CHAMPIONS IN GOD’S EYES: The Ironmen of Eagle River (Part 3)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: For those who miss high school basketball and love an inspiring story, I am serializing the first chapter of my novel, “Champions In God’s Eyes: The Ironmen of Eagle River,” on WhatcomHoops.com over the first five days of July. If you missed the beginning, click on PART 1. I hope you enjoy it (and if you’ve already read it, please leave a review on AMAZON).

PREVIOUSLY IN PART 2: To deal with the loss of his father, freshman Cameron Carpenter wrote in a journal during his high school basketball season. Fifty years later, he is visiting his old friend and teammate, Jonah Jackson, as they begin to read it together one last time.

Cameron Carpenter’s Journal (1974-75)

Monday, November 11

Dear Dad,

This is stupid.

Write a letter to my father. Put down my thoughts and feelings. It’ll help me deal with things. That’s what the shrink said.

Yeah, sure. Right now, I’m thinking I don’t want to deal with things. And how do I feel? Like beating the S out of someone. I guess that means I’m in denial and have anger issues. Don’t need a shrink degree to figure that out.

But let’s look at the bright side: I just moved to a little hick town a thousand miles from my home, from my friends, and from you, Dad. Mom and I live in a rickety, old trailer that is waterlogged because it hasn’t stopped raining since we got here. I’m the new kid in school who everybody ignores or talks about behind my back. And I’m supposed to write something insightful.

Wow! I’m feeling better already! 

Stupid.

I shouldn’t have told the shrink I like to write. What teenage boy in the history of teenage boys ever wanted to “explore their inner emotions”—whatever that means—by writing in a notebook? But since we moved and there probably aren’t any shrinks within a hundred miles of this dump, I guess she thought this might fix the wayward kid with the temper problem.

Mom said it couldn’t hurt. I guess she’s right. Anything is better than having to visit a shrink once a week and sit on a little, irritating couch while she writes all my deep, dark secrets on her little, irritating notepad. Screw that. So, here’s my first letter to you, Dad.

The shrink said the important thing was to write something down every day, but Mom said I only need to write when I want to, and if I don’t want the shrink to see it, I don’t have to show her or anybody. I can toss it or burn it. So there’s no pressure. I can write whatever I want.

Okay, I’ll do it. For Mom. For you. But I’m only doing it when I feel like it. Which might be never again.

Stupid.

Your loving (and messed-up) son,

Cam

Sunday, November 17

Okay, it wasn’t never. Just a week.

Dad, here’s the deal: They want me to write down what I’m thinking about so I can face all the psychological crap in my screwed-up life that I don’t want to talk about. It’s probably just some new kind of therapy the shrink heard about. She told Mom she thinks it will help me get better.

When I told Mom that I felt stupid writing letters to you, she suggested writing a journal. Fine. We had to do a journal in eighth-grade English last year, and it was no big deal. So if they want me to write down what I’m thinking about, here goes: I’m thinking about basketball. (I knew you’d like that.)

Consider this my freshman basketball journal.

Starting today, I’ll write something every day (if I feel like it) and tell you what’s happening in my life (if anything interesting happens). Then by the end of the season, I’ll be cured. Yippee! No more getting in fights or punching lockers. No more waking up screaming after another nightmare. I’ll be a nice, sweet, normal kid. Like Richie on Happy Days.

Or not. Guess we’ll see.

Basketball tryouts start tomorrow. Maybe they’ll take my mind off my crummy life. Am I nervous about the tryouts? Naw. Not really. Well, not really nervous.

Mom let me shoot in the gym tonight. Guess there’s one advantage to having your mom work as the school janitor. You get your own private gym.

I had the “feeling” again. You know, the one where you feel like you can’t miss? It didn’t matter how far from the hoop or what angle. Off the backboard like Hondo Havlicek, off the dribble like the Big O, shooting it extra high on the drive like Tiny Archibald, bombing from long distance like my man, Mr. Clutch, Jerry West.

Swish, swish, swish, swish.

I wish I could’ve played all night. The shrink once asked me where my safe place was. The basketball court is my safe place. But Mom started turning off the lights in the gym because she was finished cleaning. Time to go. School in the morning.

I told her I hadn’t shot my ten free throws, so she waited until I tossed down the final one. Ten in a row. Just like you taught me. Can’t quit until I make ten in a row. Then we closed the gym. I literally “shot the lights out.” Hey, pretty funny, although the shrink would probably point out a deep-seated obsession with shootings. Whatever.

I do like having my own gym, but it’s nothing like our courts at Bloody Omaha. Half the rims were bent from dunk kings, and the backboards were full of bullet holes. But who cares?

I still miss L.A. I miss the playground. I miss my friends.

I miss you.

Monday, November 18

Dad, I admit I was kind of uptight this morning. Fortunately, Mom started my day right. Bacon and eggs. The breakfast of champions just like she’d make when you came home after a night shift. She told me not to worry about the tryouts because everything would work out. That made me feel better. Of course, it didn’t take the nervousness away.

It was like that first time you took me to play at Bloody Omaha. I wanted to look like I was just chillin’, but inside I was freaking out. Wouldn’t any twelve-year-old freak out going to a place called Bloody Omaha? But Omaha Beach Community Park doesn’t sound as cool even if it was named after some World War II battle, and none of the brothers ever called it that. You always told Mom we were just going to the beach—ha ha, now I know where I get my sense of humor. You told her it was part of the job. Maybe it was, but I doubt old Captain Tinsley ever ordered you to shoot hoops with the bros.

The first time was a little scary, but you were there, and you knew I loved playing hoops. When you took me down to the rookie end, you told me basketball is the same everywhere. Then you shoved me onto the court with the other rookies.

Maybe I should’ve been super nervous since I was the littlest kid, and, of course, I was the only white one. But you must’ve known when to come because they needed an extra player, even if he was a little white boy. And when I hit my first shot over that hot dog, I was part of the team. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that Honey told me they let me in the game only because my old man was Sarge Carpenter. Thanks, Dad.

Don’t know why I wrote all that, except to say I shouldn’t have been worried today. Mom said Eagle River is a pretty small high school, even for Washington. It’s true. There were more kids in my detention class in LA than in the freshman class here.

Most of the guys turning out wouldn’t even make the rookie courts at Bloody Omaha. It looks like your boy Cam is going to make the team. I hope I make you proud.

Tuesday, November 19

Hey, Dad. Back again. I had another nightmare last night. The shrink said to try to remember everything I could when I had one. I didn’t want to tell her about them, but Mom snitched. Thanks, Mom. I don’t have them as much anymore; it’s been a couple of weeks since my last one. Until last night. Mom had to come in and wake me up. She said I was screaming out to you.

Mostly I remember being in the park like that Saturday, and there are always basketball games going on. Then some of the players become these dark shapes and start chasing me and shooting at me. I can’t get away, and I see you on the hill. I call out to you, and I run toward you, but I can’t get any closer and the shapes are almost on top of me. I guess that’s why I scream, “Dad! Dad!” I want you to save me when I should be trying to save you.

Not sure why I had the nightmare—and it might be just a coincidence—but I heard “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” on the radio yesterday. It was the first time I’d heard it since that day.

It made me think of Honey, how he’d strut in like he owned the playground and would always say, “Yo, Sarge, what’s up?” How you’d give him five and ask if he was staying out of trouble. And he’d always say the same thing. “Always, my man. If you don’t count the drug deals and the armed robbery.”

I always thought that was so funny, him telling that to a cop. He’d laugh, and you’d laugh. I remember that day you told him he could afford another jersey. He loved that old, raggedy number 13—Wilt’s number. He called it his good-luck charm, but I think he just liked showing off his muscles. I’ll bet he’s still schooling those boys from the suburbs. I miss him.

I can still hear him whisper, “It’ll be all right.”

But things aren’t all right. They won’t ever be.

Wednesday, November 20

Dad, I know you played in high school and were looking forward to seeing me play, but I’m not sure I’ll get used to this school-ball thing. On the playground, it’s all about balling—what you do in the game. All we’ve been doing for three days are drills: running lines, doing layups, practicing lame plays.

Boring with a capital B.

Then there’s the assistant coach: Wartman. All he does is yell. “Move your feet!” “Hold the ball high!” “Bounce pass!” It’s just bull-oney.

I did an alley-oop on one layup, bouncing it off the backboard on the run and then laying it in. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself. You’d have liked it. A few of the guys liked it too. Believe it or not, I had to show them it was okay to “slap some skin.” Guess nobody gives ten or even five up here in the sticks. It’s not that hard. Just slap palms and don’t leave me hanging, bro. I’ll be giving lots of fives just like the brothers at Bloody Omaha, so they better get used to it.

Of course, Wartman yelled, “Quit showing off, Carpenter!”

Hey, it was just to relieve the boredom. At least he knew my name.

I probably should be studying math or history or something, but I’d rather watch another rerun of Star Trek. Just wish I could leave Eagle River and go on a mission with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.

Beam me up, Scotty! No intelligent life down here. 

Friday, November 22

Dad! It’s finally Friday. The first week of practice is over. Finally. One good thing happened. After practice, I was shooting my free throws—gotta make ten in a row, right?—when a guy came over. I could tell right away I wasn’t going to like him.

Crew cut, white T-shirt, Converse high tops. Not cool.

Here’s what’s cool: styling hair, Keep on Truckin’ T-shirt, Adidas. 

“You’re the California kid,” he said. Nice intro, dude.

“I guess so,” I said. Nice comeback, dude.

“You want to go a little one-on-one?” he asked.

Hey, even if the guy toasted me, at least I was playing ball instead of running more stupid lines. Well, he wasn’t bad. He was a little bigger and a little stronger than me, and he could shoot the J. The thing I liked best is he didn’t call fouls. Nobody likes a wuss who calls fouls on the playground. We played to ten twice.

Am I building up the suspense? Cam the Man won 10-3 and 10-4. But like I said, he wasn’t bad. I told him I was just on.

Afterward, he wanted to talk. For a redneck, he wasn’t a bad guy. His name is Luke Garrison, and we mostly talked basketball. Luke said the freshman class was supposed to be pretty good. Except he thought he’d be the best freshman until, well, until Mighty Cam came along. He said maybe we could both make the varsity.

JV or varsity, doesn’t matter to me. It was just nice talking to somebody in Eagle River besides Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa. Even if the dude has short hair and high tops.

Saturday, November 23

Dad, I’m bored. Nothing to do in this hick town but watch TV. I’m not sure if the shrink would like me watching Kung Fu, though, what with my history of getting into fights. Oh well. Maybe I’ll listen to BTO. Mom got me their newest album; I think she felt sorry for me being the new kid and all.

Hey! That could be my theme song: “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” Of course, what’s Mom sing when she hears us bragging? “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” Ha ha. And I thought you were the funny one.

Continue to PART 4

For a signed copy of the book, e-mail whatcomhoops@comcast.net or click on SIGNED COPY. You also can order it online or find it at your local book stores.

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

Author
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.

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