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FROM THE VALLEY: Ice: The Spinal Volunteer


The author Tom Valley completes a nostalgic trip back to the Patterson Street rink where being a sport came naturally

BY TOM VALLEY

A legendary, Canadian sportscaster from CKWS, Kingston, Ont., used to sign off his broadcasts with “This is Max Jackson, leaving you with this reminder: if you don't play a sport … be one.” Great tagline. It was sage advice and regardless that it may have appeared to be just a flippant way of wrapping things up, it meant more to me. Coming from someone who made his living from sports, it carried an extra oomph of gravitas. I appreciated the chutzpah he had to encourage people to prioritize their lives and put athletics in perspective. And it stands out even more now, because it was delivered in a day and age when greed and self-absorption had yet to rip the simple satisfaction of competition from our better selves. Almost a forewarning of what was to come. And, as a side note, Jackson's advice did not intend to insinuate that if you did play a sport, you were given a free pass to be a jerk. The comment incorporated the assumption that if you played a sport, then you were one by sheer definition. With a logical brush, he painted athletes as a crowd of inherently fair people. An acceptable postulation, if not simply for the wittiness of the remark. Why did I bring this up? Despite the fact that I had to listen to a litany of curling scores from him every night, I was a big fan of Max Jackson; and because his take on sportsmanship relates (somewhat) to the final installment of this, the third, in a series of columns about the hockey rink that a group of us kids built and enjoyed while growing up in the border city of Ogdensburg, N.Y. In our mid teens, a group of us would gather at our hockey rink on Patterson Street (with two "T”s, please) to play our version of hockey, the operative words being “our version.” Rules, schmules. There were no offsides, icing or crazy rules to break that would stop play or send someone to the penalty box. Score-keeping was an option usually discarded after the first 20 or so goals. We played fast and loose. And whoever showed up … got to play. No matter who it was. And we all played at the same time. No one sat on the sideline waiting to get in. You came, jumped on the ice with one team or the other, and tried to put the puck in the goal. There were no defensemen, right and left wingers or centermen. Just skaters and the goalie. The carrot on the stick was fun, plain and simple. The only caveat about playing was that you were expected to pitch in and help shovel the rink. If it snowed the night before — and it usually did — strong backs were needed to clear the ice. It was never easy because the snow was usually deep and had to be lifted up and over the side boards. But 'ya gotsta do what ya gotsta do. Nevertheless, the spirit of being a "good sport" was as innate as snow and ice in December, an intrinsic quality born of solid parental guidance and the natural disposition of youth. No, we weren't saints, we were just kids unaffected by the prick of pride or the burn of fragile egos. Down the street from us was another rink at Pete Baker's house. Pete was little older and had been playing several years before we started. His brand of pickup hockey was more structured, more geared to following the rules. That's not how we rolled. But some guys, like my friend and neighbor Brad “Ferd” Gill, left our rink to go play a more organized style with them. Not only did we miss Brad as a friend, but it also meant one less guy to help shovel. Ouch. Some other guys with their own backyard rinks in the city were Bill Vines and John Douglas. Two great guys, then and still. One of the perks, besides the hockey, was that since the boys were assembled in one place, young girls would invariably show up and, some times, even get some ice (skating) time of their own. We loved the attention. So a shout-out and thank you to Patti, Sherin, Kathy, Sheila, another Patty, Nan, Linda, MJ, Rita, Sue and all. Very fond memories. That wraps it up. Three installments of my column on the same topic. Hope you enjoyed the trip back in time. Drop me a note and let me know; it's always good to hear from people. And remember, it's still true: “if you can't play a sport … be one.” That's the way it looks from the Valley. Tvalley@Rochester.rr.com

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This site is dedicated to the memory of Chuck Kelly, longtime editor of The Journal and Advance News in Ogdensburg and the greatest newsman in the history of Northern New York.