Vidakovich: Memories sprint through my mind at the track
I hadn’t been to a track meet in quite some time. If memory serves me right, the last time I visited the 440-yard oval to watch a gathering of young runners and jumpers was in the spring of 1988 when I served as the Glenwood Junior High School assistant track coach under Al Kimbrough.
My track-viewing drought was ended a few weeks back when I was asked by Post Independent Sports Editor Jon Mitchell if I could help with the coverage of the annual Demon Invitational meet. I accepted the assignment, but little did I know that there was more in store for me on the afternoon of April 11 than just putting together a story for the sports section of the paper.
It was early afternoon when I entered the gates of the Glenwood Springs High School track and football field to begin my viewing of the day’s events. I immediately bumped into Demon track coach Blake Risner, who, smiling and tapping his watch, reminded me that the meet had started a little over three hours ago at 9 a.m. I walked away figuring Risner could not stay cross with me for too long since I take good care of the family cat “Kato” when he is on vacation.
With so much to watch at one time, I continued my stroll down to the long-jump pit and took a seat on the nearby grassy knoll to see who would be the best of the leapers.
Though Bill Crowley is not a high-schooler anymore, I spotted his familiar face helping with the measurement of the day’s jumps. Whenever I see Crowley, I think back to his basketball playing days at Basalt High. Crowley is responsible for one of the most memorable plays in Longhorn basketball history when he made a short banker at the buzzer in a state semi-final game against the Bayfield Wolverines that capped a furious Basalt rally, and sent the ’Horns into the title game the following evening. Though Basalt lost a chance at the gold ball just 24 hours later, Crowley’s timely shot is still remembered by many in these parts.
I knew I shouldn’t be thinking basketball at a track meet, but when old buddy and basketball junkie Jay Feller happened to spot me, the hoop talk kept on rolling.
Feller was excited to tell me that this past season, he had gone to the state basketball tournament, not to view the big, power schools, but to watch the small schools from tiny towns battle for supremacy. Feller, also known as “The Roadhog,” was grinning ear to ear when he told me about the Single-A title game between Fleming and Holly. I had to chuckle when Feller recounted a conversation with a lady who was rooting hard for Fleming. He had asked this elderly super fan if there was a grocery store in her tiny town. Feller got this reply, “No, but we have a bank, and today would be a good day to rob it because the entire town is at this game!”
As Feller and I concluded our basketball talk, I decided to get up and maybe move on to the shot put area and check out the weight men and ladies. As I rose to my feet, I heard a voice off to the side say, “You got the right team on that key chain.” I looked over my shoulder and saw a well-built young gentleman who was referring to the “Notre Dame” on my PI press-pass chain. I proceeded to tell this young man that I had been an Irish fan since I was a puppy, especially the football team.
This is where my day got even better as the stranger stuck out his hand and as I shook it he stated, “I played running back for Notre Dame.”
Decked out in all Aspen High School gear, he said his name was James Aldridge, and he was now working for the Skiers as their trainer and strength and conditioning coach.
I remembered him well as the starting running back for the Irish when Charlie Weiss was the coach. A very pleasant young man, Aldridge told me about his time in South Bend and how he enjoyed the peace and quiet of now living in the valley after growing up in St. Louis. I told him I had never seen a game at Notre Dame stadium but that I hoped to before I kicked the bucket. He must have been remembering his days of running out of the tunnel and onto the field when I said this because Aldridge just smiled, nodded his head approvingly and said, “Oooooooh, yea!”
We shook hands again, and as Aldridge walked away, I thought of another chance meeting I had this past January at Jimmy’s 66 station on Grand Avenue when I got to meet Rockies centerfielder Charlie Blackmon.
I had just pulled into the station at the same time that a Colorado Rockies van had stopped for fuel and a bathroom break. I sat in my car and watched as many athletic men filed out of the vehicle and headed toward the restroom. I recognized Blackmon right away with his big beard. He was just standing off to the side of the van soaking up some sunshine, so I decided to go chat a bit.
I didn’t bother him for an autograph, I think the only people I would want an autograph from anyway would be Pistol Pete Maravich, Steve Prefontaine, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, John Kennedy, or Ronald Reagan, and they are all gone.
I asked Blackmon how he thought the team would be this season and why he was in Glenwood. The Rockies were doing a promotional deal up in Aspen at the X Games, and he was one of the players involved. Ending the conversation, I told him it was a pleasure to watch him play and good luck. Blackmon said it was nice to meet me and thanks for taking the time to talk.
As my mind finally snapped back to rejoin the body, my day seeing many events and great performances at the track meet ended by getting to watch the Demon athletes gather on the football field to celebrate high finishes for both the boys and girls at their home stadium.
Not a bad day for myself and all concerned, especially when basketball memories, meeting Notre Dame running backs, and being surrounded by high school athletes is the order of the day.
Mike Vidakovich is a freelance writer from Glenwood Springs. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.
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At long last, high school basketball teams return to the court this week as part of Colorado’s revamped winter sports lineup, which has been delayed since November due to the coronavirus.