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The Wide Angle: Long bench and short shorts — Memories of a seasoned bench-warmer

A fairly surprising thing happened recently.

Last week, I wrote a column on the 25 years since the country’s only F5 tornado paid us an unwelcome visit.

Afterwards, I received a few emails from people I hadn’t talked to in a long time, mostly about the tornado. That was until I got an email from Tim Boogerd.

I remembered him as soon as I saw the name and to be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure why.

I knew Tim when I was in junior high and for a few short years after, but once I graduated, like so many people, I lost track of him.

And yet there he was in my inbox and my memory, clear as the day is long.

Almost as if he were reading my mind, I get another email from him with what he called a “nugget”  from our past. I opened the email and, there he was. There I was.

There we all were — our junior high basketball team displaying in all its glory that awkward stage of youth where nobody looks normal.

I’m the unathletic-looking imp, first row, second from the right. Fear me. Photo provided

Tim was, if I’m going to judge by the pictures, the second tallest on our team just behind Matthew Hurd. They were our post players — clearly. They were by far the tallest on our team, but then again, it was junior high and again — we were a unique vision of how puberty is fair to some and unfair to others.

Amazingly, I remember all the faces if not all the names and I’m pretty happy about this considering the most recent person I’ve seen is Dan Ruiter, a classmate that lives just up Highway 218 in Owatonna. The others I haven’t seen in years, nor do I know where even a minority of them are.

Currently — as I write this — I’ve got the picture Tim sent me on an adjacent computer screen and honestly it’s distracting.

Tim, as both memory and the image attest, was a tall, lanky kid with long-strides that took him down the court far quicker and easier than say, I.

In horribly stark contrast I was small and skinny with a mop of unruly brown hair and all the basketball talent of say, well, a mop.

But those uniforms — good grief those uniforms. They were a dark blue if memory continues to serve with either white or yellow pin striping — It’s hard to tell because the photo is black and white. On the front, they were emblazoned with the words “Chandler Cougars.” In those days our junior high was co-opped with Chandler Christian School that sat on the edge of Chandler at the foot of arguably the best sledding hill in Murray County.

The Cougars prowled its space-reduced gym where the top of the key almost touched the center-court circle. The ceiling was ridiculously low making jump balls interesting.

There were a few times we played at the the high school gym as the photo proves and at the time that made us feel like superstars — unless you had tiny legs like I did then it was like continually running the length of a football field.

While all this paints a picture of small-town,  junior high basketball adequately enough, it does not paint a very good picture of our uniforms that proudly, if not perhaps a little falsely, proclaimed us cougars.

Oh, those uniforms. They were of course a throwback to the 1980s. Anybody looking at the picture would say, “Oh, that’s embarrassingly 80s.”

They wouldn’t be wrong. The jerseys were tight to say the least — except again on me, where nothing was snug because there were cats bigger than me. No, no, house cats, not our namesake the cougar.

The shorts were also — snug and high-riding. I remember them being terribly uncomfortable, but that’s what we had. The only thing that was missing were the belt buckles which I got to relive on the Chandler-Lake Wilson JV team, before we joined with Edgerton.

So somehow, after junior high, we took a step back to the 70s where I was the worst version of Pistol Pete Maravich ever.

When Tim sent me this he also included the write up that was included in one of our area papers.

This I don’t remember, but apparently we won the Trip County Conference Junior High Basketball Tournament. And apparently we did it in spectacular fashion, beating Ellsworth — or as our youthful immaturity at the time referred to them as, Ellsworthless — 55-18 in the opening game.

We were a true powerhouse and meant I got to play a lot — I think. I had a love-hate relationship with high school sports in those days, mostly because of my less-than imposing stature. I, was what you called then, a seasoned benchwarmer.

The next game we beat the powerhouse Leota 55-46, bringing us face-to-face with Edgerton Christian in the championship game.

It was a battle, with the boys of Chandler Christian/Chandler-Lake Wilson taking a 19-15 halftime lead, but Edgerton battled back, tying the score at 36 at the end of regulation, forcing an extra period. Battled and weary, the Cougar youngsters rose above the competition to claim a 46-44 win — or at least that’s what the little write-up claimed. Again, I don’t remember.

And in that team photo, were the featured faces of your Tri County champions. Weary, battle-hardened, fire-tested. We had seen adversity and rose above it to claim our rightful spot at the top.

In the annuals of Chandler Christian and Chandler-Lake Wilson an unlikely band of brothers came together in fellowship and as teammates to battle all comers and overcoming any trial that came our way.

Yes Freddy Mercury, We were the champions and we kept fighting to the end — in tiny, uncomfortable shorts.