A few weeks ago while watching the Pawn Shop, a reality TV show on the History channel, where individuals bring in treasure or junk to sell a segment brought forth a powerful memory of a special time. Often people bring in sports memorabilia because there is a big market for such items. On this episode an gentleman brought in a basketball. The ball was an autographed ball with signatures of the Harlem Globtrotters.
Now this would not be of any particular importance until Rick turned the ball to the second signature. There written across the orangish leather of the ball in large black letters on
with a distinct personal cursive was the name Nate Branch. Now that might not illicit any particular acknowadgement because it was not Meadowlark or Curley. However, it connected with me. It makes me recall a long ago memory and another recognition of the amazing world that my father created.
My father organized many activities in the small community where I grew up. The activities included ball leagues of various sports, Easter egg hunts, forth of July activities in the park, and spanned many years while I grew up.
My dad organized a basketball tournament as part of his participation with a local club, the Booster Club. The club was very active in the community raising money and helping the local youth. The tournament was one of its annual events that generated revenue and a local activity that created local civic participation.
The tournament started with the participation of local players and teams. These teams were sponsored by local businesses in the beginning. Eventually participation grew to be state wide. The caliber of player grew from local players to players from all over the state and nation, and in some cases international because players would come to the tournament after playing in European leagues.
Players represented excellent college players, some were destined to move to to the professional ranks. Often players with outstanding skills would return to play in the tournament after spending several years in Professional basketball. In Nate’s case he had been a professional and played for the Globtrotters.
At that point teams were sponsored by companies from all over the state and brought a level of skill and competition that would thrill spectators through multiple days of games that eventually evolved to a 16 team format. Players were recruited by these teams with the desire to be able to claim bragging rights as the champion of the Gonzales Booster Club Tournament.
Those bragging rights would go along with trophies that were unmatched by a handful of other such tournaments that occurred throughout the state prior to the rise of professional basketball farm teams. The trophies were arranged on a table at one end of the gym guarded by a club member from stray balls, tumbling players from the game, or wandering children at the game. The large championship trophy sat in the middle of the table rising high above other team and individual trophies.
One of the the privileges that went with participation in the final rounds,of the tournament was the breackfast prepared at the ranch kitchen where I grew up. After the final game and the awarding of the trophies. Teams would shower and make their way out to the ranch to eat the mountain of fried potatoes, eggs, beacon and sausage, pancakes, and toasted English muffins prepared by my mom. It might be hard to determine from players memories what was mor coveted the championship trophy or the breakfast.
What connected this memory to me was not only my father and mother’ participation with the tournament, but local kids also participated in the tournament. My father recruited local children to be ball boys for the teams. My brothers, myself, and numbers of other local kids would bring towels to player, account for water for players, and shag balls during warmup and between halves.
That is why this the ball and the signature brought on this memory. I was a ball boy for a number of years. I recall that Nate returned for several years on teams that I was ball boy. None of the teams that I was a ball boy ever went to the championship. However, I recall many exciting games and late nights with the gym at Gonzales High School filled to capacity, the crowd cheering for their favorite player or team as the ball went back and forth up and down the floor.
It was a special time. A time that a tiny community sponsered an amazing activity with amazing talent. This memory created by the vision of my father and a small group of people that worked hard for their little community. Now that time is a memory. Tournaments like this have almost disappeared. The old ranch house and the kitchen are gone. My mother and father have passed on. The signature on a ball featured on a reality TV show recalls a special time and place in my life and in the lives of a small community.