In the generation of my youth, the summer for kids in Lima was dominated by the Parks and Recreation playgrounds. In an era before television and computer games began to hold our youth hostage, kids of all ages poured out of their homes and headed for the nearest school playground where an army of college age supervisors directed their summer fun. The leader and visionary for the enterprise was Pat Morris, Director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Lima. She was a wonderful leader who positively impacted the lives of several generations of kids in this community.
For two summers in the late 1960’s I was hired by Pat as a playground director and placed at the Garfield School on Lima’s east side. The Garfield elementary school building was an imposing hulk. Built in 1899, the three-story structure was once home to Lima’s elite, but by late 1960’s it was tired, sagging and nearing demolition. The playground area, located in the shadows on the east side of the school, was not much to look at. But that didn’t stop every kid in a 10 block area surrounding Garfield from making it their destination every day during the summer.
I was the minority on the Garfield playground. The first thing I noticed was that everyone had a nickname. My first summer there “Mutt,” “Chico,” “Dip,” “Creep,” and “Koon,” won the blue ribbon at the city talent contest held in Faurot Park. Those young kids wowed the crowd with a tumbling act performed to the song “Here Come Da Judge” by the Majestics.
The second thing I noticed was the basketball court was always busy. Always. In the early morning hours it was the youngest kids battling and as the day progressed, the older players would take over the court. Regardless of the age, all the games were serious business.
The Garfield basketball court presented several challenges. The court was short and the rims were rarely level. At one end of the court, the blacktop sloped dramatically so that when a shot was taken from the left corner the rim was several inches above 10 feet. For a shot taken from the right corner the rim would be several inches below 10 feet. The veteran players would steer the person they were guarding to the left corner.
I was a college basketball player at the time and when that fact became known on the playground, I was constantly challenged to one on one games. At least once a day I had to lace up my shoes and do battle against players of all ages and sizes. It was as if it were the wild west and gunslingers, young and old, came to town to earn a reputation. I loved every minute of it.
That rickety old court produced some of the best basketball players and athletes to ever compete in this community. Players like Brian Karrick and John Provost and athletes like the Barrington brothers, Tom and Steve, grew up on the east side. Later, young guys such as Willie Watkins and Ulyses and David Liles developed their game there. Ben White, Tom Terry, Curly Baker, Elza Ward, Jo Jo Johnson and Joe and Lawrence Subblefied are just a few of the players who made their mark in basketball and were spawned on the Garfield playground court. They could all ball!
In the years I worked at Garfield, I never had a problem. If I saw one on the horizon I walked to the culprit’s home and knocked on the front door. When a mother or grandmother opened the door I simply explained the situation and the issue magically disappeared. Garfield school was surrounded by a neighborhood of wonderful families who understood the role that discipline played in the formation of young lives. In my humble opinion, it is this dynamic more than any other that is missed in our society today.
Eventually, the playground at Garfield was closed and moved two blocks south to the Salvation Army location on Market Street. In the end it was the broken window in Mrs. Shureld’s living room that proved the playground’s undoing. The Shureld home was located directly across the street from the Garfield playground and close to the makeshift softball diamond. Two times that summer, a home run ball passed over the street and through the front window of the Shureld homestead. The city stepped up to pay for the windows, but by the end of the summer they had seen enough.
The playground at Salvation Army site was much nicer in many respects but I have to admit, I really missed Garfield. The school was demolished a few years later to make way for new apartments. Today, Lima Senior High School stands directly on the spot that was formerly occupied by the Garfield school and playground. Whenever I park in the Lima Senior High School lot for a game, I am flooded with memories of the Garfield summer playground and those kids.
And if I listen closely enough, I can hear the echo of a basketball pounding on that old court.
Contact Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org