Updated: Mar 14, 2022
It was a season frozen in time... before the siege of global warming,
WOKE, or the touchdown of helicopter parenting.
And neither snow nor gloom of night stayed these warriors
from the swift completion of their appointed destiny.
Together, we chased a winter night's dream.
For nothing cured cabin fever like a bus ride to the big dance.
If it was only a dream, we were all in it.
Excitement unfolds as surreality - in a cavalcade of yellow buses caravanning 50-miles to the north country. Our winter wondernight bucked dicey weather as well as the odds of winning Game #2 of the regional tournament. Our Team was surging at just the right time in a district tournament as thrilling with double and triple-overtime victories. Nothing could stop us now.
1968. It was a year for the record books: Randy Aalbregtse, the highest scorer, excelled with 186 points. Steve Redman's rebounds surpassed another school benchmark. And Bart Cook's 166 assists completed the Bullseye Trifecta. Ultimately, this distinguished tribe with the varsity swagger was on the warpath for more post-season spoils.
Our Town seized upon the tournament as a contest to experience something new. Athletic Director, Mr. Cooper - my father - thirsted for ways to seer Marshall High School into the annals of Michigan sports history. If Papa Joe was unrelenting in orchestrating pomp, this year's talent was not underestimated.
Marshall arrived with uniform intent. The team traveled in coats and ties, and dress shoes were not optional. Cooper had hired the new basketball coach, Don VanderGeest, who was poised to take the Redskins to the next level. 1944 was the last time Marshall won a state trophy, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Pray, where art thou pep bands today?
Not every school earned an invitation to the state tournament. In Marshall, our loyal student body always wanted to tag along. When Joe Cooper called up Redskin Nation, we set our sights on the Battle of Chesaning. With logistics that signaled the U.S. Cavalry, I am pretty sure the band played on like a magnificent soundtrack throughout the dream.
This tournament was music to the ears of a boisterous pep band. Our noisemakers pounded the steady drumbeat for Marshall's deliverance to higher conquests. With the snare drums and tuba, and twelve cheerleading squaws, the post-season panorama played in living color to more than just the athletes.
We were told to represent our school with the proper decorum in no uncertain terms. We bought tickets to ride school buses to the arena. Admission to the game was extra. Maybe the cost of transportation was 75 cents - possibly $1. Perhaps it was more of a liability to the school district than we knew. But, years later, at my father's funeral, I was reminded of how tirelessly he worked on packing the crowd while assuring student safety. Dad had learned to anticipate the ambush of economic inequality, and he was quick to implement Marshall's unique system of benign welfare for all.
"Mama Redskin," our secretary, was the lead scout in on the action. Mrs. Taylor had many unsung duties to uphold: on this occasion, it was parity to ensure no child was left behind because of the price of a ticket. It was an unspoken rule of caring for the tribe, a gesture of inclusion that goes without saying. Vaguely, I remember that late-in-the-day announcement:
Attention Students: Please come to the office after school for free bus and game tickets to the regional tournament. Mrs. T. aka Mama Redskin, was the proprietor of this ex-officio system of charity - dispensed with equal parts blind benevolence and priceless community compassion.
A student with needs had to express a desire for the freebie. Yet, also woven into the tapestry of crowdsourcing was the absolute respect for anonymity. In March of 1968, this protocol also served as the legitimate ways & means to overload our cheese wagons for the convocation and our next challenge.
Who knew of our secret society? Perhaps a downtown merchant had funded the tickets, or the donations came from a local service club. No doubt, Joe Cooper was part of its inception. Hans or Win Schuler may have invested, as well.
Who paid was nobody's business. The act of admission generosity leveled the playing field. There was no sense of entitlement or shame. If Mrs. T. knew the identity of our donor, she never told.
For such was our date with fate.
The post-season was a big responsibility for the chaperones who sponsored each grade-level contingent. In some buses, we sat six-to-a-row, and there were no seat belts. I wondered if the heaters ever worked. As adolescent hormones fired on all cylinders, we kept ourselves warm, singing, grateful for an appreciative driver like Dave Delaney. When the Marshall Redskin buses rolled into town, our foes feared us for more than the tempera paint.
Like smoke rising on a foreboding distant horizon, you get the drift. We had an above-average team and an incredible student following--which made the crushing defeat almost unbearable for the long ride home.
Our Coach is 95 now, the last Redskin chief living in Marshall. He graced us with his presence at a recent class reunion. Some still revere him as Mr. Vander Geest. Others bantered the nicknames Coach V, Vandy, and Geezer. In the spirit of plausible storytelling, this Scribe shares parts of an interview with the Grey Goose. As we indulged one another by reminiscing, the conversation took arrow-sharp aim at the obvious: What really happened that night?
Grey Goose: I have thought about that game a lot. More than you might think. Yours was the only team to go that far. It was an honor unlike any other I have ever known. . .and I understand why you still might want to know.
It was Murphy, #10. He had the ball and went up for an easy layup to tie the game...
when the authority of a whistle paralyzed our momentum.
Marshall was charged with taking steps. It was the only time I ever disputed a call. Murph's easy basket didn't count, and it was Chesaning's possession.
One lousy call. The referee's interference forcing dream into a detour. The Redskins were indignant. As the officials conferred, it gave Our Team pause to hope.
Grey Goose: It was the only game in my career when I did not control my outrage. Disgusted, the chief threw his red towel onto the court in utter defiance. Would he be charged with a technical foul?
Joe Cooper paces like a painted pony at the other end of the court, but his influence is powerless on the foreign turf. Cause and effect, there can only be one winner, and Grey Goose calls for timeout.
Marshall's cheerleaders take the center court to reignite a response. The band has us on our feet, and we're begging for mercy! The only defense with precious time ticking is the outrageous battle cry that never failed us: Immy Jimy Joe, Joe. Ziggy, Ziggy, Ziggy!
But is it too little, too late?
Human error? Hindsight?
One subjective decision tips the balance before a shrill horn rudely awakens Redskin Nation from her elusive dream.
With the Grey Goose, there was dignity in everything he said. And I knew he knew I wanted to hear more. But any other explanation would be an excuse, and that was not the bravest way to lead. Our boys knew they had not played their best that night. Quickly, the chief changed the subject, smiling, charmed by our collective recall in coming of age. It reminded me that a good round of golf at his stage was more enjoyable than reliving an old war wound.
This memory brings us full circle to the purpose of high school sports: being coachable and fighting to the finish. A jump ball can land anywhere, and referees are only human. As with life, basketball is a rough game of hard knocks. Anybody can defeat any team on any given night. The sport is more about building character than beating a rival or settling the score. Although Marshall had bonded as a worthy tribe, our opponent prospered from one awful misstep. Indeed that's not how the Chesaning fans remember it. But that whistle stopped our school spirit cold.
The Scribe can state with all assurance that our fans were the real winners that night. We behaved to our school's expectations while having a blast! There were no fights on the walk back to Dave's bus. We didn't shout obscenities, nor did our coach harass the winner during the final handshake. If only these virtues endured today -- our free passes instilled by teachers and secretaries adorned as ambassadors. Lest anyone is forgotten, our student-athletes gave us a winter night to remember. Only from Marshall, My Mayberry!
As athletic prowess rises and falls, there is no predicting greatness. Whether or not Bruce Murphy traveled, you'll have to ask him yourself. Teenagers are still wired to grasp for and miss the glory. The fleeting victory can linger like yesterday's forecast, and we were always trained to anticipate more lake-effect weather.
In the aftermath of the Great Battle of Chesaning, Joe Cooper mopped up the disappointment until campus life resumed its normalcy. The tribe reset in the romantic first buds of spring. The future belonged to our Seniors. Michigan winters were never that unforgiving. And 1969 might send us another dream...
Warmed by our gilded age, we bundle up in the teepee for our twilight years - while the memories grow fainter with every sunset. When Grey Goose passes me the peace pipe, we cannot hear him placing blame. He is wise to dwell on more than one battle. He is still an extraordinary chief.