the amount of leaves we would have to rake in the fall.

One day, we had a terrible storm. The thunder and lightning were frightening. As the storm progressed, we heard a loud bang just outside of our house. What had happened? We looked out our back window and we saw that lightning had struck our maple tree. One very large branch had fallen into our backyard.  Thankfully, it didn’t hit our house. This would be the end of our beautiful maple tree. Dad would have the tree taken down. This tree would be greatly missed.

The other tree in our backyard was a cherry tree. I hated this tree. Yes, the tree would have beautiful white blossoms in the spring, but that was its only redeeming value. We never ate the cherries from the tree because Dad never treated it for pests. The cherries would be filled with worms and eventually they would fall on the ground. I hated mowing the grass because I would constantly squash these cherries with my shoes. I always wanted to see this tree die, but it was still there when we left our house in 1976.

Trees also graced the front of Ford Park. This area was a great place to find shade and relax and read a book. I had one favorite tree just outside the entrance gate of the tennis courts.  This tree was quite young and small, but it provided enough shade for me to lie down and look up into the clouds when I took a break from playing tennis.  Under this tree was my daydreaming spot.  I would daydream about my future, about family vacations, about why I was here on the earth, and many other matters.

Another tree that played an important role in my life was the large, lonely tree in the midst of Ford Field. This was a place where we would play our pickup baseball games. It was great to be the batting team, because we would always find shade under this mighty tree.

Towards the end or our time in Highland Park, our trees started to disappear as result of Dutch Elm disease.  When I return to visit Candler Avenue today, it looks totally desolate.  Yes, many of the houses are gone, but the trees are also gone.

Today, I am thankful that I had the privilege of growing up in a community which had the foresight to plant trees along every residential street as the city developed. Yes, in my memories Highland Park is still the “City of Trees.”

P.S. Please visit my other blog where I write upon spiritual subjects such as: “God’s Waiting Room” ” When there is No One Else: Confiding in God” Here is the link:
http://www.markjemilbooth.com

The Tree Diamond (Playing Baseball without Adult Interference)

Green field and a lonely tree

Imagine a time when kids played baseball without uniforms, without schedules, without the pressure of having to win, and without adults “helping” them play better. It has been a long time, since I have seen children play a game of baseball on their own. Please join me for a trip back to the 1960s, when as a child, I actually played baseball games without an adult in sight.

Back in the mid-sixties, before the Highland Park Community High School was built on Woodward Avenue, there was a place called Ford Park where children played on the playground equipment. Families had picnics. Older adults played shuffleboard, and people played tennis at the tennis courts. There was also pavilion to warm up after ice skating on the manmade skating rink east of the pavilion.

Going east from the pavilion was a large field that went all the way to Oakland Avenue.  This field had a quarter-mile running track. Beyond the track was a regulation size   baseball diamond, and three softball diamonds. This field was also the place where the Highland Park Little League football team, the Chargers, practiced.

Near Oakland Avenue, in the middle of Ford Field, one lonely, large tree stood tall, as to say: “I am alone, but I will not surrender my strength to anything.”  This tree would provide us a place of shade and our own homemade baseball diamond. There were dirt spots about equal distant from one another that made up the bases for our games. The largest dirt spot was our home plate.

Playing baseball at the “tree diamond” was a summer ritual for many of us children who lived in the northeast side of Highland Park. We never had an organized time to play, but when there were six to eight of us looking for something to do, we would get our mitts, bats and a ball and head over to our Tree Diamond.

There were several rituals that we had when we played our games.  First, we had to choose teams. We did this by having two of us become captains. To decide who would choose first, one of the captains would toss a bat to the other captain. He would catch it with one hand. Then the first captain would place his hand above the other captain’s hand on the bat.  The two captains would continue this ritual until there was no more bat to hold. The one whose hand was the highest on the bat could choose first.

We played the game with a hard ball, but we only lobbed the pitch over the “plate”.  There were no balls or called strikes. A person could only strike out if he missed the ball three times. This could make for some long at bats.

If we had only three or four people per team, we would only play half the field. The batter would have to call out if he was going to hit to right or left field.  If he hit the ball to the wrong field, he was out.  Also, with only a few players, the “pitching mound” would be first base.  When a ground ball was hit, the fielder could throw the runner out by throwing to the pitcher because there was no first baseman.

Another problem we would often confront was that we didn’t have enough baserunners.  Our solution was quite simple. We had invisible runners. The invisible runner would advance as far as the runner behind him advanced.

Our “tree diamond” was not a perfect place to place. In the middle of our left field was a white pole that was the right field foul marker for the regulation baseball diamond. This obstacle was always to be watched when chasing a fly ball.  On one occasion, I had forgotten about the pole while chasing a fly ball. The pole came out of nowhere and down I went as the side of my head and the pole had a meeting.  I came out the worse for it.

Another problem with our “tree diamond” was an old barbed wire fence that divided the Ford Field road and the Ford Motor Company property. The road was our home run marker for left field, but the ball occasionally would roll under this barbed wire fence.  One day, I decided to climb this fence to fetch a baseball, instead of going all the way to Oakland Ave and go around the fence.  As I tumbled over the fence, I ripped a nice two or three-inch section of my wrist.  I still have a nice scar to remind me of those days at the tree diamond.

The nicest thing about playing at the “tree diamond” was that we were kids playing baseball the way we enjoyed playing the game. We didn’t have adults interfering. It was our time to play as kids. There was no real pressure. There were no awards, There was no keeping track of how many wins we had.

As I reflect back to those great times of playing baseball together with my friends, I feel  for children today, who never seem to have time to go out in a field somewhere and play a good game of baseball without having adults interfering. Are we making our children grow up too fast?

P.S. Please visit my other blog: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I have several posts of a spiritual nature, such as “Clinging to God”, and “God’s Waiting Room”.

My Fourth Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School

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

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

How did I lose a whole year of my school life?  Out of all my years of schooling, my fourth grade experience is probably the one with the least memories. Perhaps, my fourth grade memories were erased by my first year of swim class (See my post: Facing My Greatest Fear: Swim Class). I would go to school every Tuesday with a great dread of the afternoon trip to the Liberty School swimming pool. Such a bad memory probably clouded many of the good experiences in fourth grade.

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Jung. I don’t remember a lot about Mrs. Jung except that she was middle-aged, and she wore glasses.  I also remember that Mrs. Jung was the most lenient teacher I had at Midland Elementary School. She allowed the class to have an abnormal amount of freedom. An example of this freedom was that she allowed us to place our desks in groups of four. Two desks would face two other desks. I don’t remember the point of this exercise, but looking back I could see that it was problematic.  Can you imagine the mischief we were able to do in such a setting? I don’t remember if this was a typical situation or a temporary experiment.

Speaking of desks, I had a full desk which had a top that lifted up. Inside the desk was where we were to place our books, folders and other essential educational materials. I often had a problem with my desk.  My top wouldn’t close!  This wasn’t because of a defect in my desk, but a big defect in my neatness.  I think I had the second messiest desk in the class. The person with the messiest desk will remain unnamed.

One of the highlights of fourth grade wasn’t in the school, but after school.  Fourth grade would be the first year that I participated in Highland Park Little League football.  I was on the Freshmen team. The practices were at 4:30 P.M. each night at Ford Field. This was great for me because I could walk to practice from my house on Candler Ave. Yes, I would have to cut through two yards to get there, but this was never problem in our neighborhood.

Being part of Little League football was my first experience in organized athletics.  Our coach was the Mayor’s son, Mark Storen Jr.  I guess I didn’t become a star because I was on the blue team, which was a nice way of saying the second string team. We played one set of downs each half and I played offensive guard.

One other memory that still sticks in my mind was the Christmas gift exchange for our class. I had bought a rather expensive gift to exchange. It was a plastic bowling set that cost almost two dollars. I was excited when I received my gift in a large Hudson’s box.  What could be in such a large box?  I opened the box and found a twenty-five cent rubber baseball. I felt quite disappointed. This showed that I had a long way to go in learning the joy of giving.

The rest of my fourth grade experience is quite a blur.  Yes, we had the usual recess.  The visits to the library. The same lunch that I always brought to school. The same walk home from school going through the dreaded Second Avenue tunnel.

I am sure that Mrs. Jung was a fine teacher and she taught me many important things, however, I don’t remember anything in particular that I learned in class.  I  am thankful that she did care for her students.  I am also thankful that I survived swim class!

Thanksgiving: Memories of being Raised in Highland Park, MI

Candler Ave. Between Brush and Oakland

The Bible says “In everything give thanks”. As I reflect upon growing up in Highland Park, almost all of my memories were positive memories.  Yes, there were the couple of times, I was attacked at school and once in walking home from HPHS.  Yes, there were some parental disagreements that I didn’t enjoy hearing.  Yes, there was the death of my grandma.  However, when I look at the whole picture, I thank God that He gave me the family that He did as well as giving me the opportunity of growing up in Highland Park.  Since reconnecting with several Highland Parkers via Facebook, I have thought more of my past. This has helped me to see the sovereign hand of God in my life even when I didn’t know Him as I was growing up.  Here is a list of things for which I am thankful concerning my life growing up in Highland Park.  I am thankful for:

1. A loving family who always provided for my needs.

2. The many friends that I had growing up

3. The schools that I attended and the teachers that taught me

4. The opportunity to attend Highland Park Community College while in high school so that I could finish college early.

5. The alley beyond my house where I spent untold hours playing with my friends.

6. Ford Park where I would spend hours each day during the summer.

7. The tennis courts at Ford Park where I learned to play tennis

8. The bike rides I could take around the Detroit area because HP was centrally located.

9. The opportunity to go to all the stores on Woodward Avenue

10. Little League football (I enjoyed the four years that I participated)

11. The Highland Park Recreation Department fast pitch baseball leagues for young people.

12. My first experience with fast food at the Red Barn.

13. The opportunity to interact with people who were from different backgrounds.

14. The many field trips that we took while at school.

15. The lessons that I learned about myself

16. The desire that God put in me to read His Word all the way through (at 16) though I didn’t yet know Him as my Savior.

17. A little church called Coltman Memorial Baptist Church (Located on Hamilton near Puritan in a building which was a funeral home) which I attended after I was saved (19 years old) and where my Mom accepted the Lord and was baptized.

18. The great times I had with my involvement in the National Honor Society at HPHS.

19. The opportunity to play on the tennis team at HPHS.

20. The Victor Bakery and the fresh-baked french bread.

21. Red Hots, which was a great place to eat a Coney.

22. McGregor Library (especially the stereo scopes)

23. The impromptu baseball games we would play under the big tree at Ford Field.

24. The tree-lined streets that were like a tunnel of trees.

25. Eighth Grade camp at Camp Rankin.

26. The friends with whom I have I reconnected on Facebook as well as new friends that I have made from HP via FB.

I could continue to list more.  Yes, I have several regrets from my years in Highland Park.  There are things that I wish I had done, and there are things that I wish that I had never done.  I thank God for His mercy and forgiveness and that my sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. I thank God that I can be called an Highland Parker and for all of His blessings of my childhood and teen years in Highland Park.