THE TAO OF TURTLE: A Centaur who didn’t play much remembers why the games mattered so much and reminds me of what’s important as CENTAUR SEASONS YEAR TWO tips off…

Posted on Dec 02, 2013

His name is Michael Dowd, but you can call him “Turtle.” Everybody else does.  He got so dubbed in grade school CYO – he can’t remember why, he says, though “it probably had something to do with my foot speed” – but it didn’t become his true identity until he got to Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in 1968.

“Before I started my freshman year I was up there in summer school,” he says. “A bunch of us were hanging out, talking nicknames, and I said, ‘Turtle,’ and everybody thought it was hysterical, and that was it.”

And Turtle he remains. “There are people who don’t even know what my real name is.”

Welcome today to the tip-off of Centaur Seasons Year Two. Brand new, never-read-before posts now through the Final Four in April.  Since “Midnight Madness” in October there has been a rapidly replayed succession of last season’s efforts, to reacquaint readers with past goings-on while also, it’s hoped, attracting new fans to the Centaur cause and the life and time of our middle-of-nowhere, just-getting-started cornfield college.

Now, the new season has begun.  Spoiler alert: Most of this going forward will be about ME. Me and my 6-foot-8-inches (and maybe 170 pale-skinned pounds) making one final stab, my senior year, at being the basketball player I hadn’t been in high school.  Because when I arrived as a freshman at this brand-new, barely there college and sized up its fledgling program, I realized that here in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, I could perhaps find redemption, or something like it. It became a driving force, this: to become Steve McKee, basketball player.  And as my senior year began in September 1973, I had one final Centaur Season to make it happen. Or not.

And yet for all that this all starts now with … Turtle.

He grew up in Riverside, New Jersey, on the Delaware, halfway between the Tacony-Palmyra and Burlington-Bristol bridges. Like me, he’d played CYO ball, at St. Pete’s, and, like me, he hadn’t played in high school, at TKTK. The MASCOT, “were a decent team,” Turtle says. Indeed, while Turtle wasn’t playing for them the team sent a pair of brothers to LaSalle, in the Big 5, the sun the moon the stars for Philly-orbitting basketball kids.

Like me,  Turtle saw the Centaurs as a way, maybe, to be what he hadn’t been in high school.  A basketball player, on the team. And he was. Turtle was a Centaur on the college’s first two intercollegiate teams, 1968-’69 and 1969-’70.

“I loved it,” Turtle told me. “I mean, basketball’s fun. It was the camaraderie. It was fun to be around the guys. We had a good time. Practices, bus rides, the games.”

He talked of riding up to practice over winter break with Tom Paolini in Pay-oh’s Alfa-Romeo convertible, which had no heat, wrapping themselves in blankets to stay warm. Crazy stuff. He remembered sleeping in the gym over the break. How nuts was that?

“It was,” Turtle says, “just neat to be part of the whole concept of being part of the team.”

Just neat.

Tall and rangy Turtle was, a Phil Jackson type, long-limbed and bony, with large hands. He went 0-for-3 and pulled down six rebounds in a 1969 York College game down at their place. Allentown got whipped that night by their own Centaur tails, beat by 70 points, 124-54, a famous crushing raged about later for years after.

Turtle says he has no recollection of that game — “and probably for good reason!” No matter. His name (“Dowd”) is on the official homemade, mimeographed score sheet, his Centaur bona fides established. This is important because, well, as Turtle says:  “I was a playground basketball player. I never did make the high school team. And even at Allentown I was riding the pine.”

I can’t say I knew Turtle. Except to say he could juggle — “Yeah, that was one of the things I did learn in college” — as this post last season explains. He was a member of the class of 1970, the year before I arrived, but his Coast Guard reserve duty had left him short some credits so he was still there when I was a freshman. This affable, laid-back guy with shaggy hair and crooked grin, wire rim glasses on a prominent nose (like I should talk). I didn’t even know he’d been on the team until years later and I was on the alumni board and was recruiting former players to come back for a game.

Paging through the scorebooks of Turtle’s two years as a Centaur confirms that he did indeed ride the pine. The unfamiliar “Dowd” shows up consistently on the Centaur roster, but usually with zeroes or blank spaces in the adjoining columns.  And yet that’s the thing: It always shows up.

Last year during the first go of Centaur Seasons, its 97 posts, Turtle became a regular reader, commenting often enough to qualify him as one of Centaur Seasons’ most avid followers *.

One of his comments particularly stuck: “Those games were important because they were such a big part of the little we had at the college then.”

This from a guy who rarely played in any of those games.

And he still goes to a couple of games a year. It’s surreal, he says. Billera Hall is packed, the place rockin’. And the team – they’re the Bulldogs now – is a big-time winner. Nothing like, you know, when he was there. And yet: “We were on that same floor. We were in that same locker room. In retrospect, it’s pretty neat.”

Yes.

Which is why I have begun this coming saga of my senior Centaur Season with this wisdom from Turtle. To remind me of what matters, and what doesn’t, regardless of how my last-chance saloon, my final exam of a basketball season plays out.

When we talked in the phone, I was riffing through the scorebook again. In a rare Centaur blowout over a hapless opponent, some guy named “Dowd” had 12 points. Really? “Yeah” Turtle said proudly, but then he stopped, and from 43 years later said: “I thought it was 13. It was on our home court. That was the only game when I got into double figures.”  Turtle missed one shot that night, had six rebounds and an assist. And he was the team’s leading scorer.

Those games were important because they were such a big part of the little we had at the college then.

And an equally big part of what we have taken with us now.

“I am what I am, the person I am, because of what I did back then,” Turtle told me. “We weren’t playing for the crowd. There was no crowd. I was riding the pine but I wouldn’t trade it. It was all an experience I wouldn’t want to live without.”

*YOU CAN READ TURTLE’S COMMENTS FROM LAST YEAR, AND THE POSTS THAT PROMTED THEM …

… here: CENTAUR ONE: First Among Us.” Here: WHY CENTAUR? Mascot in the Making.  Here: SLEEPING IN THE GYM, OR: “The Process of Becoming Basketball Team.”  Here: CENTAUR STORY: “I Should Have Been a Much Better Teammate.” And here: IN THE YEAR 2053.

 

 

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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.

Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS.

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