MAKING A LIST: When a Schedule of Games Is Life Itself

Posted on Nov 26, 2012

Every September, back at school, it was all brand new again. Everything. Even as part of being there was a return to the old and familiar.

One of my first rituals was to get myself to Billera Hall. To smell the place again, to stand in the lobby again, to peer out at the court again.

I’d breathe the place in again, and I’d be home.

Ritual two was to check the basketball schedule, which John Compardo, our athletic director, would  have pinned on the bulletin board.

I could stare at it for half an hour.

Who we playin’? How many games? Any new teams?

New opponents were critical. A new team on the schedule provided imprimatur for last year’s effort and augered well for the future. A schedule upgrade was one of the few concrete indicators we had of the program’s progress.

Sophomore year there was Philadelphia Pharmacy (at home!), a terrific get, a Philadelphia team in the mix with all the rest of the city’s colleges, Villanova on down. To get down to Pharmacy was quite the ways, but so what?  Senior year there was Ursinus College, an established small-college MAC team outside Philly that played in a fabulous new field house. Exactly how cool was that going to be?

On our list of games, there was no asterisk next to a few schools to designate a league tilt. No tiny cross by a few others to indicate an intra-conference contest. No trio of schools was joined with Allentown as the fourth for a festive holiday tournament. And for sure there were no open dates at the bottom optimistically reserved for postseason pairings. We were an “independent” — its very definition. We had nothing to aspire to beyond the playing of our games, one by one, as they came to us. That rendered a contest tremendously important, each and every, in and of itself.

Really: We played the games just to play the game. There was good in that.

In truth, the schedule was always a bit of a hit-or-miss affair. Only now can I appreciate how difficult it must have been for Coach Compardo to weave one together from the threads of his foundling team.

The first thing I did was count. I wanted a twenty-game season. Twenty games, that was substantial, a real campaign, worth boasting about. And only with 20 games could you win 20 games, and a 20-win season, that would be something. Hey, remember: It was only September.

We always played both Lehigh and Northampton county community colleges, the final pair of two-year remnants from the school’s first intercollegiate schedule. We needed not to be playing them anymore if we wanted to advance the Centaur cause, but the only honorable way to get rid of them was through convincing victory. That didn’t always happen.

We also played a few no-name schools that were, quite simply, good. No names here being the point. We could run with some of these teams and occasionally beat them. But even when we did, it was against a team no one had ever heard of.

There was also a class of team we played each year, the “Bible schools,” as we Catholics called them. Three, sometimes four, together they accounted for six, seven, maybe eight games each year. Even back then, deep inside the competitive bubble, I appreciated the clash of cultures that we and they on the same court together represented (though I doubt if then I expressed it quite so high- and openmindedly).

The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales were fierce, independent educators. They prized thought. With every Allentown student required to take one philosophy and one theology course per school year (a de facto minor), lots of independent thought is what the Oblates got. Such discourse is not always pretty. Junior year, in fact, it got downright ugly, as a baby-boomer student body flexed its muscles against the established Oblate order. I never had the impression that the Bible schools saw the educational value (or even just the possibility) of growth through this kind of chaos. These teams were fiercely disciplined, ferociously schooled. When we played at their place, it seemed the entire student body was in attendance, packing the stands, the outcome clearly important. Students came equipped with pep band and unrelenting, choreographed cheers. Would that we had that at Billera, even if it meant no after-game kegger.

Finally, in those early years of schedule making, there was the team or two we Centaurs should never have played. This worked for or against. Allentown’s worst beating (70 points) and its greatest margin of victory (75) were registered 43 and 42 years ago, respectively. A huge loss declared obviously awful things about the program. Meanwhile, a huge win said nothing good; it was just another missed opportunity to have tested ourselves against a worthier foe.

I consoled myself with the fact that I had no control over any of this. My job was to play it out. And so in September I’d trek down to Billera, check the bulletin board, feel my stomach tighten as I ran my finger down the list. Here was my school year — my life, really — as I would come to know it, listed for me game by game. Date, day and time conveniently included.

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Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS: A ‘memory blog’ of the basketball beginnings of a half-good, half-bad, all-new college team.

Once, I was a Centaur.

I played basketball for Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pa. I was on four of the school’s first seven teams, was MVP senior year and in 1974 graduated in the fifth class.

My junior year I kept a diary: A History of the Events of the 1972-1973 Allentown College B-Ball Season, as Chronicled by, and With the Personal Memoirs + Occassional [sic] Philosophizing of the Author, One Stephen J. McKee.  One-hundred-forty-five hand-writ pages. (Yes, I was an English major.)

But it occurs to me now: Were I today a “Bulldog” playing for “DeSales University” (both mascot and name changed in 2000), my private “History” would be not a diary but a blog.

So starting November 30  “…Personal Memoirs…” will be re-imagined as CENTAUR SEASONS

A blog before its time, posted 40 years after in real time.

Meanwhile, beginning on September 24, here at CENTAUR SEASONS the preseason has already tipped off, with stories, interviews and reminiscences of the people, the place and the purpose of those early years of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

Check back often. Sign up for CentaurSeasonAlerts. Email CENTAUR SEASONS to friends.

We were not a bad team, we Centaurs. We just weren’t very good. Winning was always the goal, if never exactly the point. How could it be, with victories so few?

Back then Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was a couple of buildings in some cornfields.  Our commitment to the school’s basketball program was far greater than was the school’s commitment us. So what? We got to play college ball – and paid for the privilege! In return, we got to be part of a team, wear the red and blue, be Centaurs. And we got to create a place that was, right then, as much concept as it was college, making itself up as we went along.

What we got was a once-in-a-life-time chance.

All we had to do was keep showing up -- next practice, next game, next season. And so we did.