WOSTER: Farmyard wasn’t quite like a track, but it served its purposeI spent some time recently reflecting on the backboard and hoop I made and fastened to the REA pole at the edge of our farmyard, an uneven, rutted patch of rock-hard earth that sloped away from the pole and made the hoop an official 10 feet above the ground only in a tiny area directly below the basket.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I spent some time recently reflecting on the backboard and hoop I made and fastened to the REA pole at the edge of our farmyard, an uneven, rutted patch of rock-hard earth that sloped away from the pole and made the hoop an official 10 feet above the ground only in a tiny area directly below the basket.
It wasn’t a standard basket, and the ground kicked the ball at crazy angles when I tried to dribble. Still, I spent a ton of time out there after the day’s work was finished, trying to develop a jump shot, some ball-handling skills and general basketball fundamentals. As a high-school ballplayer, I sometimes told myself I’d have been a better varsity player if only the hoop on the farm had been regulation height from every spot in the farmyard and if the ground had been smooth and even.
It’s possible I’d have been a better ballplayer if those things had been so, but I doubt I’d have been much better. I just didn’t have a whole lot of talent. I never did become a consistent shooter, and the coach once told me never, ever to try to dribble more than one or two bounces. The areas of the game in which I developed a bit of proficiency were those that required effort and conditioning — rebounding and defense. The non-regulation rim and uneven ground didn’t prevent a person from hustling.
Reflecting on the basketball court on the farm, I was reminded of how a Woonsocket farm kid used to get up every morning and run a section — a square that was a mile long on each of its four sides. Then he’d go to school and work out at track practice after classes. His name was Jake Schlicht, and he was the best high-school miler of his day. I think he graduated a couple of years ahead of me, but I never forgot the story I read about his dedication to running and his workouts over the section lines near his farm.
I assume the story I read was in The Daily Republic sports pages. That was the only newspaper we got on the farm northeast of Reliance, and that would have been the paper most likely to feature a Woonsocket kid. I would have given a month’s allowance to have made The Daily Republic sports pages. What I wouldn’t give was the effort to get up early enough each morning to run four miles in the dark before school and then stay for track practice at the end of a long day of classes.
Oh, I gave the extra workouts a shot, for sure. In the summers I used to run a while at the end of days in the field. I never attempted a four-miler like the Woonsocket kid. What would have been the point of that? I was a middle-distance runner — the quarter-mile and the half-mile, or 440 yards and 880 yards, back in the days before the American track world joined everybody else in measuring things in meters. What I needed to be able to do was run just a hair longer than the real race — maybe 500 yards to simulate a really tiring quarter, or 1,000 yards instead of 880.
The lane leading from the township road to our farmyard was a bit more than a quarter — based on the odometer on the Chevy pickup. When field work was done on many summer evenings, I’d slip into running shorts and low-cut Keds and run the lane. A sprint from the farmyard to the township road was roughly 500 yards, and I felt pretty virtuous when I finished that dash.
The lane was essentially a two-track with no shoulders and a row of bedraggled fireweed in the middle. Ankle-twisting clods lay along the path, and water sometimes stood in low spots. More than that, the lane ran uphill from the farmyard to the road.
I hated running up that incline on the outward leg, but the experience helped once at a quadrangular meet on a track where the home stretch ran slightly uphill. Finishing the 440-yard dash that day felt like running at home.