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Whittling Away: School days


By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

I found myself with a few spare moments the other day. Telly was dozing on the living room rug, the bird feeders were all filled and it wasn’t time for my daily trip to the supermarket yet. 

I settled comfortably into my recliner, moved my mental mouse to my rewind button, clicked it and started reviewing some of my personal highs and lows. 

I came to the mental file labeled, “North Bangor Union Free School” and decided to spend some time flipping through it.

I spent eight years pursuing an education in this then-almost-new four-room school.  There were two rooms on each side of a gym, with the kitchen and bathrooms on the other opposing sides. I had each teacher for two grades and spent two years in each room.  The classes averaged about seven or eight pupils in each.

I liked it — if you were bored you could listen to the upper grade’s lessons giving you a leg up on next year’s work, or if you hadn’t learned something from the year before, you had a built-in review class. You really got to know your teacher and vice versa.

My favorite years were when I finally made it to the seventh and eighth grades. We were the big kids, the cool ones who got to do all the cool stuff and we had the only male teacher in the building, Mr. Washburn. He was young; this was his first teaching assignment. He was athletic, enthusiastic and energetic. 

It was his idea that we have a taste of interscholastic sports. He started a basketball team and talked three other schools into starting teams, also. They set up a four-game schedule.  We formed our team and started practice. 

We were pitiful! There were only six boys in the combined seventh and eighth grade classes.

One was a stand-out, a potential star. Jim was a little over six feet tall, shaved daily, had hairy arms and drove to school. Jim had spent more than his allotted two years in each room of our little school. Steve 1 and Steve 2 were good athletes capable of dribbling and running at the same time, which was a big plus even if they only came up to Jim’s waist. Paul, 80 pounds of uncoordinated protein and Howard, who was fairly well coordinated but was also on the short side, with the added burden of being built like the basketball.

I rounded out the team. At that age I showed no signs of becoming the finely tuned athlete I was to become. I couldn’t seem to master the art of dribbling with just one hand.  Dribbling two-handed slowed down my court speed. My fast break was more of a fast walk. 

I became the permanent substitute, trainer and announcer. We all brought in a white T-shirt upon which I (being the most artistic, if not the most athletic) lettered in prominent blue crayon capitals — NBUFS. We practiced at noontime, usually playing three on three. Our games were in the afternoon since we had only one bus and it had to be back to take the other kids home after school. 

I suited up for the games but spent my time announcing who had just scored over our school’s portable sound system through a chrome microphone half the size of a basketball.

Then it happened, the moment that all males who are sports minded dream of. Howard fell, suffering a near terminal case of road rash. He couldn’t run. I had to go in. Jump ball! Just like in my dream, I got the ball. With my best two-handed dribble, I gallumped my way down the court — a clear court with no interference. An awkward lay-up, the ball circled the rim and dropped in. I turned to receive the accolades of my teammates only to see them holding their heads and groaning. 

I had run the wrong way and scored two points for the opposing team, the same two points we lost by. It was our last game. 

I then retired, ending mercifully what probably wasn’t a promising career anyway. Some lows are really low.

Thought for the week — Never lick a steak knife.

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach columnist Dick Brooks at

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