Morgan County Office Building

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This building is very familiar to most folks who grew up in Morgan County, Kentucky and have lived there anytime from the 1930’s til now.

Currently this building houses offices of the Morgan County government. Many of us Morgan Countians know this building has the “old” Morgan County High School. This school building was opened in 1937. It was built as part of the Works Progress Administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tenure in the White House. His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, actually came to West Liberty to dedicate the new school.

This school building stopped being used as a high school in 1974, my junior year. We moved to the “new” high school in August of 1974. I was part of the first graduating class of the “new” high school. Now those of you who are good at cipherin’ numbers should be able to calculate that the “new” high school has now been in use longer than the “old” high school. I think it’s time some of us should probably drop the “new” in our description of the current high school.

As was usually the case in years past in small towns in Kentucky and probably America, the school buildings that were built in this era of history housed more than the high school grades of the school system. This was the case at Morgan County.

I started in this building in the fifth grade. It was close enough that I could walk to school with my brother and some friends. This daily ritual changed over the years. My brother, who was four years older, graduated when I entered high school and for some reason my friends wanted to get to school on time so they stopped waiting on me. Evidently my punctuality gene stopped working at about fifteen years of age. I think I was late every day of high school. My leisurely walks to school turned into all-out sprints.

I “stayed back” in the eighth grade with two of my friends. Now for those of you who do not live in eastern Kentucky, this was a fairly common occurrence among boys who thought they had prominent athletic careers ahead of them. Staying back or repeating an early grade would give the young athlete another year to mature and thus be able to dominate those of the proper-aged-in-the-appropriate-grade athlete. It seems this premise only works if the said repeatee would actually grow to be larger than those he was supposed to dominate. In my case that, unfortunately, was not the case.

When I told my wife, who is a product of the parochial schools, that I “stayed back”, she thought a repeat of the eighth grade meant something else entirely so she started speaking slower to me. I knew I had to tell her why I added another year to my education experience so she would not question my intellectual capabilities. However, I was in a quandary. If I told her that I stayed back for an enhanced athletic superiority, she would think it foolish since I obviously had not had much of a career. So I told her the other reason, “that it was to make me more mature as a person.”

“Well”, she replied, “that did not work either.”

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The Pivot

I can watch baseball with my hair on fire, and if you have seen me lately you would think I’ve done that  a few times. There are few things more relaxing than being in a ball park on a warm summer evening or a sunny afternoon and experiencing a baseball game.  I have enjoyed them from the time I was a wee lad when my dad would take us on a three hour trek up to Cincinnati for a Sunday double-header to watch the Reds, usually playing the Cardinals, in old Crosley Field.

As a right of passage, I have taken my son to many baseball games and they are some of the best days of my life.  One particular weekend a few summers ago when my son was in high school, we headed out for Pittsburgh to watch his beloved Atlanta Braves play the Pirates.

There are some plays over the course of a baseball game that show the beauty and grace of the sport.  One particular play is when the second basemen turns a double play, called the pivot.  He takes a throw from the shortstop or the third baseman and has to coordinate his movements, by stepping on the second base bag at the same time he catches the ball and with the slight-of-hand resembling a marquis magician, he gets the ball out of his glove and throws across his body to the first baseman–all while the runner is baring down, wanting to knock him into left field.  It is a marvelous thing when it all comes to fruition.  The amazing thing is that this happens a countless number of times over the course of a season.  On this particular play the second baseman is vulnerable to harm and the really good ones, knowing this is about to happen, still hang in there and make the play and suffer the consequences.

This photo is of one of these plays, the pivot, performed by Neil Walker.  I like this shot because it shows the peak of the action of the play.  I just happened to have a good seat in the stands that gave me  this vantage point.

The baseball field can be a lonely place when you are having a bad game.  Baseball is a unique team sport in that you are pretty much on your own on the field.  Your teammates cannot bail you out if you goof up.  YOU have to hit the ball, YOU have to field the ball, YOU have to make the throw and everyone sees your mistakes.

I had a game filled with those mistakes.  It could have been the worst game ever by a high school baseball player, at least it felt that way.  I was a junior in high school and after playing second base my sophomore year, I was moved to shortstop.  This is the  star position of the infield because the shortstop usually gets the most chances to make plays.

After a long two hour bus ride to Louisa, Kentucky we began a game that I would often think about some thirty eight years later.  After committing four errors at shortstop, my coach moved me to left field, where I quickly misplayed a routine fly ball into error number five.  Mercifully, my coach sent in a replacement and  I walked off the field to the delight of the other eight players  looking at me with both pity and contempt  as if I were a leper being led out of the village .

We lost that game by a single run.  I had a large contribution to the other team’s run production.  I slowly walked to the bus feeling like Charlie Brown after one of his meltdowns.  Being the last one to board the bus, I was looking for any solace or words of encouragement that would make me not want to sling the back emergency door open and take a swan dive into the grill of a following semi. Alas as I slowly lifted up my head and made eye contact with our crusty old bus driver, he uttered those words that kept me going to this day, “Son, who in the hell told you that you could play baseball?”

It was a long ride home.

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Return to Friday Night Normalcy

In most small towns across America in the fall, Friday nights mean one thing — high school football.  This has been the norm in all places I have lived from California, Texas (especially Texas), northern Kentucky, and my hometown of West Liberty, Kentucky.

This is a picture of the first home football game after the tornado destroyed the field and the facility six months ago.  This has been quite an accomplishment I must say.   I had my camera set on a speed of 3200 ISO for the football action so the shot is a little grainy.  I know it won’t hang on the walls of many people as a masterpiece of photographic technique, but I liked the shot of the field with the sunset.  I just wanted a picture of the moment  that West Liberty and Morgan County, Kentucky took a big step in the return to normalcy.  Friday nights will once again be reserved for high school football, one more victory over the tornado.

Whenever I go to a high school football game, I never fail to reminisce about the one year of high school football I played in my senior year.  You see in my mind I was a touch football legend, catching passes in the pimply faced secondary across the few impromptu back yard playing fields of West Liberty.  I was always afraid to play high school football because I was rather small in stature.  So when my senior year came around, I figured 17 years of growth would be enough to inflict maximum  force.  My DNA worked overtime to produce a superior specimen at 5’9″ and 145 pounds…perfect for football I presumed.  Also, I was highly nearsighted and had to wear glasses under my helmet…another bonus.

There was one play that, surprisingly I remember, tells me my instincts may have been a little off.  In my first game, the coach sent me in with a play that would be a pass to be thrown to me.  Full of excitement and confidence and thinking about all of those passes I caught on the touch football fields, I relayed the play to my quarterback.  Now I had practiced this play numerous times without any calamities against my teammates and it seemed so simple.  I lined up at tight end (did I mention I was 5’9″ and 145 pounds?) and I was to take one step toward the defensive tackle and fake a block, then dash out to the flat for a five-yard pass to pick up the first down.

For some reason the defensive tackle, who was larger than some of the cars I’ve owned, wasn’t too receptive to my coming toward him.  I must have invaded his personal space because he hit me with a forearm shiver to the chin that snapped my head back like a Pez dispenser.  Fortunately, he knocked me in the general direction I was supposed to go.  Unfortunately, he also knocked my glasses down inside my helmet so I could not see the football coming.  As I was staggering out to the flat like a drunken sailor, our quarterback, who had not only an accurate arm but a strong one also, stuck the ball in my midsection so hard it knocked the breath out of me.   After making the catch, two linebackers pounced on me reminiscent of those nature films where the cheetahs devour the lonely straggler in the back of the pack.

We got the first down and I stammered off to the side lines with the strap of my glasses dangling out the back of my helmet like a ten year-old girl’s pony tail and proceeded to have the most fun I ever had playing a high school sport.

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