Vidakovich column: Remembering a winter long ago
At first glance, it would appear as though the seven aging gentlemen had gathered at a long table near the back of the local restaurant to escape from the oppressive June heat, have a nice lunch and enjoy each other’s company.
After all, this small group of old friends and teammates don’t get to see much of each other these days. There was a time, though, when they were almost inseparable, especially during a magical winter long ago when they managed to live out a dream that had been years in the making. From boyhood to the difficult early years of being an adult, the plan had been to go out as champions, and on a stage that was as big as the moment allowed.
The architect who helped to shape these men when they were young sat near the end of the table. He is now in his 88th year of life and wears a crown of snow, but his enthusiasm for life has waned very little. He was, in his heyday, the coach who had won more high school basketball games in Colorado than any of his peers. He won’t talk much about that milestone, though. He would rather ask about the lives of his boys that had surrounded him just days before the summer solstice.
Wearing a ball cap and glasses seated almost directly across from his old coach was a man who almost brought a first-ever state basketball championship to Glenwood in 1965. It was a near miss against the Salida Spartans in the first round of the state tournament that dashed the Demon hopes that year. But this player-turned-coach would go on to win a state championship down in the southeastern corner of the state at Swink, with title near misses at Falcon and Pueblo East that would help to mark a coaching career that currently puts him fourth on the list of Colorado high school basketball victories. He and his mentor, who he shared a meal with on this day, are both in the Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame.
Then there was the son who played point guard for his father during that winter when hopes became a reality. His job was difficult to execute, but very simple in its nature — play great defense, bring the ball up the court safely and feed the four other scorers on the court with an equal opportunity for all state of mind. He always played hard and played his role to perfection. What else would you expect from a coach’s son who had been raised on Demon basketball.
The other talented player who also occupied the backcourt that season walked into the air-conditioned climate of the restaurant looking tanned and every bit as fit and youthful as when he wore the red and white uniform in the late 1970s. A feisty competitor who would never give an inch to any opponent — or teammate — earned all-league and all-state honors in helping to lead the charge during that undefeated campaign of his senior year. His craft was molded with two- to three-hour nightly sessions on the asphalt courts at Sayre Park. He worked for everything he got, and it led to a successful basketball career at Mesa College after his career with the Demons came to a close.
Arriving a bit later than the others, but a welcome sight to all, was the Colorado AA basketball player of the year. He now manages the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, but back in the day he was pert-near impossible to stop on a basketball court. Still soft-spoken and reserved in a group setting, he greeted everyone with a smile and a high five. That day when our too-short gathering came to an end, I got to walk with him for a bit and talk. We live in the same town, and have for years, but we never seem to cross paths. It was good to catch up with a promise that getting together more often would be a priority.
Then there was the man who I have looked up to since we shared a rug in Ms. Bertholf’s kindergarten class at Glenwood Elementary. He was the center on the team and, most often, the center of attention. Leading teams to state titles in both football and basketball in the same year is no easy feat, but he managed to do it with little fanfare. Never a self-promoter, he let his actions speak volumes. They continue to do so today as a successful businessman and father extraordinaire.
The men seated together that day were Coach Bob Chavez, Coach Albert Blanc, Rick Chavez, Rick Eccher, Kevin Flohr and Scott Bolitho. Along with myself, the latter four were the starting five from the undefeated state championship basketball team of 1979. Chavez was our head coach and Blanc coached us during an undefeated freshman season.
With all of the basketball bluebloods at the table that day, you would think the talk wouldn’t vary much from the selective memory stories of events on the hardwood, but it was quite to the contrary. There were children and grandchildren to catch up on and remembrances from the time and place that was so wonderful to all of us growing up in what resembled our own little version of Mayberry.
Always a little too emotional, I had to fight back tears as we all said our goodbyes with the usual promises to come and visit and keep in touch. You transfer a little love when you give someone a hug, so I gave them all a big juicy one. We all then went back out into the heat that afternoon and on back to our lives that now span from six to eight decades on earth. When the day ended, it was comforting for me to know that, forever in time, we will all continue to be together in that long ago winter when our entire lives were in front of us.
We’ll always be together in spirit. That’s something that time can never take away.
Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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