Originally posted November 6, 2009:
Despite my love of sports, I’ve never been an athlete. But thirty-nine years ago today, I wore a jersey as a member of a team for the only time in my life.
It was the last week of the football season at St. Cloud Tech. I was a manager, and I think we were all glad the season was coming to a close. It hadn’t been a good year: We were 2-6 heading into our final game. That was quite a come-down from 1969, when we were 6-3 and ended up ranked No. 9 in the state. (A three-loss team in the Top Ten? That was because we played a tough independent schedule, and our losses were to the top three teams in the state.)
There was a good reason that we’d not had a good season, though. That fall, St. Cloud had opened its second high school, Apollo High School, over on the north side. And when the kids from the north side went off to become the Eagles, about half of the underclassmen from the previous year’s team were among them. There was no way we were going to be as good as we had been or as good as we could have been, had we stayed one school. Things were no better across town at Apollo; the Eagles were 2-5 as the end of the season approached.
The Eagles’ difficulties, though, weren’t our concern. As the season had progressed, we’d kept up with our former teammates and their performances, and I assume that they kept an eye on how we were doing. We weren’t happy with their poor season, but we were pleased that they were doing no better than we were. And during that final week, we cared not one bit about their difficulties because our final game was against those same Eagles. It would be the first football game ever between St. Cloud’s two public high schools.
(One of the oddities of the split between the two high schools was where the boundary line between the two schools was drawn. On the East Side, the line was drawn at the north end of Kilian Boulevard, a block away from our house. It happened to fall right in the middle of the attendance area for Lincoln Elementary, and that mean that a number of kids I’d been in school with since first grade went to Apollo. Had the line been drawn only a little further south, I’d have gone to Apollo; I was relieved to stay at Tech.)
One of the long-standing traditions at Tech was that, on the day of a game or a meet, varsity athletes wore dress shirts, ties and sport coats to school. As a manager of the football team for two years and the wrestling team for three years, I did the same. But as our final week of practice came to a close and we gathered for a meeting Thursday afternoon, the captains had a question for the coaches: Since it’s our last game, and the first ever against Apollo, can we wear our jerseys during the school day on Friday instead of coats and ties?
The coaches looked at each other and thought for a second, then nodded. We left the meeting room, and as we headed for the locker room, I wondered how out of place I was going to look in school the next day. I didn’t have a jersey.
I pondered that as I went over our supplies in the training room, making sure everything was packed into the kits we’d haul to Clark Field, a block away, the next evening: Bandages, various sprays, a couple of cleat cleaners and cleat wrenches, lots of tape and all the other things that we managers were responsible for. Well, I thought, as I packed the tape, I’ll just wear a coat and tie.
As I finished packing and was about to head out of the training room, certain that Dad was already waiting in the parking lot, one of the other seniors on the team, Scott, poked his head into the room. “So what are you gonna wear tomorrow?”
I shrugged. “A coat and tie, I guess.”
He shook his head. “C’mon,” he said, motioning with his hand as he walked through the locker room. I followed him to the equipment room, where Scott addressed the equipment manager, Mr. Kerr. “We need a jersey here,” Scott told him. “What can you do?”
Mr. Kerr pulled a jersey from the shelf and tossed it to me. Number 14. I pulled it on. I was of slight build, and the jersey was cut for shoulder pads, of course, so it hung on me like a large orange, black and white curtain. But it was, right then, my jersey. “There you go,” Scott said, as we walked back toward the training room.
I wore the jersey to school the next day, of course, and on the sidelines during the game that Friday evening. We beat Apollo fairly handily (a score of 26-14 pops into my memory, but I’m not certain) and crowded back into our locker room, happy to have ended the season with a victory. The next Monday, I handed the jersey to Mr. Kerr. I learned later that many of my fellow seniors had neglected to return their jerseys, eventually paying something like $25 for their “lost” jerseys. I wish I’d done the same.
A Six-Pack From Late Autumn 1970
“Let’s Work Together” by Canned Heat from Future Blues
“When You Get Right Down To It” by the Delfonics, Philly Groove 163
“Easy Rider (Let The Wind Pay The Way)” by Iron Butterfly from Metamorphosis
“Games” by Redeye from Redeye
“Too Many People” by Cold Blood from Sisyphus
“Who Needs Ya” by Steppenwolf from Seven
“St. Cloud Tech School Song” by the Tech High School Band
During the week that we kicked off the Tech-Apollo football rivalry, six of the titles above were listed in the Billboard Hot 100. (See the note below regarding singles vs. album tracks.) There was one nice slice of Philly soul, one light rocker with some nice vocal harmony (Redeye’s “Games”) and four bits of fairly tough bluesy rock. I recall hearing “Let’s Get Together” once or twice and being intrigued, but I doubt that I heard the other five. Why not?
Well, only two of these six titles made it into the Top 40, which was guiding my listening: “Let’s Get Together” went to No. 26, and “Games” reached No. 27. During the week in question, the one that ended Saturday, November 7, 1970, these titles were strewn mostly in the lower levels of the Hot 100:
“Let’s Work Together” was already in the Top 40, sitting at No. 33. The Delfonics tune was at No. 56 after peaking at No. 53 two weeks earlier. Iron Butterfly’s “Easy Rider (Let The Wind Pay The Way)” would peak at No. 66 two weeks later. (I never paid much attention to Iron Butterfly after buying and quickly selling the group’s live album way back when, but I have to note that “Easy Rider” is a better and more interesting record than I expected it to be; it had been languishing, ignored, in my files with the rest of the Metamorphosis album for a while.) Redeye’s “Games,” on its way to its peak of No. 27, was in the Hot 100 for the first time and was sitting at No. 90.
Cold Blood’s “Too Many People” was in the “Bubbling Under the Top 100” section and had moved up one slot from No. 108 to No. 107. It would be gone when the next chart came out a week later. And Steppenwolf’s “Who Needs Ya” – a typical but fun Steppenwolf boogiefest – was in its first week in the “Bubbling Under” section, sitting at No. 119. It would peak at No. 54 five weeks later.
As I was planning this post – I do plan sometimes – I called Gary Zwack, the current band director at St. Cloud Tech, and asked about a copy of the school song. He emailed it to me, and as I heard the song for the first time in what must be thirty-five years, I remembered all the words:
March straight on, Old Tech High
To fame and honor great.
The glory of our colors
We’ll never let abate.
We’re with you!
March straight on, Old Tech High!
Be loyal to her name.
Fight gallantly for dear old Tech
And all her worthy fame.
Gary added a note, telling me that the music for the song was written in 1931 by Erwin Hertz, who was Tech’s band director at the time. I wrote back, telling Gary that in 1964, I took my first lessons on cornet from Erwin Hertz, who was very close to retiring. Thanks for the help, Gary.
In five of the six cases, I’ve tagged the mp3s as coming from the various albums, as I’m uncertain whether the mp3 offered here is the single version. The only one I am sure of is the Delfonics’ tune.
I am nearly certain that the single that Cold Blood released was edited significantly, as the running times – 4:05 on the album version I have and 2:52 on photos I’ve seen of the single (San Francisco 62) – are so far apart. Redeye’s “Games” is not (as I erroneously reported originally) the same length on the single (Pentagram 204) as it is on the album, and Iron Butterfly’s 45 (Atco 6782) is timed at 3:05 while the mp3 runs 3:06, so I think those were the same, but I’m not sure.
As to the Steppenwolf and Canned Heat tracks: The running times I’ve seen on photos of those singles – Dunhill 4261 and Liberty 56151, respectively – are relatively close to those of these album tracks. That leaves me wondering if the singles and the album tracks were the same but the times were listed differently, as was often the case. But I don’t know.