Wilmer School had a junior high basketball team, and by the time I was in the sixth grade, I had a pretty good backyard-peach-basket jump shot. Since my daddy was coaching the team that year while his arm healed from an amputation following a hunting accident the previous year, I dressed out with the team. I didn’t play a lot. cored one point on a free throw. That was my contribution! But in my mind, then and now, it was huge.
We practiced and played our home games on an outside court, and the only team that would play us outside was Tanner Williams, our natural rival. Why they were willing to play home and home games with us will become apparent in a few sentences.
Our court was made of packed red clay and sat squarely between the coal bin and the school building. That location gave us some definite homecourt benefits. On the side of the court nearest the building, there was an area–about four feet by eight feet—and every so often, there would be the corner of a chunk of coal sticking up just above the court surface. That coal had fallen off the coal bucket as it had been carried inside to heat one of the school’s cast-iron potbellied stoves in every classroom. If the ball hit a corner of one of those pieces of coal, it was likely to fly off in any direction like it had a mind of its own. Homecourt advantage to Wilmer.
On the other side of the court, and about the same size as the coalpit, the red clay had devolved over the years into an area of soft red sand just inside the sideline. If a Wilmer defender could guide the Tanner Williams player he was guarding toward the sideline, that player was in for a big surprise. His experience (and the rules of physics unknown to him) told that Tanner Williams player that when he was dribbling the ball and the ball was pushed downward, it would always rebound right back to his hand. Except, this time when that ball hit the sandpit, it was staying right there! Advantage Wilmer. Again.
Tanner Williams School, in the small agricultural community of Tanner Williams about 9 miles down the road, was Wilmer’s natural rival because they were much like us. Town as a description is being generous for Wilmer and Tanner Williams. No mayor back then. Maybe a grocery store, a filling station. A couple of churches maybe. But like most small country towns, the school was its primary point of pride. Lots of proud folks in those two little Mobile County country towns.
It was a real treat for us to travel to Tanner Williams to play basketball. You see, for whatever reason, the Mobile County School Board gave them an asphalt court. To us rednecks that was like the Madison Square Garden because from a distance as the bus drove up for the first time, that court looked as smooth as Big Creek Lake on a calm summer day.
However, once we stepped on the court dressed like a hockey team–knee pads and elbow pads for everyone—it was clear that that asphalt was not smooth at all. And falling on it going full speed was like laying down a motorcycle at 60 mph on Highway 98. The only question was where and how many skid marks you were going to get because you were going to get skid marks. Advantage, Tanner Williams!
Payback is a bitch, and those Tanner Williams boys enjoyed every minute of it. But, that’s all right, we were country kids. We would have expected no less.