Random Thoughts

Sports, Then and Now

... a lifetime of entertainment

by Ann Robbins Talbot

Living in Melrose, so close to Boston, it was natural that sports would enter my life at an early age and continue to remain there. With our professional teams so newsworthy, often exhilarating, occasionally exasperating, sports tend to become part of our daily lives. “What about those Red Sox (Celtics, Bruins,Patriots)” is a great conversation opener with friends and strangers alike.  Everybody has an opinion and expresses it freely.

With two older brothers involved in the sports of the Melrose schools, it was natural for my parents to enroll me in the YMCA at an early age. The Melrose Y kept Wednesdays for girls only. The exercise classes and the pool were presided over by Fred Lacey, a man I totally admired. From third grade on, Mr. Lacey was my friend. He worked us hard and we loved it. I especially looked forward to the Y Day Camp. It was a bring-your-lunch, stay-all-day-without-your-parents situation designed to bring out the best in you physically and socially. I got to meet girls of all ages, many who would be role models for me. I remember seeing some of the older girls downtown or at church. They would always speak to me as a friend and I, in turn as I became one of the older girls myself, would do the same for the younger ones. What a boost in self-esteem that little kindness was.

Being sort of a fixture at the Y, I was chosen to be on the Board of Governors of the Saturday night canteen. This was the province of Doc Clark, the wonderful gym teacher from Melrose High. We collected the modest entrance fee at the head of the long stairway. Canteen night was coed, but the boys played basketball and swam while the girls watched, waiting for the boys to finally come upstairs to dance. Dressing up for dancing and swimming in the steamy pool did not mix in my mind. During this time I learned to play a fair game of pool. Our competition was the Greenwood Canteen. Lots of Melrose kids went up there to dance, but I stayed with the Y. On Sunday morning, the first topic on our Sunday school agenda was who walked home with who(m). The morning we discovered that the boy who walked me home went back to Hopkins and walked home with my friend was a sad day for that boy. We never gave him another look.

In our senior year Senior Life Saving was offered on Wednesday nights. It was a tough course, but I was preparing to be a camp counselor, so I really wanted that certificate. We learned techniques that I remember to this day. On Thursday mornings, a person could walk around MHS and pick out the girls in the life saving class. Their eyes were still red from a three-hour dose of chlorine.

The team sport that attracted me was field hockey. I played for MHS for four years and loved every minute of it. I was a right halfback whose job was to help defend the goal and to feed the ball to the scoring line. It was total running, learning to fool the other team as to where you were going to hit the ball while letting your team know where it was going. Field hockey sticks are made to hit the ball with one side only, so dribbling is a series of little hits quite different than playing on ice. The uniforms consisted of short little skirts which were very comfortable at the beginning of September and totally inadequate the week before Thanksgiving. A tiny pair of shin guards was the only protection between you and the hard ball and the sticks of the opponents. We were bruised, enthusiastic and proud to represent Melrose. We loved away games and the camaraderie of the bus rides with lots of singing and teasing. The bond of the team was carried off the field in a very special way. I continued to play field hockey for four years at Bridgewater State.

Cheerleading was not considered a sport in my day. There were no gymnastics involved, just leading the crowd in cheering for the football and basketball teams. But it was a workout in practice and on game day.  Another amazing man, George McPheters, was our coach. Mac was the kind of teacher that I wanted to become, taking us on our trip to Washington, DC, supervising the Girls Club on Monday nights, and being the worship leader at our Sunday school at the Baptist Church. He was a wonderful cartoonist and incorporated all the activities in a self-portrait cartoon in my yearbook that I cherish. And he played doubles tennis at the Common all his life.

As I grew up, my sporting life consisted of running around with my fourth and fifth grade students and my two sons. Upon retirement I took up golf. That is really too late to develop any level of expertise, but I had lots of fun. Getting up at five to be out on the course at 5:45 am was a treat. We would have to wait for deer to get out of the way and play through flocks of Canada geese grazing on the fairways. My short game was pretty good, but I never hit the drives as long as I wished, even though they were pretty straight. I particularly liked playing best ball. Then I could benefit by my partner’s drives and contribute my chipping and putting. But my partner moved away two years ago, and I have not continued to play.  

My sporting life has morphed into being a fan. I love watching the Boston group and keeping up on the ins and outs as reported on tv news. I love the big tournaments all the way up to the Olympic games. I am actually an Olympic junkie. This summer was a sports fan’s dream, or nightmare. Wimbledon and the World Cup overlapped. Both were in a similar time zone, five hours ahead of ours. To keep track of both, watch the best matches and stay awake to watch the Red Sox took lots of juggling. Little else got done in my house during those weeks.  I remember spending fifteen cents on the B&M railroad and ninety cents for a ticket to see the Bruins. Those days are gone forever. Now a hundred dollars will buy you an evening of professional sports. But as long as the tv works, we can participate in sports in our own way.

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