Karl Lindholm: The antidote to November’s gloom
November, ugh: so soon we go from warm to cold; the trees’ colorful leaves now carpeting the ground demanding to be raked; darkness coming right after lunch it seems; geese clattering overhead, black against a gray sky honking a valediction — and it will only get darker and gloomier ….
I’m not a winter person, runs in the family. You will not find Lindholms on the slopes or trails. It’s cold out. We come inside when it’s cold.
My folks lived to be 99 and 98 and spent most of that time in Maine. My dad retired at 65 and he and my mom spent a month in Florida one winter. It almost killed them. They couldn’t come back to Lewiston fast enough.
That reminds me of a bit from Down East Maine storyteller Tim Sample:
“Go south. Go south. Go south. Me and Ma are always bein’ told to go south,” he intones in a wicked Maine accent. “Last year, we went all the way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and it ain’t no bettah there than here!”
But I’m OK. I don’t despair:
It’s time for hoops!
The Middlebury College men’s and women’s basketball teams open their seasons in just a week and are hard at preparation for these late fall games — very soon we’ll all gather in the gym, the warm gym. Both the women and men have their first home games on Nov. 22.
Basketball is the balm, the cure for the seasonal blahs.
I played hoop as long as I could. I stopped when it took six months for a pulled muscle or turned ankle to heal. Then I reffed for a while in the town league. It was harder than I had imagined. By the second game I thought I had changed my name to “Jesus Christ, Karl!”
Now I’m an unabashed fan, and my most ardent commitment is to the local college team, an earlier version of which I actually played on, a very long time ago. I’m thrilled by the team’s success in the last 10 years.
Middlebury’s men’s basketball team has won nearly 80 percent of its games in that time, averaging 22 wins a season, and has earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament seven times. And so many games have been intense, thrilling affairs, nail biters.
In 2012, my friend Gary and I drove to Salem, Va., and watched the Middlebury team in the Final Four of the Division III championship, losing to eventual winner St. Thomas by a single point.
I have a sign I purloined from Middlebury’s gym after an NCAA game that reads in bold letters “SOLD OUT.” In all those years when basketball fans were but a dedicated few, who imagined actually turning people away. I got calls asking if I could get tickets — to a Middlebury basketball game.
Middlebury had another era of basketball prominence some 60 years ago when it had powerhouse teams under Coach Tony Lupien (until he headed to Dartmouth to become their legendary baseball coach).
His teams went 60-49 from 1951-’56, playing a schedule impossible today: opponents included the universities of Connecticut and Massachusetts, Boston University, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, and two games every year with St. Michael’s and UVM.
The two great players from that era, the incomparable Sonny Dennis and the amazing Tom Hart, are both in the nascent Middlebury Athletics Hall of Fame, now in just its third year. Sonny, class of ’55, is the third-highest scorer in men’s basketball history (1,554), despite playing in many fewer games.
Tom Hart is the leading rebounder in the history of college basketball overall, averaging 28 rebounds a game, and he is a 1,000-point scorer as well, in three years. In his three years, Middlebury won 40 games and lost 23.
(Sonny and Tom are not, however, the only basketball players in the Hall of Fame: the women’s team is also represented by the brilliant Sladja Kovajanic Carton ’93, the leading scorer in the history of women’s basketball here, averaging 24.6 points a game, 1,602 points also in just three seasons.)
If I could travel back in time, right at the top of my list of games to see would be two Middlebury-UVM games, the first a one-point win, 75-74, in Burlington in 1953. Before a large hostile crowd, Sonny Dennis made two foul shots with nine seconds to play, his 32nd and 33rd points — and freshman Tom Hart had 18 points in that game and 30 rebounds.
Two years later, in perhaps the greatest game ever by a Middlebury basketball player, again in Burlington, the Panthers defeated Vermont, this time 76-69. Without the services of Sonny who was injured, Tom Hart scored 36 points and had 39 rebounds.
It was an honor for me to be able to present Tom Hart for induction at the annual Hall of Fame celebration in Nelson Arena last Saturday. Unfortunately, Tom died just last August. Accepting the honor for his father was Tod Hart, himself a Hall of Famer at his alma mater, Ithaca College, where he is the leading scorer in the history of basketball there.
At a break in the festivities, Tod took a little walk to the adjacent gym where his father played 60 years ago. There was one young man in there shooting hoops. Tod asked him if he could take a shot. He took his sport coat off and nailed a short jumper and made the Big Papi point to the sky.
He said it was a thrill, homage to his dad.
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