Save the Last Dance for Me

Mar 2, 2018

Credit Sid Shroyer

It would take more than two days of driveway shoveling and the snow piled up around South Bend Riley High School last month to keep my friend, Terry, and me, and three thousand other people, out of the gym for the Saturday evening basketball game between two of the best teams in the state of Indiana. I had anticipated a great game and, sure enough, the start of the fourth quarter, had me thinking, “Man, I hate to see this thing get over.’

I’d been hoping to get to a Riley game since the season started, but a six-week “leave me alone” bout of what my doctor called the South Bend Scourge kept me grouchy and sniffling, out of the game for the better part of the season. By the time the “gray drizzle” lifted and I looked at the schedule in late January, I realized the season would soon be over.

A mid-week conference game against Washington looked appealing, a west-side—south-side neighborhood fray.

Then, a Saturday night game caught my eye, against Cathedral, the private, parochial, team from Capital City, and the seventh best team in the state, according to the Associated Press poll.  They think they own basketball down there, you know, and second-ranked Riley would have a chance to teach those Indianapolis folks a lesson.

I got your parochial right here.

I could be part home team crowd.
I called Terry and then the athletic office about tickets on Thursday, “No advance sale,” the woman said.  “The J-V game starts at 5:00; the gate opens at 4:30.”

“What if I buy tickets at 4:30 and return for the varsity game at 6:30?” I said.

“I can’t guarantee you’ll get in,” she said. “These games are sellouts.”

So, Terry and I settled into the filling tenth row seats during the first quarter of the J-V game. It was close, entertaining, and three rows down, the father of the Riley freshman who liked to throw them in for three points at a time, kept track of officiating discrepancies for us.

“That’s eight fouls to one, ref!”   

Nice of him to do that.

Terry was making friends in the manner of renewing old acquaintances, “What about those Central teams, huh? 1963, Mike Warren?” and reliving memories. “My cousin was a state champ wrestler here. …No, I went to Adams.”

When the Riley B-team finished the game with a four-point lead, we cheered. Yes, indeed, the home team crowd.

Between games, the Indiana University coach came down our aisle and took an inconspicuous seat in the row ahead of Terry and me to watch the game, his Riley star recruit Damezi  Anderson, and perhaps Cathedral’s best player, Armaan Franklin, a 6’4” shooting guard who has another year of high school.  

Anderson made a magical shot-block, but he had a hard time making a basket in the first half, while Franklin made the case that he, too, can play. The Riley crowd twitched at his forceful dribble and dunk.

Riley Coach Eric Brand made the out-of-sync Anderson sit a spell, but Riley, like Cathedral for that matter, was a team, not a one-man show; the ball-handling and cutting were sharp, the rebounding was fierce, and the defense and the fast breaks were relentless.  Riley led by three at the first quarter break.

The gym was packed, the crowd was infectious, and the mood was joyous; it seemed like everybody around us was a member of a club we happened into, connected to each other and to the players on the Riley team.  Anderson had a lay-up for two as the second quarter ended.  “That’ll get him going, “ the fan in front of me said, and at the half: Riley 33, the Fighting Irish of Indianapolis Cathedral, 28.

It felt like the 16 minutes of play had taken five.

Terry and I stood to stretch our legs. The gym remained full. ‘We can eat after the game,‘ the crowd decided, so there was not a lot of malingering at the half-time hot dog stand.  ‘No way we’re going to take a chance on giving up our seats, or on missing a second of play.’ Besides, we had to catch our breath.
Good thing:  Anderson’s sudden three pointer took our breath away almost immediately as the second half started.

With his confidence renewed, his intensity spread; both teams quick, but deliberate, and nobody relaxed anywhere. The game was conscious and the building breathed.

Damezi Anderson blocked shots, rebounded, and found the open man.  ’I’d better do this,’ he seemed to say, ‘if we want to win.’

The inscrutable Archie Miller surrendered a smile at a mysterious slither to the basket for two points by the student he will coach next year, when Terry said, “He’s got more moves than a snake in heat.”

Still the determined visitors took the lead, and trailed by only one point at the end of the third quarter. Their fans were making noise on the other side of the gym, too, no matter that “Let’s Go Irish,” sounded like a case of cultural appropriation.  

Eight minutes to go: Riley 47, Cathedral 46.’

A packed gym buried in the February snow piles on Fellows, between Calvert and Ewing, three thousand neighborly people, lost in a shared experience they’ll be talking about 40 years from now, Riley’s undefeated record at risk, one quarter to go, one-point ballgame:

Man, I hate to see this thing get over.