As the high school basketball season begins to wind down, my mind returns to the most exciting sporting events of any NBHS school year during the late 1970s: the boys’ basketball tournaments. Just when it seemed like winter would never end, the tournament draw was announced and excitement began to build.
Soon the game day arrived and the hallways of the high school buzzed with planning conversations. “Did you buy your tickets?” “Can you give me a ride?” “How late are you allowed to stay out after the game?” On tournament days, the school day ended with a pep rally involving the basketball team, cheerleaders, and pep band. We hurried home from school amped up for the game.
By early evening, it seemed as if most of North Baltimore arrived at the appointed tournament site, usually Findlay High School, clad in orange and black and ready to cheer on the Tigers. Younger students rode with their parents. Older students were proud to be able to drive unsupervised to the game and arrived by the carload.
As tip-off approached, the NB section at the game was packed shoulder to shoulder. When the Tigers finally took the court under the leadership of head coach Jim Dennis, wearing his signature crew cut, the NB fans rose as one. That was the moment when we cheered the loudest and when we felt the most NB Tiger pride. It seems as if the loud cheering lasted from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer. I must have done my part because I can clearly remember losing my voice cheering at the tournament games.
Soon the game was over. If we won, the excitement intensified as we began to plan for another game in only a couple days. If we lost, we felt sad as we loaded into the car to grab a pizza in Findlay on the way home. Eating in a Findlay restaurant with one’s friends was still a rare treat in that era. If there was still enough parental curfew time available, the car might make a couple rounds of the circuit in Findlay before heading home to North Baltimore. And if there was still a little curfew time available, the car might make a few swings up and down Main Street in NB to see what was happening.
In hindsight, the exhilaration that I still recall from the tournament games wasn’t about winning or losing the game. The basketball tournaments of my memories were special because many North Baltimore residents, both young and old, were unified in cheering on the Tigers.
Since then, I’ve been to many basketball games. And I would happily trade in the NCAA Final Four and NBA games just to relive one of the NB Tiger tournament games of the late 1970s.