We played a lot of backyard football on Bitters Court, many of the games on the hill in my parents' backyard. It was a precarious field. One out-of-bounds was dubiously defined by where the hill began to slope downward, the other was an imaginary line 3 feet from the neighbors fence. Being forced out of bounds was never good because you either flew down the hill or needed to avoid the fence. Touchdowns were the swingset on one side and one fencepost short of my Dad's garden on the other. We mainly avoided kickoffs and started on the '20 yard line', which was the second fencepost from the garden. For years after I moved away you could still identify the 20 by the weeds that grew back where we had worn away the grass.
In 1975, my 3rd grade buddy, Joey LaMere, and I spent a lot of class time talking about football. We loved the Packers, and challenged each other with math problems based on jersey numbers such as "Ted Hendricks plus Jim Carter." (133 by the way.) Joey talked about the "Custer Court Killers", the football team he and his friends formed on their street. I knew I had a team in the guys I played with: my brother Jon, Mike Brimmer and Steve Barlament. So I quickly told Joe about our team, hastily naming us the "Bitters Court Bombers." Wouldn't it be fun to schedule a game against each other, we mused until Mrs. Peppard told us to get back to our schoolwork.
The date was set for the showdown between Bitters and Custer Courts on Resurrection field. Preparation was intense. My team drew up plays. Our offense really opened up since we were looking at 4 on 4 instead of the 2 on 2 or 2 offense vs 1 defense that we usually played. As the date drew near, a thought occurred to me: scouting report. "Who's on your team?", I asked Joey. His team included Paul Zeller, Mickey Moroney, and several other guys, all 2 or more years older than me. This was going to be a problem, since my team was all younger than me. I realized we were going to get killed.
Fortunately, Bitters Court was deep in football talent. I consulted Ned Brogan, who was a couple years ahead of me, and explained the situation. When he saw that the honor of Bitters Court was at stake he assured me he could help. He recruited his brother Bob, Peter Reinhart, Tim Gigot and a couple more guys his age and older to fill out the team.
When the day of the game came, we all walked over to Resurrection field. My plays were out the window, my playing time was limited, but I got to watch one of the more intense and physical football games I have ever seen. This was tackle football, but the equipment was ad hoc. I think everyone had a helmet of some sort, but shoulder pads, football pants and cleats were optional. The game progressed, tempers flared, fists didn't quite fly, but it seemed pretty close to me. I was a bit worried about how something I had started was going to turn out.
As the dust settled, Bitters Court emerged victorious and my pride was intact. I always appreciated how Ned and his buddies had my back that day.
I think that whole event was an example of how kids figured this stuff out back in the day. There was no adult involvement in this production. No permission was asked for or obtained. It got a bit dicey at times but it all worked out. That is something you don't really see today. Most of the sports my kids play are organized and overseen by adults. There are some positive aspects of that. Parents in general are more involved in their kids lives today and spend more time with them. But kids miss out on some planning, organizing and conflict management experience they get when they figure it out on their own.
Sadly, we did not have a photographer at the Bitters Court v. Custer Court showdown in 1975. The picture below is from a little later, but captures the spirit of such a game. That's Rob Nelson, Kevin Stencil, Mike Brimmer, me, Jon Elfner and Tom Stoehr. It could be a Bitters Court v. Ridgeview Terrace showdown, but I think it was just another pickup game in my parents' backyard. We all look a bit annoyed that Mom stopped the game to take a picture, but now it's one of my favorite pictures so I'm glad that she did!
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