Posted by SwampyMeadows, Features Contributor,
Saturday, May 13 2006
BEVERLY HILLS (MI) –- “From The Swamp” had its humble beginnings with a post I sent to the MB at the old FlyerHoops.com back in April of 2000. In the email, I outlined my all-time favorite group of UD recruits, the Class of 1974 featuring Donald Smith, Mike Sylvester, John von Lehman, Jack Kill, Pat Lyons and the immortal Joe Colardarci. Editor Greg Bilotta chose it as “The Post with the Most” and featured it on the FlyerHoops.com home page. A month later I was nominated for the “FlyerHoops.com Hall of Fame” and shortly thereafter the initial FTS appeared on the site, on the subject of the “All-Time Dayton Near-Miss Team” –- featuring guys like Wilt, Bernard King, Juwan Howard and Dwight Anderson who woulda, coulda, shoulda been Flyers.
But FTS actually started way before that.
It had it’s genesis in Herbert Martin’s Creative Writing course that I took my senior year at UD. Herbert is an absolute prince of a man and thanks to him, I developed a serious passion for writing that I had never displayed before in my previous 20 years on the planet. At the end of the semester, Herbert asked me “Do you think you’ll continue writing?” When I answered in the affirmative, he responded bluntly “No, you won’t.” That comment really stung me, but the realization over the next 10 years that he was absolutely correct hurt even more.
It wasn’t until the December morning in 1981, when I discovered that I was going to be a father for the first time, that I found the muse to re-fire my passion for the pen. I decided that I would write a journal to my unborn child and fill it with stories of my life, my wife, our families, our dreams and anything else I could think of. I added a couple of kickers to make it interesting: I wouldn’t tell Peggy I was writing it and I would not present it to my son or daughter until his or her 16th birthday. That would afford me the opportunity to update it annually from 1982 until I finally put a bow on it in August of 1998. I don’t know who was more surprised, my wife when she read it in her room at Beaumont Hospital or Cristen on her 16th birthday. While writing the journal made me feel really good, my wife’s subsequent reminder that I hadn’t written a similar diary for our second-born gnawed at me like Herbert Martin’s statement had years before.
Okay, that’s how I started writing…where the heck did “From The Swamp” come from?
When I transferred to Detroit from Pittsburgh in late April of 1981, one of the first things I noticed was that nobody played basketball outside in the suburbs. My office was at 10 ½ Mile and Greenfield, so one day at lunch time I drove south towards Detroit in search of a playground with real live people playing hoops on it. I found it south of 7 Mile in northwest Detroit at a place called Peterson Park. For the next 4 years, I would get the basketball education of a lifetime on those 4 asphalt slabs.
My teacher was a dude named Sed, altho ‘SED’ were his initials not his name, but that’s what everyone called him. Sed was a small time drug dealer and fulltime hoops player who worked out of Peterson Park. He dealt mostly in grass and would oftentimes halt a game to conduct business. Sed was a ferocious competitor and I never once beat him in a game of one-on-one. Not once. Not ever. Sed was a lean leaper with a killer turnaround jumper and when he hit a basket he would yell out “whop” like most guys call “swish.” Sed beat me so badly sometimes that it almost sounded like a helicopter landing -- “whop”…“whop”…”whop.” But I learned how to play defense while trying to cover Sed, as well as how to shoot with a guy draped all over me.
Sed was a really interesting character. He had a small trailer on a lake in upstate Michigan (or “Up North” as we call it here) and the thought of Sed the drug dealer sitting around a campfire up there toasting marshmallows always amused me. Peterson Park was full of intriguing personalities. Tommy Hearns’ brother Billy showed up one day. Sed said “Oh sh*t, Billy Hearns…what an a**hole” and he was right. The way that Tommy’s little brother acted you would have thought he was the champ. Football players Ronnie Woolfork (Colorado) and Bernard Hall (Oklahoma) hooped there when they were still in HS and both were impressive physical specimens. One day I played one-on-one with a guy with a very familiar looking jump shot. After we finished, I said to him “your jumper reminds me of Johnny Davis.” My opponent replied “he’s my brother.”
I would go to Peterson Park at lunch time in the summer and if it was warm there would always be guys there to play with or against. I would quickly change into my hoop garb in my car, play for 45 minutes to an hour, towel myself off and change back into my work clothes and buzz back to my job.
However, it was on the weekends that Peterson really came to life. On a warm summer day, all 4 slabs would be jammed with guys playing or just hanging out watching from the sidelines. I became a regular at PP and the guys started to remember me. They would call me “Larry Bird” which was fine with me or “Steve Mix” who had a hot hand in the NBA Playoffs at that time. One day in the middle of a game when I was shooting particularly well, one of the guys on the other team turned to his teammates and said “who’s covering the white [n-word!]?” That’s when I knew that I belonged…I was one of the fellas.
I stopped going to Peterson Park after Caitlin was born. It started getting a little sketchy around there and when even Sed stopped showing up, I knew it was time to find another place to hoop. Several years later when I was working for CNN I drove by on my way downtown and was totally dismayed at what I saw -– Peterson Park was a shambles, with all 4 slabs cracked and heaved and every one of the backboards and rims either bent or missing. It was desolate and deserted, not to mention unplayable.
It was at this time that we acquired our very first PC. I recalled Herbert Martin’s pointed comment and even tho I had written the journal for Cristen, that had been penned ten years before. I sat down and wrote my memories of Peterson Park, of Sed and the other guys I played with there. It ended with my disappointing drive past the remains of Peterson Park. While I was pleased that I had written something that I was proud of, the question now was: what do I do with it? I had no outlet with which to share my little story. Unfortunately, it sat there, saved in Microsoft Word on the PC’s hard drive and when we upgraded to a faster computer and donated the old one, the story of Peterson Park went with it.
FlyerHoops.com and now UD Pride have afforded yours truly with the opportunity to write on a regular basis. While my subject matter is not always about UD Hoops, I really appreciate the opportunity and the outlet that you guys provide.
A couple of follow-ups:
-- What got me thinking about all of the above was a recent drive down Greenfield Road, just south of 7 Mile. What I saw was truly amazing: Peterson Park had been magically transformed since I saw it last. There was a baseball diamond, a football field, a playground with all brand-new equipment and, best of all, two state of the art full-court basketball slabs. It makes me smile every time I think about it.
-- I’m still hoopin’ but now it’s at Groves HS down the street. I’m as easy to spot there as I was at Peterson Park -- the only gray haired white guy out there. No one has called me a “white [n-word]” in a long time. They refer to me as “Old School.”
-- I finally made up for the lack of a journal to Caitlin. Unbeknownst to her, I wrote a season-long diary of her final HS softball season entitled “The Season” and presented it to her when she graduated.
Herbert Martin would be pleased.
That’s it “From the Swamp.”