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In Indiana it’s more than a game….

Today I went to a funeral of a friend. I met Jim Wolford in this park, on
this court, almost 51 years ago. He was married,  a recent graduate of Purdue, working at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, and was 25 years old. I was fourteen and it was 1973. The eleven year age difference doesn’t seem like much now, but back then Jim Wolford was a grown-up. I was just coming out of the 8th grade. And despite the age difference, he paid attention to me on the court and off.  He began as a basketball acquaintance and evolved into a cherished friend.

In those days the  Odon Park had games running almost every night during the spring,
summer, and fall. And it seemed to me in almost any game I ever played at the
park, Jim was playing. In the winter the action moved to the Odon grade school
gym where my Dad was the principal. Of course he played too, along with my
brother Mark.

Even though he was never on his high school basketball team, Jim could play. He
could shoot, finish around the bucket, was strong on defense and rebounded with the best of them. He was calm and steady. He never got mad. Brad Steele, who also was a regular at the park, shared a story that described Jim as a player and person.

One winter while playing at the school, a guy was purposely going over Jim’s
back to grab rebounds. Brad shared that Russell Fields had done this four times. On
the fourth time Jim bowed his back and catapulted Russell to the floor. Russ jumped
up and yelled, “Jim I wondered how many times you were going to let me do that?” No
fight, no scuffle, Jim had just had enough and Russ got his answer.

Jim was a friend to everyone and had friends all over the country. His job
at Crane had him travel a lot but it didn’t keep him from being a loving husband
and father. The minister at the funeral, and the standing room only crowd, confirmed
his outstanding qualities.

Years later, I was living in Florida and considering moving my family back to
Indiana. I called Jim and talked to him about job opportunities at Crane. He
sent me information and an application. He was very willing to help. I didn’t
take it any further, but that meant so much to me to have his support.

Two weeks ago he spent the afternoon at my parents helping them with their computer. He done this many times over the years. He would work, they would tell stories, and often Mom would fix him lunch or dinner. He was so good to them!

I played high school ball and had super coaches and  fantastic teammates. Sure I am close to some
of those guys, but playing in the park expanded my sphere of friendships and
allowed me to know people like Jim, Brad, Russ, and so many others that flooded those
courts almost every night and Sunday afternoon.  I made so many other friends playing in church leagues, men’s leagues, several years at the Ocala, Florida YMCA, four and while living in Toronto.  an I literally have “basketball” friends all over the US and Canada.

With AAU ball and so many other things for high school players to be
involved in today, I am not sure that many play in parks or on local playgrounds
any more. But for those of us who played in the parks and on the playgrounds I
am sure we all have made friends and formed bonds like these I am sharing.

Yes, it is more than a game. Basketball becomes part of your life. So much can be learned from the game. The game can also give you a lot. I am grateful for every game I ever played, no matter where it took place.  I am thankful for all the friends I made from the game. Rest in Peace Jim Wolford.

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