Vidakovich: The East Side Gang
I grew up on the 700 block of Bennett Avenue here in Glenwood Springs — 724 Bennett to be more specific. The east side of town as it was known back in the 60s and 70s.
We were just one block from the railroad tracks and the riverfront. There never seemed to be a shortage of things for us kids to do. Riding our bikes around the neighborhood, playing Wiffle ball in the street, hiking the Scout Trail, and shooting baskets well past sundown were staples of the days growing up here in my youth.
The nickname “The East Side Gang” was not original to my group of friends who, back then, frittered away the summer days without a care in the world. The moniker was passed down from the generation of youngsters who occupied the Bennett/Palmer Avenue corridor in the 1950s.
The central gathering place for the neighborhood kids, which included my older brother Tom, was the home of Betty and Babe Pretti. I would often be regaled with stories of the Pretti household serving as a launching pad for the many carefree exploits of the east side boys as they went from the river to the mountains seeking one adventure after another. I was told that regardless of the day, the season, or the weather outside, there was no stopping this group of boys who were sworn to be lifelong friends and partners in whatever came their way.
As the East Side Gang grew older, the main attraction at the Pretti household became the newly constructed basketball hoop and backboard that was put up by Babe for all to enjoy. Along with my brother, Ralph and Larry Pretti, Ashton Durrett, Butch Mayfield, and Albert Blanc would all play lively games of hoops until darkness fell and chased them back to their homes. Rumor had it that no one wanted to mess with Larry Pretti especially. For most pickup games, Larry would wear his steel-toed army boots and take out any player on the opposing team who was foolish enough to try and score a layup. Larry referred to the area near the basket as his “office,” and he was known to protect it with a fervor that few wanted to challenge.
All of my friends took great pride in carrying on the tradition that was handed down to us by the original group from the east side of town. Ironically enough, when Coach Bob Chavez and his wife Shirley moved to Palmer Avenue from the equally legendary part of Glenwood on Sopris Avenue, a new basket was erected in front of the Chavez home which was right across the street from the Pretti’s.
Just a short walk from my house, I shot baskets every day that I could at that hoop, under the watchful eye of Coach. When I was in junior high school, I would get up early in the morning so I could go rebound for Robbie Chavez. He then would do the same for me until it was time to go home and get ready for school. Many of those mornings, I would see Ralph watching us shoot. He stood there, on the front porch of his home for long periods of time, and maybe, just maybe, he was remembering the days when his gang ruled the basketball scene on the street.
Ralph, or “Ralphie” as many of us referred to him, was a very good athlete in his own right. His golfing skills were top flight, but I mostly remember him from the old Glenwood fast pitch softball league. Boy, were those games intense and packed with many talented players and rowdy fans. Ralph was certainly among the best. His ability to field and hit the ball was fun to watch. His speed on the bases was unmatched by any other player in the league. Those summer evening games at the old Glenwood Elementary softball field attracted hundreds of fans who were treated to some high level play and small town memories in the making back when Glenwood was like Mayberry.
Ralphie passed away recently after a long bout with Parkinson’s disease. He was a good friend and role model to me. Always friendly, he had a soft voice that made me feel like I had just been wrapped in a warm blanket. Ralph hardly ever missed coming to the high school and watching us play as Glenwood Demons. I’m sure he took pride in knowing that many of us out on that basketball court were fellow east siders just like him.
My friends and fellow graduates of Glenwood High often say, “Once a Demon, always a Demon,” but for me, I’ll continue to be a lifelong member of Glenwood’s East Side Gang too.
Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer, teacher and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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