This column first appeared in the Platte County Landmark.
I don’t know what it is, but I always seem to have a soft spot in my heart for special locations. Whenever I travel to Las Vegas, there’s a special hot dog stand at New York, New York casino that reminds me of my wife. There’s a spot on a beach in Los Angeles where my life nearly ended and that gives me chills when I return.
And then there’s the feelings and memories that rush back to me every time I walk into Kauffman Stadium. I always look at the seat I was sitting in for the 2014 Wild Card game, and without fail, my mind rushes back to one of the happiest moments of my life.
Tonight, my mind will jump back even further to a very special place. Tonight, I will return to the Fieldhouse at North Kansas City High School to say goodbye. You see, the 60+ year old fieldhouse will be torn down over the summer and replaced with a new high school and fieldhouse as part of a long overdue remodel and expansion of the high school.
Just looking at the building, you can tell that it has not aged particularly well – especially when compared to new campuses like Park Hill South and Liberty North’s cavernous gymnasiums. Northtown’s gym has always been just that, a single basketball court, with about 15 rows of wooden and concrete bleachers on either side. On a late spring day, the non-air conditioned fieldhouse could easily reach into the 90’s and in the winter, the temperature would drop as dramatically.
But you can easily look past the multiple coats of paint covering years of aging, and the cracks in the concrete or the close quarters. A closer examination will show you the thousands of individual memories that myself and other alums over the past 65 years have experienced in the fieldhouse.
You can see the basketball games, and the volleyball games. You can see the school dances. You can see the PE classes where those of us who were terrified of the Presidential Fitness Challenge would panic as we ran out of breath once we hit our fifth sit-up.
You can see the first kisses and the hand holding. You can see the pep band playing some early-70’s standard in a late-80’s basketball game. And you can feel the ghosts of the high school wandering up and down the lacquer coated stands.
For me, this was the place that I found my voice. As a member, then leader of the pep band, and witness to arguably the greatest Hornet basketball victory of all time (an upset of the Crudup brothers of Raytown South — although this year’s boys and girls teams are both ridiculously good). Several times a week, we’d be in the peanut gallery cracking wise, whispering dirty jokes to our friends, and laughing. It was also the place I was named Courtwarming King with a pimple-pocked face and a suit jacket a 1/2 size too small.
Tonight marks the final varsity contest in the fieldhouse and my mind will jump back to the homecoming dances, and the impromptu study sessions (yes, I occasionally studied).
While the teenager in me will be sad to see it go, I will be happy that Northtown can finally get updated facilities and a new, fresh start for the classes of 2019 and beyond. But for one night, a member of the class of 1990 will remember, and honor, and reflect on all that old barn meant to me and the tens of thousands of others who spent time there.
Bonus story: My Junior year, i got the job, somehow, of DJ’ing the post-football and post-basketball game dances. Now, this served two purposes for me – the first is that was obviously going to springboard me into my DJ career, eventual fame, and wealth. The second is that if I was DJ’ing, I wouldn’t have to, yanno, actually dance or interact with girls in any way.
The dances were held in the fieldhouse under dimmed lights. The DJ position was on the “stage” at the end opposite the peanut gallery. The stage had a giant gold curtain that was separated for three reasons, the first was it was used as a stage during assemblies and graduations. The second was for wrestling matches as that is where some of the mats were. The final was for me. The DJ. And the dance.
My 1988 playlist consisted of a boom box and a collection of cassingles. Which were cassettes, but only had one single. You could play one, then switch to the second cassette player (oh yes, my boom box had DUAL cassette players) and then go back and forth. I think I still have the box of cassingles down in the basement somewhere, but I specifically recall Bon Jovi Blaze of Glory, Paula Abdul Two Steps Forward, Prince’s BatDance, and all of the hippest jams to sway back and forth to awkwardly.
Unfortunately, my DJ career never took off following that year. Politics, you know. It’s just hard to break into the game carrying only a Tom Petty cassingle and a dream. But hopefully there’s some kid that will DJ a dance in the new fieldhouse and make it big.
[Featured image: This fall, my son (Class of 2021) got to play a freshman basketball game in the fieldhouse. That’s him in the dark purple at tip-off.]