The high school sports scene has certainly undergone significant changes over the past 60 years.
I remember, in those oh-so-long-ago years that high school consolidation was still in its infancy. Few of the state’s small schools had track and field and fewer still played football.
Most small schools played a spring baseball schedule. That was the case at North Polk, from which I graduated in 1961 — a grand year for seniors. First, North Polk had been consolidated in 1956, my eighth-grade year. Ah, but North Polk reorganized the following year, 1957, when Polk City joined with Alleman, Elkhart and Sheldahl to form the “New North Polk Consolidated School District.”
I suppose it was because of the “new” alignment that several important decisions befell the freshman class of 1957-58, of which I was a part. It was left to our group of freshmen — there were still 43 of us together when we graduated in 1961 — to make a number of decisions.
For instance, it was the freshman class that decided on school colors and a school nickname.
If you’re a current North Polk student, or if you’re a graduate during any year since 1957, I’ll tell you that we didn’t take our task lightly.
In the end, though, and without a whole lot of discussion or dissension, the nickname — Comets — and the colors — red and black — were adopted. Soon after, most sports played today became part of the high school calendar or were added in a few quick years.
Many of us still played summer baseball. American Legion Baseball was king for high school-age boys. We had no Little League teams in Alleman (I organized and coached the first-ever Alleman team while still in high school). By the time I turned 13 we had the opportunity to play Babe Ruth baseball. At first there was East North Polk (Elkhart) and West North Polk (Alleman). During my final Babe Ruth season in 1959, there was a four-team league that included North Polk, Granger and two Urbandale teams, Super Valu and Hinky Dinky.
We had a pretty darn good team, roaring out to a 6-1 record, while Granger and Super Valu were each 4-3. Hinky Dinky was winless. Then things turned sour. We lost to Granger while Super Valu was beating Hinky Dinky. We still had a one-game lead with one to play against Super Valu.
That’s when our shortstop upset the apple cart, and our stomachs.
His name was Bradley (I won’t use his last name in case he still lives in this area) and it was the only summer he lived near Alleman. He was our shortstop. We went into the final game knowing we had to win.
That’s when Bradley stepped prominently to the forefront.
As the teams warmed up and just before we came to bat in the first inning, I heard a “Pssst, hey, you guys, come over here.”
It was Bradley and he was grinning like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. “Look here,” he said. “Wanna try some?”
What Bradley had was a pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco, something none of us had ever tried. We were quite used to watching White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox on television. Ole Nellie, you may remember, had a cheek that bulged with a huge wad of tobacco when he played. Hey, if it was good enough for a Major Leaguer, then it ought to be good for a bunch of 14- and 15-year-old baseball players, too.
Not wanting to be considered a wimp, or worse a “square” by our friends, we stood behind the small grandstand and dutifully reached into the green pouch with an Indian figure and grabbed a small wad of chew. We all put it inside our cheek and went out to win the last game and take home our championship.
We scored one in the top of the first and I dutifully took the mound. By then, though, the wad of tobacco was becoming more unpleasant by the minute.
That’s when it happened.
Our shortstop, of course it was Bradley, who’d brought us the chew, suddenly yelled, “Time out!”
As play in the bottom of the first inning was delayed, all eyes were on Bradley. He suddenly sprinted from his position in the infield toward the left field fence. He hung over the fence and became very ill. As he stood there, a couple other players suddenly raced toward our dugout, also overcome by sudden illness.
They only had a step or two on me as I also raced off the field behind them.
It must have been quite a sight for the few fans in the grandstand. The game had just begun and our shortstop, pitcher, first baseman and left fielder were all off the field trying to rid our mouths of that horrible tasting chew. Already, I could feel our championship slipping away.
I’m sure the coach, an Alleman-area farmer, knew what was happening. He just kept quiet, though, gave us all an ice-cold stare and sent us back out on the field.
I don’t think there was anything in the rule book to cover such an infraction. The dirty looks from our coach and the umpires, though, made us realize there should have been a rule to cover such a situation.
The game didn’t go so well after that, but I suppose you’d already figured that out. We didn’t hit, I couldn’t pitch and we didn’t field well.
We lost. Our championship was tainted with a three-way tie.
I can’t remember if sadness or sickness was harder to deal with afterward.
I do know, though, it was the one and only time in my life I ever thought of Nellie Fox as a hero baseball player.
Oh, his family moved away shortly after the game. I knew him only a couple of months, but he left an indelible impression on a bunch of old-enough-to-know-better teens one day in 1959.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.