more than games
by: Russ Lancaster
The Hamlet High Gym.. It exists no more having been replaced long ago by a fast food place and other things but it still exists in the memories of those who once never gave a thought to its demise.
It was a place where games were played, class photos were taken, folks fell in and out of love. It was a place where sock hops were held after football games. It was a place turned into a romantic fantasy land for the Junior-Senior Prom.
The old gymnasium at Hamlet High was the place to be on basketball game nights back in the late fall and early winter. Game nights found the bleachers filled to capacity with students and parents the Pink Ewes (girls) played their opening game to be followed by the Red Rams (boys) game.
The game was played differently back then, especially the girls games. They played a half court version with defensive players restricted to one half the court and offensive players restricted to the other. Their free throws were shot under handed style and they didn't take "jump" shots. I guess the rules makers didn't think girls had the stamina of guys back then. Boy were they ever wrong.
Those games the girls played against Rockingham, Rohanan, Ellerbe, Wadesboro, Lumberton and others were always nail biters with the outcome usually decided in the last few seconds. Those girls did a great job of getting the fans into fever pitch with their exciting games. And, unlike in football, the cheer leaders were nearly close enough to touch as they urged the fans to cheer even louder.
Admission was cheap and it was a great place to hang out with your buddies, talk about the girls, cars and other things important to teen-agers.
There would be a brief intermission between the girls game and the boys game. This was the time you went outside for a few moments to get a breath of fresh air or, if you had been lucky and caught the eye of a girl, maybe now was the time to go sit with her for the second game. If rebuffed or you mistakenly thought you were being encouraged to sit with her, you still had time to get back with your buddies before the boys game began.
The boys game was not that much different from those of today as far as rules go, but the game itself has evolved into a much more open game with penalties and fouls being much more lenient than back in the 50's.
Jump shots were still new back then but quickly took over the one or two hand set shot as the preferred way of scoring. However, traveling penalties meant something back then. If you took more than a step with the ball, it was traveling and you lost the ball to the other team. Today, it is not uncommon to see someone head to the basket from nearly half court with only one dribble and many steps taken without penalty.
There was no "dunking" back then. I'm not sure if we had people even capable of doing such a thing on a regular basis but in any event it wasn't allowed. It would have been called a goal-tending penalty during those times.
Palming the ball was also called with consistency whereas today it is a common occurrence without penalty.
Sure, I know... today's athletes are bigger, stronger, taller and the rules are more lenient, but for excitement, give me back the old 1950's style of play and enforcement of rules. I enjoyed basketball back then, not today.
The old gym was also used for sock hops after football games.
When you first entered the gym for a sock hop you would be greeted with music being played on an old Hi-Fi using 48 rpm records. You removed your shoes, hoping you had on your "good" pair of socks. You placed them where you had a decent chance of finding them after the dance.
At first, the guys and gals gathered among themselves, each group waiting the other out for the first move. The ice would finally be broken as twins Tom and Polly Lankford started shagging to a fast piece of music. Some of the better dancers would soon join in.
And then there were those like me... those who didn't know squat about dancing but at the right time, if you had eased up on the right girl... yeah... You would dance a slow one with her. Well, at least you might call it dancing. It was more like being able to just grab on to a girl, hug her, smell her sweet perfume, move your feet...you know what I mean. If you were extremely lucky, you might even get to walk her home and sneak a kiss... you just never knew.
There was that great music of the times, music that allowed you to understand the words, music that told a story, music just made to tweak your imagination and send your thoughts off to a mystical Shangri-La. Yeah... you would dance to that kind of music, you couldn't help yourself.
There was the night that I danced with a majorette (her name will not be told) and as I put my arms around her and felt the soft velvet material she wore I thought nothing could be sweeter. And there was a night when I found no one to dance with and just hung out with my friends. But both nights were made possible by the old HHS gymnasium which is gone. And the memory of one is no better or worse than the other, I am only thankful to have them at all.
The gymnasium was also used as a place early in the school year for cheerleader tryouts. All those young girls jumping around and screaming hoping to earn our votes for it was the student body that ultimately chose the cheerleaders. That was one day of school I never missed
The gymnasium was the place where I was given my first black eye. It was on a Saturday morning and us teenagers were allowed to "sneak" in and play basketball. The only real rule was that whoever got in there first usually locked the doors to everyone else. On that fateful day I made the mistake of banging on the door to be let in while peeking through the keyhole.
The door could be opened from the inside by a horizontal brass bar, the outside of the door had only a doorknob. As I peeked in, I saw a foot heading for that horizontal bar just a second too late. The door sprang open, the doorknob hit me in the eye and knocked me down into the pit just outside the boys locker room. It hurt!
Yes, that was a first for me. But my last memory of the gym while still attending school is having our Senior Class photos made there just before graduation in 1959. It was a time of remembering while the photographer posed us tightly enough to get all our faces into that final photo. I remember looking around to remember those faces and those classmates that I might never see again. I remembered the times I had spent with each of them, some since I was a kid of only four, some that I met after 9th grade. There were those who I can call friend forever, there were those that for whatever reason I had never taken the chance to be friends with and now the time was nearly over to do just that.
I reflected back on the Junior-Senior proms, the first one where I had been an usher in 1957, the one in 1958 when I was a Junior and the one in 1959 which would be my last. I thought, how can this ordinary gymnasium hold so many different kinds of memories.. those of sports, those of dances and sock hops, those of romance, those of heartache and those of Shangrila? And today I reflect again back on those memories and more that I didn't mention here that were tied to that grand old gymnasium and say to myself...I was there, I DO remember.. and most of all, I can say yet one more time... I remember Hamlet.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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