Originally Cont’d From Youth recaptured through football hurdle 1-22-10
You had to be a little tough to grow up in Brewerytown, the neighborhood of Philadelphia I called home the first part of my life. You also needed to be open to other ways of life, different religions, and those of another race.
Many of the kids I went to school with were African-Americans. Sometimes, I felt I fit in more with them then I did with some of the Whites. Was an immigrant’s son, different from the mostly northern European families; and I was a White minority, dark-skinned, ethnic curly-headed Greek, readily accepted by the mostly lower middle class group of Black kids. I learned how to box in the school yard of St. Ludwig’s Roman Catholic Grade School. Blacks taught me how to jab and punch, while keeping my guard up and being able to take a hit, while also learning how to hit back, just as hard.
We would not swing for the head, but simply “slap” lightly– “upside the head” — when an opening presented itself. I learned quickly, and soon took on kids outside our school who did not realize someone of my short stature would not back down, and would go toe-to-toe with them when they tried to bully me or my friends.
I also learned how to move, use “dance steps” as part of boxing. And just as important, how to “weave” and “fake out” an opponent. Keep in mind, North Philadelphia where I came from, has given the world some interesting athletic characters. Johnny Weissmuller, the greatest Tarzan of the Silver Screen and Olympic Gold-medal swimming winner, came from old Columbia Avenue. Joe Frasier, the city’s most famous boxer, still provides a gym with his name to train young men near Broad and Glenwood streets.
And Bill Cosby, one of America’s best-loved funny men, came from one of the projects not far from my home. He was quite an athlete in his own right, playing collegiate football, and eventually earning a doctorate — a real one, not an honorary degree — in Physical Education from that North Philadelphia urban university at Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue, Temple University.
A 12-year-old’s Shining Moment
A Fairmount player kicked off, and the football started to fall short. It came right toward me. I caught it, so proud that I could “field it” cleanly, but also have room to run in front of me. Somebody blocked the first tackler coming toward me, I veered to the left to avoid another, running along the right “sidelines” as a fellow from the other side — bigger than myself — got ready to make what’s called an “open field” tackle.
I went right towards him, changing the ball from my right to my left arm, and getting as low as I could to the ground, ready to plow into him, in an attempt to knock him over. (I had “a lot of heart,” they said, but also added I was a little crazy.) The tackler gets into his crouch, using quick speed to trick me into thinking he was going to hit me high near the ball carrying hand, when he actually “duked me” and went low.
He grabbed for my legs . . .
And never touched me.
I jumped in the air at the last possible moment, soaring upwards, hurdling his body as he fell face forward to the ground. I was in the air for only a millisecond or two. But it felt like a Kodak Camera Moment frozen in time. Both legs off the ground, arms swinging in front and back as I see only a blur to the side of me and toward the front.
I hear yelling, screaming. No, it’s “cheering!” My teammates are urging me to go all the way.
I hit the ground and momentarily lose my balance, but recover, and dash a short distance untouched for the score. I will never forget that moment. Can’t remember who won or lost. Or even what the score was at the end.
I do remember a friend, Jimmy Soss, re-telling this, my greatest sports adventure, to a young girl later that evening. Her name was Geraldine McFadden, whose heart I won the night before. I believe I had solidified my “in with her” through my “athletic prowess.” It was the second of three parts that made up the greatest weekend in my childhood years.
For “Contoveros Greatest Hits, the Early Years,” Part I, see: