“With athletes, it was just a whole different kind of bonding.”
Transcript for Between Those White Lines
The interesting thing about sports is this, and a lot of people just don’t get it. Sports for the most part, not absolutely, but for the most part, is how society should be. When athletes get together in competition or in camaraderie as teammates, between those white lines or on that court or on that field of strife, there’s a respect, there’s a sort of relationship where people get along, there’s a sportsmanship for the most part that’s exhibited. It’s all the things that are missing in large segments of society.
At Gary Roosevelt, the biggest rivalry – I mean rivalry that probably rivaled the Bears and the Packers – was Gary Roosevelt and Gary Froebel. I guess because the two schools were nearest each other, Gary Roosevelt being on 25th Avenue, Froebel on 15th. And Froebel had a sizable black population at the time. And, so, it was a natural rivalry, and they were pretty darn good, as well. You know, if I see a Froebel guy walk into a room, you know, like Ghostbusters you put the signs up, you know, beware! So, we have a lot of fun with that. It was a great rivalry and what it did was, it kind of made both of us – meaning the institutions – better, because we tried to outdo each other in every respect. Now Froebel did have the benefit of being in a school that was majority white, so they had amenities, let’s say, some things we didn’t have, but they had some things working against them, too. They had a certain day where they could swim. The pool had to be drained and then the pool was made ready for the regular student body and things like that, so we didn’t have to encounter those things.
If Roosevelt and Froebel played, it was not just the Roosevelt fans and Froebel fans there. It was Gary folks there to see Roosevelt and Froebel – that was big stuff. And if we were playing one of the all-white schools, their fan base was still there rivaling our fan base. There was no taunting back and forth no racial epithets, none of that. I guess it was in that safe haven of sports competition at that particular time. Now when the game was over and people went to their segregated neighborhoods, or went to wherever else they went, then you deal with whatever realities of the day was.
In football, we could only win the city championship. We were not allowed to win the city championship like they do today and go into the state finals and playoffs and all of that. We couldn’t do that. We could do it in basketball. I guess because of basketball being Hoosier hysteria and the state’s game and that kind of thing. So, there was some institutional racial situations that affected us.
I remember my junior year in football. We had to play Lew Wallace at Gilroy Stadium for the city championship. Lew Wallace was a state powerhouse. Lew Wallace was ranked in the top ten in the state. They had a great team. Now Lew Wallace was going to the playoffs, so that was our playoff. That was as much as we could do, and they were heavily favored. I’ll never forget, we were in the dressing room – not only were all our coaches there, the basketball coaches, the assistant coaches, our principles. They were telling us that we were carrying the banner for Roosevelt High School. They were telling us that people were belittling us, they could out-think us, they were smarter than we were, they were better organized, they were all of these things. And I tell you, we went out there on that field with fire in our eyes, and I think by the halftime we had pretty much had their entire starting backfield have to leave the game. We wound up winning the game 25-6, winning the city championship. I can’t sit here and tell you that those things that were told to us from a historical perspective did not fuel our performance.
But when you looked at the kids, the 15, the 16, the 17-year-olds, maybe at that point it had just not been taught and acquired, because in the competition, you know, we played – Lew Wallace High School, Wert High School, those schools were all white when I was playing and we’d stomp ‘em. I mean, we would stomp ‘em. But you know what those guys would do? They’d shake our hands on the court, they’d come to watch our practices just to see how we executed, and we’d joke back and forth, laugh and joke, because, you know, at that stage the racism had not been acquired, hadn’t been taught by the adults. Or, they had not grown up as adults and gone into environments either work, college, or whatever, where racism was reinforced. Kids were kids, they were innocent, and, again, as I say with athletes, it was just a whole different kind of bonding.
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