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Tag: High School Basketball

Basketball Memories: The Day Goliath Slew David at Midwestern Baptist College

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971. My slim and trim playing years, six foot, 160 pounds.

Regular readers know that I am a sports addict. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused all sorts of serious sports withdrawal symptoms for me. Why, just this past weekend, I searched the satellite for some sort of fix, only to find myself watching — I kid you not — a cherry-pit-spitting contest and lawnmower racing. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I played team baseball from little league through tenth grade. I was always good enough to make the team, but I certainly wasn’t an all-star. I suspect that the reason coaches gave me a second look was the fact that I was left-handed. That and I could run. I couldn’t hit a breaking ball to save my life, so my coaches typically used me to bunt and run like hell.

After high school, I played slow-pitch softball. My increasing girth made me a much better hitter, though I was slower afoot as the years went by. I was in my early thirties when, thanks to knee problems, I was forced to stop playing.

While baseball is my favorite sport to watch, basketball was my favorite sport to play. I enjoyed the physicality of the game, and skill-wise, I was a decent player. Again, being left-handed was a huge advantage in a game dominated by righties.

I attended three high schools during my playing years: Rincon High School in Tucson, Arizona, Riverdale High School in Mt Blanchard, Ohio, and Findlay High School in Findlay, Ohio. I attended Rincon for the last half of my tenth-grade year and Riverdale for the first few months of my eleventh-grade year. Riverdale, a small, rural high school, was a perfect spot for me to ply my basketball talents. Unfortunately, before practice started, the church family I was living with at the time decided it was time for me to move. This meant I had to move back to Findlay, a school in which I had no chance of making the basketball team.

At the time, Findlay High School was one the largest schools in Ohio. Hundreds of boys would turn out for basketball tryouts, hoping to land a handful of open bench spots available any given year. I didn’t stand a chance making the team, so I decided, instead, to play for Trinity Baptist Church in a hyper-competitive high school basketball league. This league allowed boys who didn’t make local high school teams an opportunity to play. I was one such boy.

My coach was my youth director, Bruce Turner. In a 2014 post titled, Dear Bruce Turner, I wrote:

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school church basketball league. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

All told, I played basketball for Trinity for three years.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. As a freshman, I was asked if I was interested in playing on the college basketball team. The very fact that I was asked to play should tell you all you need to know about the quality of Midwestern’s team — think intramural basketball. Midwestern, with an enrollment of 400 or so students, played other nearby small Christian colleges. My college basketball career quickly ended one day during practice as I was defending one of my teammates. As he went up to shoot the ball, I jumped, swatting the ball. Unfortunately, the middle finger on my left hand hit the ball, causing the finger to dislocate. Coach couldn’t reset it, so I was taken to the emergency room. Not only was the finger dislocated, but it was also jammed into the knuckle. The ER doctor, at first, couldn’t reset the finger either. Finally, he said, “Bruce, this is going to hurt.” He made sure the bed was locked so it couldn’t move, put his foot on the bottom of the bed, grabbed my finger, and violently jerked it back into place. And man was he right. Over the years, I had numerous sports injuries, but this one hurt like hell.

six inch rule midwestern baptist college 1970s

While this injury ended my Midwestern playing career, it almost caused me to get expelled from school. In a 2015 post titled, Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule, I wrote:

Another time I was written up for breaking the six-inch rule. The six-inch rule was a rule meant to keep unmarried men and women from getting too close to each other. Six inches is about the width of a songbook or a Bible and unmarried students were not allowed to be closer than a songbook or a Bible from each other.

I was on the college basketball team. One day during practice I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated a finger. I was rushed to the emergency room and the doctor was able to fix the dislocation. I’m left-handed and the dislocation had occurred on my left hand.

Every male student was required to wear a tie to class. I found it very difficult to tie a tie with one hand, so one day I asked my fiancé to tie my tie for me. In doing so, we broke the six-inch rule. Someone anonymously turned us in for breaking the six-inch rule and we had to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer the charges against us.

We each received twenty-five demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. We were warned that if we broke the six-inch rule again, we would be expelled from school. Little did they know that we had been breaking it for quite some time.

During my sophomore year at Midwestern, the college’s athletic director — a friend of mine at the time and the soloist at my wedding — scheduled a basketball game with Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio — an NCAA Division III school. When I saw that Ohio Northern was on the schedule, I asked the athletic director, a Michigander, if he knew anything about the school. He did not. I suggested that he might want to rethink playing the game, but he assured me it would be fine. “Fine” turned out to be Midwestern’s basketball team playing George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at Little Big Horn. Talk about slaughter.

midwestern baptist college vs ohio northern 1978 (2)

Today, I tracked down the stats for this game. Ohio Northern won by 107 points, 141-34. Ohio Northern made 66 field goals, accounting for 132 of their 141 points. This means they shot, at most nine free throws. As you can see, try as they might Midwestern’s team not only couldn’t shoot the ball, neither could they play defense.

Polly and I attended this game. I still remember the pall that came over the crowd as Ohio Northern eviscerated the home team. After the game, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern and the pastor of nearby Emanuel Baptist Church, was livid over the loss. Malone, himself, was a cutthroat, physical basketball player. I played several games with Doc. He definitely subscribed to the “no blood, no foul” school of play — as did I. I have no doubt that he wanted to pummel the athletic director over Midwestern’s embarrassing loss to Ohio Northern. Expulsion was a real possibility, I thought at the time. Fortunately, the athletic director survived Doc’s wrath.

After Midwestern, I continued to play basketball into my early thirties. I typically played year-round, often two to three times a week in the winter. During the summer, I would play outside pick-up games. I suspect that it was playing sports that kept my weight relatively in check for so many years. As with softball, knee problems — which I battle to this day — put an end to my basketball career. I remember seeing an orthopedic surgeon in the early 1980s about my knees. He told me, “either quit or you’ll be in a wheelchair someday.” I ignored him for another year or so, but once I reached the place of having to crawl up the stairs to get to our bedroom, I decided to hang up my Converse sneakers and call it a day.

These days, my involvement with basketball is limited to watching my grandchildren play junior high and high school basketball and photographing boys’ and girls’ games for nearby Fairview High School. There’s still nothing like an exciting prep school game on a cold winter’s night. Here’s to hoping that such games will be played yet again in 2020-2021. I sure don’t want to be spending the winter months watching “sports” I have never heard of on ESPN.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Living with Chronic Pain and Disability: “It’s Not Too Far Away, You Can Walk it”

girls high school basketball february 24 2918What follows is a letter I wrote  several days ago to the athletic director at Miller City High School and the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA):

February 27, 2018

Dear Deb,

Today, I attended the Fairview vs. Spencerville High School Tournament basketball game. I arrived at the venue seventy-five minutes before the doors opened. I asked the parking lot attendant to point me to the handicapped parking spaces nearest the gymnasium. He had me park in the handicapped spots in front of the main entrance. Indeed, this allowed me a short, easy path to my seat.

After the game, attendees were required to exit via the doors opposite of where I entered. When I realized that this path was going to take me away from where I was parked, I asked a man handling crowd control to tell me the best way to get to where I was parked. I told him exactly where I was parked. Instead of allowing me (or anyone else who parked in the front handicapped spaces) short, easy access to my parking space, he told me I had to exit the far side of the building. He then said, and I quote, “it’s not too far away, you can walk it.”

First, how did he know what “not to far away” was for me? There was a reason I parked where I did, and I expected to be able to return to my vehicle via the same path I entered the venue. Second, how did he know I could walk it? Did he have magic powers that enabled him to divine my handicap and physical abilities? Not wanting to press the matter further, I walked the long hallway to the far exit and exited the building. I then had to walk around the building to the front where my car was parked. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the time I reached my vehicle.

I am writing this letter to make you aware of this issue, asking that you please address my concerns with the relevant people. In the future, if people parking in handicapped spaces are expected to exit the far side of the building, then the parking spaces should be on that side. If the parking spaces remain at the front of building, then handicapped attendees parking in them should be able to exit the venue the same way they entered.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.

Bruce Gerencser
345 East Main Street
Ney, Ohio 43549

I received a prompt reply from Miller City’s athletic director. She assured me the matter would be looked into and changes made so handicapped people don’t face this or similar problems in the future. I appreciated Deb’s thoughtful reply. As of the writing of this post, I have not heard back from the OHSAA.

I am a professional photographer. During the winter months, I attend local high school basketball games. I take numerous photographs, sharing them with the players and their families on Facebook. On a few occasions, I have even made a few bucks off my work. I thoroughly enjoy watching high school sports (both boys’ and girls’), so attending the games and photographing them provides a brief respite for me as I struggle with chronic pain and disability.

This past season, I attended thirty or so games. It’s tournament time now, so opportunities to see local teams play are becoming fewer and fewer. I have grandchildren in the Tinora and Stryker school districts, and my oldest granddaughter plays for Stryker, so I try to attend as many Tinora and Stryker games as I can. I live in the Fairview school district, so I try to attend their games as well. During the latest holiday season, I donned my red stocking hat as I attended games, leading to countless adults calling me Santa Claus, and more than a few children wondering if I was the “real” Santa. (Seriously, if I was Santa Claus, would I be spending winters in Ohio? Not a chance!) Bit by bit, high school players I have photographed have struck up conversations with me. I have learned much about high schoolers through these conversations. Attending games gives me opportunities to get out of the house, even when I don’t want to. As people with chronic pain and illness will tell you, they have to battle the tendency to want to curl up in a corner and be left alone. In my case, I know it’s good for me to be out and about, even if it causes my pain levels to rise.

In 1997, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Since then, the list of my afflictions continues to grow. I daily battle unrelenting chronic pain from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Over the weekend, I was sitting in my recliner watching TV with lover, friend, and caretaker, AKA Polly. All of a sudden, my left foot felt like it had been repeatedly hit with a hammer. My toe, if you can imagine this, was pulled back to about the ten o’clock position. For thirty or so minutes my foot throbbed with pain. I tried to walk, but I couldn’t. Finally, the pain subsided, the tears dried, and I returned to watching TV. Just another day in the life of a chronic pain sufferer. You never know what you’ll face on any given day.

I also have osteoarthritis in my neck, hands, hips, shoulders, upper back, lower back, knees, and feet. In other words, Uncle Arthur is my constant companion. Throw in high blood pressure, diabetes, incontinence, and bowel problems . . . well, life is grand. It is what it is. I embrace every day as it comes, grateful that I am still among the living.

When I attend public events such as the aforementioned basketball game, I plan my day carefully. I always arrive at least an hour early. This allows me to get parking close to the entrance, and it helps me avoid dealing with rude and inconsiderate people as they push and shove their way towards their seats. Arriving early also allows me to find seating that accommodates my handicap. At basketball games, I prefer to sit on the first row at floor level. I haltingly walk with a cane, so it is best for all involved that I don’t attempt to walk up or down bleachers. I have fallen on more than a few occasions. I suspect if three-hundred-and-fifty-pound Bruce Gerencser landed on someone it would cause serious harm. I do all I can to avoid contact with others.

Seating, of course, is not my only concern. I also have to contend with access to concession stands and bathrooms. I try to go to the concession stand when there are not a lot of people in line. Bathrooms provide a unique and, at times, harrowing experience. Public school bathrooms are supposed to be ADA compliant, but older schools are not required to follow the code. On several occasions I have had to back into stalls, shut the door, and then turn around just be pee. Zeus help me if my bladder is screaming, Gotta go NOW! Accidents happen, and all I can do is hope that no one notices the dark wet stain on my blue jeans. And going #2, as my grandchildren say? I avoid that like the plague. Everything from small stalls, cheap single-ply toilet paper, and my suspenders coming loose, conspire to make taking a dump — another euphemism for defecation which my grandchildren use — a nightmare.

I write all this to give some context as to why someone saying to me, “It’s Not Too Far Away, You Can Walk it” is a big deal. The last thing I need is for someone to dismiss my disability — even if the person does so innocently — because he was in a hurry, or just following the “rules.” I have learned that the only way for disabled people to be heard is for them to shout loudly above the noise of the crowd. In my case, shouting loudly means writing letters, emails, or blog posts. By doing so, I hope that people will be educated about the difficulties the disabled face when attending public events.

What Fans and Coaches Teach Children and Teen Players When They Scream at Officials

fairview vs defiance basketball game january 20 2018 (10)

I attend forty or so High School basketballs games a year – both boys’ and girls’ games. In the process of doing so, I shoot thousands of photographs. I have attended games at every school in the Buckeye Border Conference and the Green Meadows Conference, along with games at schools affiliated with the Northwest Ohio Athletic LeagueWestern Buckeye League, and the Three Rivers Athletic Conference. (I also attend numerous tournament games.) I could spend the next hour or two critiquing the various facilities, including how suited they are for photography.  I have watched dozens of officials work these games. Some of them are consummate pros skilled at their craft. Others, not so much. Some officials have rabbit ears, reacting negatively to coach or fan criticism. Other officials are stone cold killers, indifferent to critics in the stands. I guess what I am saying is this: I know a fair bit about Northwest Ohio basketball.


High school basketball coaches come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Some of them are teachers of the game, patients with their players, and rarely raise their voices. Others, are Bobby Knight-like screaming psychopaths. These screamers constantly berate their players and officials. On more than a few occasions, I’ve watched verbally assaulted players stop listening to their coaches. I am surprised that school boards think it is still okay to employ coaches who treat players in this manner. I can’t think of a thing such behavior accomplishes that couldn’t be accomplished with a lower voice raised from time to time as needed. The best coaches in the area are men and women who know how to motivate their players to play better and harder, all without psychologically brutalizing them. These screamers are throwbacks to the days when I played basketball. I have been screamed and hollered at more times than I can count, often deservedly so. That said, I had far greater respect for coaches who were passionately firm, men who kept their emotions in control, even when the play on the court was dismal.


I was always taught that you never allow a game to get to the place where the officials determine the outcome. Officials are going to miss calls. They are human, and will, at times, have a bad night. Smart players discern how the officiating crew is calling the game. Sometimes, officials let players play, rarely calling fouls. Others, call everything, even nit-picky fouls. My coaches frequently reminded me that “if it looks like a foul, it is a foul.” Players have to play smart. In doing so, they keep the officials from being the deciding factor.

Some coaches allow their players to question or talk back to officials. In my playing days, such behavior would have gotten you a technical foul and a quick trip to the bench. Several weeks ago, I attended a boys’ game where one of the players screamed at one of the officials, when are you going to call a fucking foul? The young man rightly received a technical foul and his coach took him out of the game for a couple of minutes. He should have been tossed out of the game and suspended for the next game. Should the official have called a foul? Maybe. It doesn’t matter. Respect for officials and your opponents is a crucial part of the learning experience; a fact often forgotten is that high school sports are meant to teach teenagers life lessons. When coaches, fans, and parents are screaming at the officials, is it surprising that players think it is okay to do the same?

swanton vs bryan basketball game january 19 2018 (23)

Fans and Parents

I attended girls’ basketball games tonight (both the JV and Varsity games) where a man and his wife spent the entire night berating and badgering the officials. These fans were able to see from 90 feet away that the official standing two feet away was making the wrong call. Traveling was their favorite complaint — all directed at the opposing team, of course. (The opposing team won both games, with the varsity team winning by 40.) During the JV game, the clock hadn’t ticked off 30 seconds before the home team coach was screaming at the officials for “missing” a foul. She was so abusive that one official went to her and said, I’ve heard enough. Sit.

One thing I have noticed over the years is that screaming coaches beget screaming fans. Fans smell blood in the water and go after the officials. Do the officials miss some calls tonight? Sure, but they were hardly the reason the home team received a forty-point beat-down. Lazy defense and poor shooting, and not the officials, cost the home town girls the game. As the game got into the fourth quarter, local fans started grousing about the visiting team’s players. They seemed to think that the opposing team should have stopped playing hard. One girl shot a successful three-pointer and one fan said the girl lacked class. Don’t want the girl to make the shot? Try playing defense. Play harder, play better, realizing that on some nights you are just going to get your ass whipped. (This is the same school where fans several years ago ridiculed an opposing player for being fat. Talk about class.)

Fans think their $6 ticket gives them a right to be an asshole, and to some degree they are right. I wish they would, however, consider what they are teaching children and players alike with their behavior. Some fans act as if the most important thing in the universe is their team winning the game — an event that will long be forgotten weeks or years later. Over the weekend, Polly and I attended a boys’ basketball game where a man in his sixties sitting two people away from us spent the entire night — with a blood pressure-raised red face — hollering at the officials. He was quite entertaining. He was also a buffoon.

The worst fans are the parents who spend their time constantly coaching their children from the stands or verbally disciplining them for not playing harder, making the shot, defending the opposing player, or countless other offenses. These parents, intentionally or not, embarrass their children. I have seen more than a few players cringe when Mom, Dad, or Grandpa hollers at them from the stands. These players have coaches, so there is no need for parents to be coaching them from the stands. Let the coaches do their jobs.

What is it we want high school players to learn from the game?  Sports are meant to teach life lessons; lessons such as life is hard and sometimes the best team doesn’t win the game. Sports teach players that life isn’t fair and that sometimes no matter how hard your work you are going to fail. These life lessons and more prepare these teenagers for the real world, a place that will eat them alive if they aren’t prepared. Facing adversity is essential to future success as an adult. I mentioned in a post titled Dear Bruce Turner one such experience I faced as tenth grade basketball player:

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school age Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I learned on that night to never quit. Play hard, even when it seems everything you do is failing. Teenagers need to learn these kinds of lessons if we expect them to grow up into mature, responsible adults. What they don’t need to learn is that it is okay to yell, holler, scream, berate, and ridicule people who do something you disagree with. Coaches and fans alike do a great disservice to players when they go after officials and the opposing team’s coaches and players. The game’s importance will quickly fade away, but the lessons taught to players and children in the stands last a lifetime.

Christian Nationalism and American Militarism on Display at Local High School Basketball Game

american militarism

It was ten after four as I pulled into the Bryan High School parking lot. I arrived thirty minutes before game time so I could make sure that I had a first-row seat for the night’s slate of basketball games between the Swanton Bulldogs and the Bryan Golden Bears.  Bethany, my daughter with Down Syndrome, was with me. Armed with pens and spiral notebooks, she spent the night drawing pictures and entertaining those who sat nearby.

I brought my camera equipment with me. I ALWAYS bring my cameras, feeling naked on those rare occasions when I leave them at home. I love watching high school basketball games. I am reminded of a time long ago — forty years ago now — when a young redhead boy sprinted up and down the court, hoping his meager effort would lead to a team victory. Never a great player, I still love the machinations of the game. Tonight’s varsity match was a blowout until late in the fourth quarter when Swanton mounted a comeback.  A flurry of shots fell through the net, trimming Bryan’s lead to eight. I wondered, would Swanton find a way to snatch victory out of jaws of defeat? Alas, it was not to be. Swanton lost all three games — ninth grade, junior varsity, and varsity.  My cousin’s son plays on Swanton’s ninth grade team. He, statistically, had a great game, but his fellow teammates did not.

I knew that tonight was going to be difficult me. It was Veteran’s Night — an opportunity for locals to recognize and applaud veterans for their service.  Surrounding me were fans wearing Trump tee shirts and hats, along with hundreds of people wearing flag apparel. These are the same people who would be outraged if I burnt a flag, demanding my arrest for violating the “flag code.” Lost on them are their own violations of the code with their Trumpesque accoutrements.

The public address announcer let the crowd know that the pregame events would begin with the Bryan band playing God Bless America. Everyone stood to their feet as the band began to play America’s second national anthem. Those near me put hands over their hearts, and several of them lustfully sang the words made infamous by the terrorist attacks on 9-11.

I did not stand, silently voicing my disapproval of the insertion of Christianity into a secular public high school event. It is not easy for me to do so. I can feel the stares, and in the past I have had people rebuke me for not giving Jesus his due. I remind those who dare to challenge me that I am an atheist and a secularist. Why should I give reverence to a mythical deity or show my support for those who care little for the separation of church and state.

Once the Christian Tabernacle Choir® finished with their hymn of praise and worship to America’s God, it was time to move on to the patriotic portion of the pregame events. The announcer asked all the veterans in attendance to stand while the rest of us stayed seated.  Dozens of veterans stood as people cheered and young millennials ran to them, giving them high fives and thanking them for their service. I did not clap, hoping that since we were seated no one would notice my lack of applause. Alas, I was quickly outed as the crowd rose to its feet, applauding and cheering those who were lucky enough not to return home in a body bag. Their raucous applause went on for several minutes.

I was the only person not standing. Across the way stood my uncle, a veteran of the Vietnam War. I am sure my refusal to participate in the night’s glorification of American militarism offended him. However, he knows that my refusal to do so is a matter of principle for me. I resolutely stand in opposition American imperialism and militarism. My refusal to stand is me saying that I oppose America’s continued involvement in violent, unwinnable wars in the Middle East.  Without soldiers, politicians would not be able to stuff American exceptionalism down the throats of the world.  Most of all I refuse to stand because I don’t want one more drop of blood shed in my name. I don’t want American men and women dying just so I can have the “freedom” to watch basketball games. I will gladly not watch another sporting event if it means no more violence, carnage, and bloodshed. How dare we cheapen military deaths with empty words about freedom and the American way of life. Enough! I say, to the endless violence and destruction.

After the veterans were seated, it was time for the playing of the National Anthem. As is my custom, I stood, removed my hat, and held it over my heart with my right hand. As the band played, I turned my gaze to the flag and quietly sang the Anthem.  A tear trickled down my cheek as I pondered what has become of the United States of America, the land of the free and home of the brave.

Bruce Gerencser