Like elephants, some athletes just never forget

Athletics improves memory. There are memorable moments athletes won’t ever, nor let you, forget. And there are some we would just as soon forget, but can’t. As the years pass, sports memoirs gradually become more accurate.

Sports recollection improves with age. Trophies and medals may end up in the attic, but even the memory of a special moment, significant only to the doer, is eager to be shown. Immediate eagerness has a license for exaggeration. Time and repetition certifies honesty and realism.

During my descriptions of super efforts and fantastic ability, my dad would every so often remind me, “You never need to remember the truth.” And my English teacher kept quoting Quintilian: “A liar should have a good memory.”

Memories and exaggerations and excitement seem to be great indicators of pride. Pride begins very, very young with bragging and builds itself to memories worth remembering. If you need a reminder that pride begins with positive self-approval, visit your old high school and if that’s not possible, visit Arlington High School.

Better yet, visit an elementary school. Yogi Berra told us, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Ed Soper, a 1941 graduate of Arlington High School, has played more than 400 competitive basketball games beginning at age 12 on the Arlington sixth-grade team and concluding on a Shoreline area slow-break team in a league he helped organize at the age of 59. He would have kept playing but the league folded.

Soper recalls minute details of the Arlington-Marysville semifinal game in the 1940 Snohomish County tournament as if he were still playing it. Leading by one point with eight seconds to play, an Arlington player was called for traveling. Marysville threw the ball in to “Pinky” Erickson. “Pinky threw up a shot from behind the center line, hit the backboard, bounced once or twice on the rim and dropped through.”

Marysville then played Snohomish High School (against Panthers Earl Torgeson and Wayne Clough) for the championship, won by Snohomish. Soper played for Camp Croft of Spartenburg, S.C., and any available team between Arlington and South Carolina. He played the Harlem Clowns and Furman University. He coached junior varsity and community teams and his Future Farmers of America teams. He organized leagues if there were no games to play. And Soper still recalls whether they played a zone or man-to-man defense. He coached a box-and-one defense (before defenses had such names) to shut down a team with one scorer.

Soper says he kept playing because just stepping on the court for a formal game or a pickup game was an excitement and challenge. It was healthy and fun. Then and now, lifetime friendships came from associating with and playing against the best (Tom Straka, Lake Stevens grad Bob Byers, O’Brien twins, Frank Guisness, etc.). Soper says, “If you do something good against the best it’s a memory-keeper.”

A climate of trust is necessary between coaches and players. That makes for a willingness to take chances, use imaginations, take a risk, and use talents and skills. When trust is undermined, everybody loses. Trust the decision, not the results.

Bob De Vleming says he hears respectful, understanding comments from members of his Ritzville High School basketball team about a memorable loss. De Vleming, who says he loved coaching, was very successful during his 1949-1953 coaching career. However a loss was his most memorable game. The Odessa coach was a University of Idaho graduate while Coach De Vleming had been the Washington State freshman team captain. The competition was between coaches as well as teams.

Leading by 29 points, De Vleming gave no halftime pep talk and started the reserves for the second half. Near the end of the third quarter, the starters were urgently put back in. Ritzville made no free throws, could not regain the momentum and lost by one point.

Now a retired Pullman optometrist, a smiling DeVleming says, “Being a Cougar, I will never forget what it means to lose a close game to an Idaho Vandal. I still have nightmares.”

Today, when his players mention the game (and they always do), it’s a team thing – they do it with class. DeVleming says, “I have never received one criticism from a parent or player. They even congratulated me for having an outstanding heart for the kids who rarely played.”

“Pinky” Erickson is best known as coach Dennis Erickson’s dad, but that shot in the Snohomish High School gymnasium is a treasure. And a coach’s heart being remembered for giving kids a chance, in time, is a tribute worth keeping. It’s not to soon nor too late, but may soon be, to improve your old coach’s memory.

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