Yesterday's Magazette

13 – Memorable Moments

The 1960 La Grande High School “Tigers” basketball team after clinching a state tournament spot. (L-R) Dale Peterson, #52 Gary Voruz, #32 Bob Robeson (the author), Ken Hildebrandt, Buck Corey, #24 Buddy Hilliard, #44 Ron Coleman, Ray Westenskow, #34 Dave Carman, #14 Steve Smith, Jim Hilliard, #50 Rod Chandler and coach Jack Rainey. (Photo courtesy of Robert B. Robeson)

Memorable Moments

By Robert B. Robeson


I enjoy watching today’s teenage world-beaters in their Air Jordans and fancy jerseys competing for gold and glory in state high school basketball tournaments around this nation. I still get a thrill observing these kids compete in everything from massive sports arenas with TV coverage to cracker box gyms in small town America, with only peers and parents watching.

Some of my fondest memories were shared with 11 other guys who earned a trip to the Oregon State High School Basketball Tournament in Eugene in 1960. That year we were 20-2 (tied for the best regular-season record of the 16 teams in Class A competition). To me, the experiences of that season were as rare as a live armadillo on a Texas highway.

In 1960, La Grande had a population of barely 9,000. La Grande High School had a student body of 450. This figure did not include our ubiquitous and energizing tiger mascot. Our tallest player was only 6-foot-3.

Giving our team a basketball, lighting and heating the gymnasium on cold December and January evenings and providing loyal fans–that included a pep band playing “Tiger Rag”–was a little like heaving Bre’r Rabbit into a briar patch. We believed that our basketball sanctuary was sacred ground. And we never allowed an opponent to disrespect it by outscoring us. Beating us on our home court that year was about as likely as running into a Spanish matador at our local Dairy Queen. It was akin to Valentino’s losing its recipe for pizza. Ain’t gonna happen, friend.

I’m at an age when I’m quick to say, “I remember when,” even when nobody is listening. Yet I still savor those hallmark hardwood happenings like dessert from a five-star restaurant. It was a part of American history you won’t find in history books–only in youthful memories of a select group of today’s senior citizens. Those times of sock hops, soda fountains and Russia’s Lunik I and II artificial satellites are as outdated to the young of today as rumble seats and speakeasies were for my generation. All of these “moments to remember” still echo in my mind like the song with the same name from that era.

Some of the teams we played, in those intense high school moments, were bigger and even thought they were better than we were. Only they never made us believe it.

Jack Rainey, our coach and an old Marine, always emphasized that you never know what you might accomplish if you don’t try. This simple act of “trying” shifts your brain into gear and you often get better in spite of yourself. He had a determined mindset that season to tame and train his young “tigers,” rather than taking the easy route and painting stripes on a bunch of kitty cats.

He used to coax us in practice each day with the same gentle tone an infantry drill instructor suggests to a new recruit that he should really “drop” and pump out twenty pushups. We’d rather have breakfasted on road-killed skunk than have been the target of his tart tongue. If you weren’t putting out, he could make you feel like you’d just gotten an F in study hall. He later became assistant athletic director at Oregon State University.

Sometimes, when Coach Rainey wasn’t around, we’d plug the drains in our large shower room until the water was 3-4 inches deep. Then we’d body-surf our bare bones from one end to the other. It was a bit like skinny-dipping in a river or pond in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.

Equipped with little more than drive, determination and dreams, we vacuumed-up the competition from one end of Oregon to the other. Coach made us believe we had a special destiny that year. And, as usual, he was right.

Though my hair is now follically-challenged and I’ve entered the bifocal set, I can still perceive the distinct “aroma” of wintergreen liniment, Tough Skin and a locker room filled with sweaty bodies during halftime performance critiques. These were special times I’ll always carry with me.

We learned not to let the world limit or dictate to us what we could accomplish in life. We proved the “experts” and prognosticators wrong. We kept our dreams alive and never gave up.

Of the 12 young men on that 1960 team, three later earned Ph.D.s and became school principals or administrators. Three became military officers (two of which are now retired colonels who served in combat during the Vietnam War). At least another two earned master’s degrees. A number of the others graduated from a college/university or completed significant undergraduate study. And Rod Chandler was elected a Republican Congressman from the state of Washington. I’ve lost track of the rest and am unaware of what they accomplished in life. But it was probably significant.

As far as Rod is concerned, if you ever run across him say “Hi, Bubbles.” That was his nickname. But do yourself a favor. Don’t ask him how he got it.

To illustrate how we looked out for each other, I want to highlight how Rod went out of his way to assist me in discovering my destiny. It proves how one act of selfless intervention can change the course of a teammate’s life.

Since 1960 was during the military draft era, a few of our squad had already joined our local Oregon Army National Guard infantry unit. Rod was one of them. One day, before our high school graduation, he came by my house to invite me to a Monday night Guard drill so I could see what they had to offer. He mentioned the pay, going to six months of basic training with a group of friends (instead of alone) and not having to face a draft board. After basic, I could return to La Grande and attend Eastern Oregon College in town and fulfill my military obligation without leaving home.

It was much later when someone revealed that Rod had received a $5 bounty from the unit for recruiting me. A few years ago, he called me to touch base again after leaving Washington, D.C. I thanked him for introducing me to the military and for the fact I’d been able to make it a 27-year career–retiring as a lieutenant colonel after serving on three continents as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot. I also informed him that I’d found out about the bounty. There was a brief moment of silence. Then he admitted that he “couldn’t remember” recruiting me or receiving that money. My next comment was that becoming a politician had probably been the perfect occupation for him. Rod really had done me a favor and it’s something I haven’t forgotten.

A person can never go back to the past but you won’t forget most of it either. That’s why God gave us memory, so we could have roses in winter and fond recollections of youthful days when we finally enter that crotchety, old geezer stage of life.

The newspaper clippings from that year are now as yellow as homecoming mums. I still have the team pass and programs from those games and that state basketball tournament. Whenever I leaf through the pages, it’s Friday and Saturday night again and I can hear “Tiger Rag” blaring in the background…making my adrenaline pump and goose bumps appear like they did then.

On a shelf in my home office are two 8×10 pictures in ornate sports frames. One is a color photo of our 1960 team, after the Redmond game win on our home court, when we qualified for the state tournament. The other is a black and white photo. It shows my father’s 1929 Grand Meadow, Iowa High School basketball team. He never made it to state, but he was still able to share a part of this experience with his second son. Born in 1911, he became a Protestant minister and passed on in 2002.

One of the things we both learned during those years of athletic competition was that friends and teammates–regardless of race, religion or relative social class–are truly important in life. We were taught that the only place success comes before work is in a dictionary. We also discovered the value and importance of dedication, discipline, determination and teamwork as teenagers.

Memories are not only vehicles to self-understanding, but also ways to reminisce and appreciate the life we have led. The glory days during that 1960 basketball season are now a solitary gleaming jewel to me, whose brilliance is undimmed by five decades of both radiant and rocky times. It was Camelot and we were King Arthur’s knights…for a brief duration.

You get only so many memorable moments in life. Those basketball games, in the land and lair of a host of tenacious “tigers,” were a few of mine that I’ll always remember.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert B. Robeson flew 987 combat medical evacuation missions in South Vietnam (1969-1970), evacuating 2,533 patients from both sides of the action. He had seven helicopters shot up by enemy fire and was twice shot down.

He has published more than 725 articles and short stories in 250 publications, which include the Reader’s Digest, Positive Living, Official Karate, Vietnam Combat and Newsday.  His articles and short stories have gained a readership of millions in 130 countries. He’s also a professional (life) member of the National Writers Association and the Military Writers Society of America.

Vol. 37 No. 2 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Summer- 2010

1 Comment »

  1. Hey Bob,
    My name is Dennis McPhetridge and I was in the LaGrande congragation that your Dad,BB Robeson gave
    His many wonderful teachings about our saviour and the blessed holy word.
    He retired in 78 ,I believe, and move to Lebenon. I lost track of his activities after his and your mom’s move, but let me tell you one thing they both left a good impression on me and although I no longer believe the new testement no one has ever taught me more about our G-D and His word than your Dad.
    I have had Brother Robeson and Sister Robeson on my mind quite often over the 30 or more years since LaGrande.
    My Mom died in 76 and Dad who was also born in 11 died in 79 from heart failure and cancer respectively.

    Sincerly,
    Den

    Ps my grammar is not the best even though Mr. Christianson was my english teacher as well.

    Comment by Dennis McPhetridge — February 12, 2012 @ 8:40 pm | Reply


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