Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Relics of My GDS Basketball Career

About six months ago, my GDS classmate Parks Neisler (1975) stopped by my office to give me a photograph of our 1974-1975 Boys Varsity Basketball Team. What a flood of memories that picture brought back to me! There we were: ten teammates and Coach Ronnie Digh, youthful and proud in our basketball uniforms on the steps of what was then known as the Multi-Purpose Room ( a name that seems so quintessentially 1970s) and now is the Commons. I often see Lower School students standing in the same spot at assembly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

We were arguably the second best independent school boys basketball team in the state that year. Coach Digh kneels in the photograph just behind our Charlotte Independent School Athletic Association Regular Season and Conference Tournament Champion Trophies. As I recall, we had a record of just under twenty wins and slightly more than five losses. In those days, we played far fewer games. Two of our losses that season were to Oak Ridge Academy in Greensboro: Once in a close game in their gym and once by two points in the first round of the state playoffs in our gym here (now the George F. Henry Library). Oak Ridge cruised through the rest of the state playoffs to become state champions. I am embarrassed to admit that, after 35 years, I still wonder why the ceding committee paired two of the best teams in the state in the first round--time to let that go, isn't it!

We joined a brand new conference that year: the Charlotte Independent School Athletic Association (CISAA) and were its inaugural boys basketball champions. Member schools included Carmel Academy, Charlotte Country Day, Charlotte Christian, Charlotte Latin, Gaston Day, Providence Day, and Valleydale. I am 53 years old now, but I still remember the incredibly satisfying feeling of going into the gyms at Charlotte Country Day, Latin and Providence Day and knowing that we were going to clobber them! The CISAA exists today with Charlotte Country Day, Charlotte Latin, Charlotte Christian, and Providence Day still members, but Gaston Day School's enrollment is not large enough for us to belong. Still, there is pride in knowing we were champions of that conference in its first season.

With one or two sad exceptions, my teammates have gone on to very successful lives. Andy Warlick, President and CEO of Parkdale Mills, was our 6'4" starting point guard. Dolph Sumner, a prominent Gastonia attorney, was a key substitute. David Lawing, a local banker, was our center. Parks Neisler, who helps run his family's textile manufacturing firm, was a shooting guard. When Parks gave me the picture, I hung it in my office--proof positive to my current students that I really was young once and I really am a true blue Spartan.

Last Friday I was walking back from lunch in the dining hall and decided to inspect work in one of the storage rooms next to Lisa Olson's art classroom. We are clearing out that space for future use. In the corner was a heap of perhaps thirty old Gaston Day athletic trophies. Old trophies quckly lose their value as they are replaced by newer ones. Only truly remarkable trophies, like state championships, find their way into the Trophy Case of the Jim Henry Center. The heap of old trophies in question was in a puddle of water in the corner of this storage room. I couldn't resist them and walked over and reached into the pile and pulled one out. Lo and behold, I held our 1974-1975 Regular Season CISAA Boy Basketball Conference Championship Trophy in my hand! The base of the tropy had been sitting in the water and was rotten.

I brought the trophy back to my office and, yes, it was the same as one of the two trophies in the team picture. In that moment, a weird mood swept over me as I began to wonder how such pieces of my past as the team picture and the trophy could possibly have survived and come back to me. It was another reminder of how fortunate I am to be head of school at my alma mater, where I am not only surrounded by exciting daily challenges, but also important memories and even artifacts of my past.

The trophy was beyond repair. I took the engraved plate off the base and glued it to the top of the team picture. I invite you to come see it in my office if you like. Hopefully, things are happening to our students that will make just as much of a lasting impression. Gaston Day is a place that sticks with you.