By Tom Nader | Sports Editor
Throughout the 2005-06 and 2006-07 Portage Trail Conference boys basketball seasons, I would almost always pick up my Grandpa Joe on my way to all of the games I covered.
He loved to watch the games and enjoyed traveling around the county to watch the action with me.
He would sit next to me, popcorn in hand and water at the ready. We would chat periodically throughout the game, but when the game got serious, his silence would match mine (as I was keeping detailed notes and stats) because he was just as much into the game as I was.
He would wait for me while I interviewed the coaches, then our car ride back home would be filled with discussions about the game before I returned to the office to file my stories.
Each night we shared a game together was a new special memory, and we would oftentimes talk days before the games about what we thought we would expect from the matchups.
On the final night of the 2006-07 season, Feb. 23, 2007, we were especially excited.
The Windham Bombers and Garfield G-Men met at what would later become known as Marty Hill Court with a championship on the line for Windham.
For us, any chance we got to watch the Windham Bombers play seemed like a treat. Their brand of “Bomber Basketball” fit exactly into what my Grandpa and I felt basketball should be all about. And we had developed a long list of friends with the Bombers’ faithful supporters that made returning to cover one of their games that much more fun.
To set the stage, Garfield entered the game two back of Windham in the standings and had visions of spoiling their backyard rival’s title opportunity.
For the Bombers, who entered that night with a one game lead over the Rootstown Rovers, a win would secure the program’s second straight County Division crown in the second year of existence of the PTC.
The storylines for the Windham-Garfield showdown were long and exciting.
First off, naturally, were the title scenarios that gained top billing.
Secondly, Garfield standout Robert Carlisle was the nephew of Windham head coach Marty Hill.
Thirdly was the longstanding rivalry between the two schools because of proximity, but also because of Hill’s graduation from Garfield High School before becoming Windham’s head coach.
Lastly, though among others, was the fact that Garfield and Windham had played to an absolutely thrilling overtime game in their first matchup of the season — 72-71 on Jan. 12, 2007.
Grandpa and I were excited for this game.
Taking everything into consideration, we knew we would have to get there early in order to not only find a good seat, but a seat ... period.
With the junior varsity game scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., we figured we would arrive at that time and watch an extra game. We would typically arrive at halftime of the JV games anyway, so the slightly earlier arrival was not that far from normal.
For me, it meant a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that Grandma had sent along since it was going to be “a longer night.”
As soon as we got to Windham High School, though, it became very clear that our 6 p.m. arrival was not early enough. Cars lined the streets and filled the parking lots.
Grandpa and I walked up to the high school and when I went to open the door, it was locked. A sign on the front of the door had been posted. It was printed on yellow paper and had big black block letters on it: SOLD OUT.
I peaked through the small window in the door and got the attention of a person who was cleaning up the rest of the items left on the ticket table. I showed her my press pass and Grandpa and I were granted access.
The noise billowing out of the gymnasium was unreal. I couldn’t believe it. The JV team was warming up and the sound mimicked that of a big time college game.
Like all the gymnasiums we went to, Grandpa and I had a favorite place to watch the game at Windham, so we walked down along the hallway to the far entrance and turned the corner to enter the gym.
We walked in and got to the edge of the bleachers, looked up and saw a mountain of people.
“Oh my,” Grandpa blurted out.
Our favorite spot was long gone. All the seats were long gone.
I began to scan the bleachers, looking for any kind of space that we could even possibly squeeze in. Then I began looking for just one singular spot where Grandpa could sit. My knees could take standing the whole game, but I knew his couldn’t.
As I was looking up, over and around, seeking anything that resembled even half a seat, I heard someone call my name. It as an acquaintance of mine who happened to be on the school board.
“Looking for somewhere to sit”? he asked.
It was more of a rhetorical question than anything, but he continued.
“Wait right here.”
He walked the length of the gym and disappeared down a hallway outside of the gymnasium. When he came back, he was carrying a pair of folding chairs and said, “Follow me.”
Grandpa and I followed and our friend led us toward the scorer’s table. He placed the two chairs between the scorer’s table and the Garfield bench.
“There ya go, enjoy the game,” he said as he pointed at them.
I told him that we could just as easily sit somewhere far less intrusive, but he insisted and my Grandpa found himself on “press row.”
He was right up close to all the action, could hear all the interactions between players and coaches, coaches and officials and all the gameplanning during timeouts.
He was in his glory.
Knowing how much fun he was having, I was too.
He had his popcorn in hand, water at the ready for what turned out to be another great game between two schools — that resulted in a 76-74 victory for the Bombers and another championship season.
And another night we walked out of the Windham gymnasium together talking about the new friends we had made in Windham.