JUST SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Friendships born of innocence and necessity have a way of hanging around
July 19, 2008
From the comments I receive from many readers, I know that I hit on a lot of common threads that run through all of our lives. Rarely do I get caught up in current events, but I enjoy reminiscing about things from the past. Memorable things which have made an impression and that last through the decades.
Current happenings are here today and gone tomorrow. It’s like that first loss of my junior high school football team … 40 years ago it was devastating. Today, it’s inconsequential, and I don’t even remember it.
But, my friends on that team, and my friends-to-be on the opposing team, now that’s a different story.
After the group of us had graduated from ninth grade and had become sophomores at Central High School in Davenport, Iowa, (back then junior high was grades 7-9 and high school was 10-12) we found ourselves being teammates when we had the year before been opponents. There was a group of us who all played football, basketball and ran track and we became fast friends.
And we discovered the harsh reality that transcending from the studs of junior high to the lowly class of being a sophomore at a 2,000 student downtown gritty high school was a wake-up call.
Our class happened to be a fairly talented group of athletes and looking back, that probably exasterbated the situation and prompted our group to be unduly picked on by the upperclassmen. It became so rough that 10 of us formed a club, The Oligars, as a way to thwart the belittlements and jibings by the old war-horses at Central. Through numbers there was strength, and we usually traveled in groups of at least five, and we made sure that we befriended as many teachers and coaches as we could just in case we needed back-up.
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We became a tight-knit group born out of necessity. In the mornings before the school doors officially opened, we’d meet in our Spanish teacher’s classroom and shoot the breeze with Miss Vukelich and talk about stuff going on with the sports team we were on. It was our haven to avoid the older jocks and Miss V. loved the attention. We learned quickly that she carried some clout in the system and we were left alone.
On Fridays, normally the day of football games, basketball games or track meets, we’d wear our “club uniforms” which consisted of white T-shirts emblazoned with our “Oligars” logo on the back and our individual club nickname on the front. Blue jeans, white socks and tennis shoes rounded out our “uniforms.”
As soon as we could earn a varsity letter sweater, that was the crown jewel of our Friday wardrobe. We’d walk through the hallways between classes en masse whistling the Colonel Bogey March tune made famous by the movie “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” and we learned how to depend on each other and cover each other’s backs. It was all very innocent, but the strategies which made us perform well during the contests on the courts or on the field, also enabled us to survive that first year of high school with some dignity.
And we are still friends to this day, although we live spread out across the country and may see each other only once every five years at a class reunion. But, none of us would hesitate to call another “Oligar” if one of us needed help.
Forming that kind of relationship also allowed us to experience a wide variety of things early in life. Like the time during our sophomore year when fellow “Oligar” Mike Branch collapsed on a stairway during school and died from a brain aneurysm.
It happened three days before our high school homecoming celebration, and we held a club meeting to decide if the club should continue on with the dance and festivities or not. As a group, we decided that he would have felt bad if he knew he would have been the cause of our mourning, so we did our best to remember him as if he was with us during the weekend and we went to the dance and made homecoming the best we could make it.
I also remember, as if it were yesterday, as I stood in the funeral home during Mike’s visitation and looked at him in his casket with his curly brown hair, boyish face and peaceful expression. I thought back to the weekend before as we were all playing touch football in the local park, and I did more than touch him when I knocked him to the ground after he had hauled in a long pass. I couldn’t help but think that it was somehow my fault because I knocked him down too hard on the ground, and maybe it had somehow weakened an artery in his brain which later lead to the aneurysm. It was a crystal moment of maturity for me which I relived many times during that sophomore year.
On the flip side, being tempered by ridicule and harassment from the upperclassmen enabled us to learn about the importance of teamwork and not being afraid to try and knock the king of the hill off his hill. By the time our junior year of sports began, we discovered that we were the heir apparents as the top dogs at Central High School. And we were only juniors.
I believe that the majority of us in that “Oligars” club have been able to move forward with our lives with the thought in mind, “What will the rest of the guys think about what I’ve been able to accomplish in life?” Our motivations as an adolescent have stayed with many of us and have left an indelible mark.
“Ralph” was high school valedictorian, the starting center on the football team and a half-miler on the track team ” he is now a president of a hospital group in Wisconsin.
“Pepe” was a tight end, forward on the basketball court and now heads up Hormel Foods’ marketing department in Austin, Minn.
“Ratch” has been the CFO for several businesses in Davenport, Iowa, and “Sheenie” came up with “the incredible, edible egg slogan for a Chicago advertising firm back in the 1980s.
It’s funny how things all work out, and I know we all have similar stories to tell. The important thing we’ve learned is that embracing a “win-win” relationship leads to years of togetherness. And awesome memories.
Jim Jensen came to Colorado in 1977 as a member of the Denver Broncos’ first Super Bowl team. He currently lives in Northern Colorado in Windsor. Contact him at JJensenColorado@aol.com.
©Copyright 2008 Jim Jensen