All-Strawberry Park Team |

All-Strawberry Park Team

Mike Vidakovich
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Mike Vidakovich

I think it was the summer leading up to my junior year at Glenwood Springs High School, which would have been 1977, that my mom said to me, “Why don’t you just pitch a tent and take your meals at the park?”

I spent most of my days – and evenings – there, so I seriously considered her suggestion. Nights would have been a bit too chilly, though.

The park she was referring to is the asphalt slab that borders Glenwood’s Grand Avenue on the east side. Its six baskets and four light standards made it a basketball hotbed on the Western Slope in the late ’70s through the mid-’80s. It’s officially known as Sayre Park, but roundballers of that era, without fail, embraced it as Strawberry Park.

Basketball junkies of all ages converged on the park each summer eve after the sun found its way behind Red Mountain, and the day’s heat would begin to subside, saving its bright inferno for another time.

For me, the basketball bug bit when I was in junior high school and attended the Denver Nuggets basketball camp. A much-heralded Nuggets rookie talked to all of us campers about how he practiced three to four hours per day in his youth growing up in Shelby, N.C. We all listened attentively. I vowed to do the same.

The rookie was an All-American from North Carolina State University named David Thompson.

I started practicing diligently.

The games at the park were always competitive and intense. The basketball was played at a high level, because if you lost, you sat for a long while. There were always several teams of four waiting in line to get on the court.

It wasn’t a 1-on-1 game, though, as most playground basketball tends to be. The ball moved around, and so did the players, setting screens and passing until a good shot was found.

We were taught well growing up.

By mid-evening, the usual crowd of onlookers would be seated on the grassy hill that bordered the baseball field, watching their favorite players and anxiously awaiting the first dunk – or fight – of the evening. The entertainment value was always high.

Among Strawberry Park veterans, there is an ongoing debate as to which players were the best and most dedicated of that time period. There were so many good ones that it’s hard to single out just a few.

High on my list of criteria for picking the top players would be the most tubes of Shoe Goo used (sneakers worn out) and the number of hours spent at Glenwood’s open-air basketball cathedral.

It’s the time of year for postseason basketball awards to be given, and champions crowned, so without further delay, here is my All-Strawberry Park Team:

• Kevin Flohr Sr.: I have to throw in the senior part because his son recently played at Glenwood High. Flohr was the most talented and most dedicated player that I ever saw at the park. This pick is a no-brainer. Flohr went on to a stellar career at Mesa State College.

• Bobby “Speed” Barrows: Everyone at the park had a nickname and Barrows fit his admirably. Just 5-foot-9, Barrows was lightning in a bottle and could dunk with two hands. Barrows went on to play the point at Mesa and had a nice coaching career at Platte Valley and Littleton high schools.

• Tyler “All World” McClain: McClain was also known as the “Prince of Mid-Air.” He could run, jump, shoot, and he practically lived at the park. McClain had “Playground” written all over him.

• Rick Eccher: Hard work, and more hard work. Ech would cruise Grand Avenue in his souped-up Camaro on weekends, but every weeknight he was shooting and defending at the park. Ech also carved out a solid basketball career at Mesa.

• Greg Piper: Also known as “McPipe.” Physical attributes weren’t his strong point, but he was a super shooter who probably worked harder than anyone to make himself a great player at Glenwood High. Piper went on the play at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

• Wes Pollock: “Wesley P” never made it past Glenwood High junior varsity fame, but he played hard and loved the game. A park regular, he loved being with his basketball friends most of all.

• Honorable mentions: Tim “Skip” Dillow, Greg “Big George” Kirschbaum, Kevin “Shink” Schenkelberg, John “Johnny Mac” McKinley.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention some of the “old” guys who came to play on a regular basis, shoved us around a bit, and made us better players for it:

• Dee Mangnall: “D Mags” he was silk before Keith Wilkes ever thought about it. Mags was a good player and good friend to us youngsters.

• Pete “The Leaper” Sivright: Sivright, I believe, sold insurance in Glenwood back then. He would always sell us on a quick jab step one way, then go to the hoop the other.

• “The Sleeper”: No one knew his real name because he never told us. Sleeper worked the graveyard shift at a gas plant in Rifle and would show up at the park with droopy eyes. Hence, the nickname. He woke up once the ball was in play, and it was hard sending him back to Snoozeville.

• Billy Schick: Schick never played organized basketball, but was at the park every night, ready, willing and able. A gamer.

• Eric “Gate the Skate” Applegate: Applegate was not a good player. In fact, he was terrible, but he showed up every night to play. Applegate’s fame stemmed from the fact that he would often moon motorists passing by the park on a regular basis. This alone gives him my instant respect and a spot on the team.

• Honorable mentions: Keith Gilstrap, Paul “Link” Lindquist, Bill Oldershaw.

There are countless others who deserve consideration, but this column can only hold so many words.

All-Strawberry Park – an honor for the ages.

Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer for the Post Independent.

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