Shoe Column: Rec Basketball…Those Were the Days
By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
“I know a thing or two cuz I’ve seen a thing or two.”
No doubt about it, that catchy Farmers Insurance TV ad could’ve been talking about me and Stevens Point Recreation Department basketball. Rec hoops was going on in Point in the 1950s, and it pretty much ended prior to the Wiza Administration.
It had about a 60-year run and came crashing down with a thud around 2011. Lack of funds was the reason given. I was along for the ride for about 45 years as a player, scorekeeper, and the one minute I refereed. The really nifty part of the city leagues was the competition.
There were farmers going against attorneys. College kids taking on the profs. Bartenders fouling doctors. Iwanski Construction had a bunch of county cops, and they weren’t shy when it came to physical contact. Before he became sheriff, Mike Lukas proudly wore his team’s jersey which had “We Hammer” on the front. Mill workers, accountants, insurance agents, and some ladies all graced the rec courts.
I started playing and score-keeping in the Point Rec leagues right out of high school in 1967. My God, so many memories. Let’s share some with you.
Like a league game at the Rec. Bugsy Gross’s team was playing someone. Bugsy was a pretty decent player but most of his team had never played before. Ten minutes left in the game, and Bugsy goes up for a rebound. Came down hard on someone’s ankle. Bugs was absolutely in pain. The action stopped and we waited for the ambulance. Waited for 10 minutes.
While we were waiting, one of Bugsy’s teammates walked over to me at the scorer’s table and asked: “Hey, is the clock still running?”
In the early 70s, a bunch of us played for Shamrock Pizza. Rufus Konopacki and Caz Spreda were our only two decent players with any skills. Because we were new, Jughead Krueger from the Rec put us in the Classic League at Ben Franklin.
We were cannon fodder for everyone else, and a lot of our opponents were former college players. We were getting blown out by Papa Joe’s when suddenly a lady walked onto the court right DURING the game and yelled: “Who took the cookies??”
The cafeteria was pretty close to the gym; the game was stopped and there was dead silence.
For about a whole minute as everyone looked around. And then came an enormous belch from Caz Spreda! People were laughing so hard that some of them had tears in their eyes. Even the lady chuckled. Never did find out who took the cookies, but it wasn’t Caz.
Same league. Same Shamrock team. Mid 70s. Our team is warming up. Then in walks our opponent. Pizza Hut. They had two guys who were 6’7”. That team was loaded to the gills. Ringers everywhere. Former college players. Great uniforms.
Oh, did I mention that they also had Chuck Nagle? The same Chuck Nagle who was the first player in Wisconsin Badger history to score 300
points in a Big Ten season? The same guy who had the Badgers’ single-season scoring record with 463 points in 1966-67? The same dude who dropped 37 points on Michigan?
Well, we watched them warm up and wondered who they were playing against. Was Illinois coming? Iowa? Nope. Then it dawned on us that
WE were their opponent!
So we drew names, and guess who got to “guard” Nagle?
You guessed it.
We were down about 80-10 at halftime. I held Nagle to 48. He didn’t play in the second half. We lost, 121-30.
We had a referee named Art Gerhardt. College kid. Had a very short fuse and didn’t take any crap from anyone. He gave out a lot of technical fouls. We called him “Quick T”. In those days, if a player got hit with a technical, he was done for the day. So Art “T’d” a bunch of players at Madison Gym, and after the game, Art was in the parking lot when one player kept complaining to him ten minutes after the game ended. Boom! Art hit him with a technical. The “T” held up and the player had to miss the next game.
By the way, Blaine “Goose” Reichelt, a future NBA ref, was in Mickey’s after a game at Madison. He was eating pizza and having a brew when a player came up and whined about a call. Goose “T’d” him right between bites.
Speaking of Goose, he gave ME my first technical foul. We’re playing at the Rec. I’m shooting a “3” when some dude clobbers me. My glasses go flying into the corner. I turn around. No foul! I spot Goose.
“Hey! Where’s the foul??”
He ignored me.
I yelled, “Was that a foul on my glasses over there??” Boom — technical foul.
But at least he bought some brews at Mickeys after the game. He also went on to give a “T” to Charles Barkley so I was in pretty good company.
And then there was the game at Washington School. Eddie Ewen got ticked off over a call and booted the ball straight up. It hit a bank of lights which came crashing down. Ed was excused from further action. Also at Washington, our Kim’s Barrel Inn team is playing Archie’s. Tie game. Ten seconds left. We’re putting the ball inbounds. Bunch of players in the next game are standing along the far wall. AND THE LIGHTS WENT OUT! Fritz Menzel had accidentally turned off the lights in the gym! Forgot how that game turned out.
One time at Madison Gym a game was running smoothly when all of a sudden the game clock stopped. And wouldn’t start back up. Luckily Kim Koback was sitting there watching his buddies play. And he had a wristwatch. Koby timed the rest of the game with his watch and just yelled out the time. And another time two teams were playing at the Rec when a bat started flying around. The refs finally got it to fly out the door but nobody scored for a good 10 minutes.
Jim Moe came up to me after a game at Jackson School. He was really miffed about a certain call. He handed me a written note and a ten-dollar bill. He said, “We’re playing this game under protest. Give this note and the $10 to Jughead at the Rec.”
Two hours later I was at Archie’s and spent $10 on beer. Jim’s protest was denied.
And then there was a league game at Ben Franklin. The top league. I’m score-keeping. Only one ref showed up. The players all said, “Hey Shoe, why don’t YOU ref? We’ll have our girlfriends do the book and scoreboard.”
So they found the janitor and he got me a ref’s shirt and a whistle. I said, “Now listen, guys. I don’t wanna hear ONE word! Got it??”
We had the opening jump and a player comes right up and says: “Hey! Number four fouled me!! Where’s the call?” I immediately walked off the court and went back to score-keeping.
One player who we’ll call Jim was always complaining about the refs so he went in to see League Director Joe Graceffa. Joe said: “It’s really hard to get refs. Why don’t YOU ref a league?” The guy said that he would. He showed up, reffed the first half of the first game, and quit.
I’m sitting at the scorer’s table with the late ref Jim Darby while the teams are doing pre-game warm-ups. ShopKo’s coach Paul Drake walks over. He says, “Hey listen, guys. Baldy is gonna start tonight for us.” (“Baldy” is Tom Baldischwiler, the manager at the time at ShopKo and a substitute player on their team.).
Drake said, “It’s Baldy’s birthday, and his wife’s coming to watch the game for the first time. Do something special, will ya?” Darby said, “No problem. I’ll take care of it.” (Man, I couldn’t wait for this).
So they have the opening tip. ShopKo’s opponent won the jump ball and a guy went right in for a layup. Baldy started to throw the ball in-bounds when “TWEET!!” Darby blew his whistle and looked at me and yelled, “I got a technical foul on number 45!” (Baldy). He’s out of the game!”
Everyone stopped. Everyone was stunned. Baldy didn’t know what to do. Baldy walks over and sits next to me at the scorer’s table. ShopKo sent a substitute in. The game resumed. Baldy was shaken. I said, “Geez Baldy, what the hell did you do?”
Baldy says, “Nothing; when that guy made his layup, I might’ve muttered ‘Damn’ under my breath but that was it.”
Darby blew his whistle again; he looked straight at Baldy and yelled, “I got ANOTHER technical on Number 45 — you don’t use language like that on MY court! And now you’re bothering the scorekeeper — get out of the gym! NOW!”
Baldy turned white. He and his wife started walking down the court towards the outside door. Darby yelled, “Hey Baldy, one more thing — happy birthday! I’ll let you back in the game!” Everyone roared. They talked about that for months.
Joe Graceffa called Randy Wievel and me one winter day. Wanted us to show a new scorekeeper the ropes. Guy’s name was Ken. Ken wanted us to meet him at the Elbow Room and show him how to do the scorebook. So we met him. We’re showing him how to scorekeep.
He points to something and says, “What’s this?” Randy says, “That’s for fouls.” Ken frowned and said, “I don’t do fouls.”
So next week Ken made his debut at Jackson across the river. He had a 6:30 game. We went there at 7:30. Players are shouting everywhere. We asked a player who won. He answered, “Nobody knows. That scorer didn’t do fouls and nobody knows how much time is left.”
It was a mess. Bad start for Kenny. Then a week later I’m walking into Madison gym for our game. A few players are walking out. That seemed odd. They said they just heard on the radio that all Rec games were called off due to the blizzard.
Turned out Ken was on his bike going to Jackson. He got as far as the Clark Street Bridge, thought better of it, rode his bike back to the Big Moon, and called the radio station to announce that all the games were cancelled.
And then came an infamous Rec game at Madison. I’m the scorer. Jim Moe of the UWSP Communications Dept. showed up to ref along with fellow prof and referee Larry Kokkeler. The players are warming up when in walks ref Gary Marquard. Moe says, “Wait a minute. I think you’re supposed to be at Ben Franklin.” Gary starts to leave, but I said, “Hey. Stick around for a few minutes.We’ll go with three refs.”
Everyone was scratching their heads. However, they started the game. The action went on for a couple of minutes. Then I stopped the game. I said, “You guys just made Stevens Point history! Do you realize the refs you have right here are Moe, Larry, and Curly???” (Gary was bald and his nickname was “Curly”). Sports Illustrated actually did a small report on it.
At Bannach, two players were sitting on the bench at halftime talking about fishing and motorboats. Sat next to them and said, “Yeah, I’ve had several outboard motors for my boat. Had an Evinrude. And a Mercury. And a Henway.” One of them asked, “I heard of Mercury and Evinrude, but what’s a Henway?”
I said, “About three pounds.”
Really miss Rec Department basketball. Heck, a lot of people do. But it was really fun while it lasted.