On a Night of Blame

The temperatures were unusually mild on this particular Friday night in January. December and up until then were cold enough to freeze the ponds. To my delight, it had been cold enough to freeze the ponds so we could play hockey. In fact, we played the weekend before.

On this comfortable Friday night, I drove Dave, John, Wayne, and Mike to a basketball game at a rival school about 20 miles away. It was our senior year and we were having a lot of fun going to basketball games to support our team. Yep – we were part of the Bleacher Bums – a bunch of teenage boys cheering while wearing blue jeans, white t-shirts, and a hat of our choice.

Like in small towns, the rival school was in a residential neighborhood, thus parking was not easy – so I parked the car several blocks away in a grocery store parking lot. I opened the trunk to get the school flag and to store some of our valuables among the hockey sticks that remained in the car from the previous weekend.

Fans from both schools packed the gym that night – a night when the game was close … tense for all. Yep – we won when classmate Jeff swished his shot from the corner at the buzzer of the fourth overtime. Four overtimes in itself tells about the intensity.

The sidewalk outside the gym was crowded. I recall seeing people lining the sidewalk, but not thinking anything of it – but we told each other to keep quiet. On our return journey back to the car, we said goodbyes to other classmates who parked elsewhere. As we got closer to my car, there was me carrying the flag, my four friends, and a large group following us on the other side of the street.

Suddenly, as we attempted to get in the car, the group surrounded us. As they yelled and taunted, occasional objects flew through the air in our direction. As the circle got smaller, one of my friends removed his belt as defense …. and I suddenly remembered the hockey sticks in the trunk as another defense – and they helped keep the attacked at a distance.

As we were together near the car, we attempted to leave. I opened the doors and my friends piled in. More they threw more stuff. I recall several of them picking up an old railroad tie and using it as a battering ram against my car. As my last friend was getting in, someone was pulling his leg attempting to drag him from the car – but my friend in the front seat got them away. Meanwhile, the battering ram continued, plus kicking.

Just before putting the car in reverse, I looked up and saw an object heading right at me just before the brick shattered my windshield. Back the car went and I stuck another car. Forward we went racing out of the parking lot and knowing that we had to stop at the police station.

At the station, the owner of the car I backed into eventually arrived, but he did not press any charges or ask for damages. The police took our report, and then told to get out of town and not to stop until we were home.

The next morning, I was shocked to see the amount of damage to the car – which the insurance company later declared totaled. The following week at school, I spent about 6 hours in the principal’s office as he was doing his due diligence. He asked me to write a letter of apology to the other school, which I did – and our cheering group disbanded.

Common ownership linked the town’s two newspapers, so I saw the numerous letters to the editor from both sides. A student at the other school wrote the most intriguing letter has he defended us while criticizing his classmates.

Our cheering group did get together one last night – senior night – the last home game of the year – and without incident. I invited that student from the other school who wrote the letter, he came, went to the game with us, cheered, and stayed overnight at my house. This was in 1971.

Several years ago while driving through my hometown with my dad, we saw one of my riders (Dave) from that night. Within the first minute he said, “We didn’t do anything wrong that night.” I simply said, “I know, and you have many more reminders that I.”

Obviously, that night frequently came up at my 40th HS reunion this past October – and I understand it is a common topic when others get together. Our class float even had several signs referring to the incident; yet I’m sure that most of my classmates did not understand my quiet view to that crazy night. I know the guys in the car do – especially Dave – and maybe a classmate and her fiancé who parked a few spots away.

My sister lives in that town today, and my nephews graduated from that school. Even as I attended their football games, I never cheered for the team – I couldn’t. Occasionally on a visit to my home area, the incident would come up, and even my family members always pointed blame to our group.

Looking back at the events, there is no doubt that we took the blame for the incident – and our principal believed that too. After all, the hockey sticks in the car on a warm January night was the sign we were looking for trouble. Besides, I cannot recall the other school reaching out to us.

Therefore, as others recount the event through a different lens, they don’t understand the blame that I have lived for over 40 years – but I know that Dave understands, which gives me piece of mind.