Friday night started being cool once we were old enough for intramurals. Before that nothing was really official about Friday nights. If you were lucky, maybe Kev Brown was having a birthday party where his dad would take eight of us up to Sportstime USA and letting us run wild with an unlimited bank of quarters, playing games that could only be gangbanged properly by a group of nine-year-olds being fueled on pitchers of coke and pepperoni pizza. If three of us got involved at once, we could take down the record of the game where plastic alligators slid out of a tunnel and you had to smash their jaws shut before they reached far enough to the shore that they could chomp a bather and send the whole beach into hysteria. At first we were drawn in by this game that provided a fungo hammer as an accessory, inviting us to bonk at will. But we quickly discovered that in order to take the alligator game to the next level, two things needed to happen: 1) you had to ditch the hammer and pound the alligators’ mouths in with yr bare hands like a true croc hunter and 2) at least one buddy needed to be enlisted to split up watch over the five tunnels that the gators marched out of. Two hands were simply incapable of containing the reptilian blitzkrieg that went down once it was time for the lightning round. Of course you could guarantee lights out for the gators by gathering up five guys and assigning one tunnel to each man. But tracking down five boys in one spot after releasing them inside a recreation asylum the scope of Sportstime was no simple task.
But needless to say, record-breaking Fridays like that were few and far between. It wasn’t until fifth grade that we became eligible for St. Margaret’s intramural basketball and we could count on Friday nights equaling reliable, automatic fun with yr boys. Sorry Grandma, the last four years of TGIF have been a blast. But it’s time for me to party like a man now.
Now when fifth grade rolled around for the likes of Kev Brown, Marc Noriega, Mikey Westfield and me, St. Margaret’s decided to mix up the parameters for intramurals. Previously it had always been designated for boys in fifth through eighth grades, meaning that our intramural careers were about to start off with us getting our asses handed to us by the eight graders on Varsity who were chomping at the bit for a chance to try out all their goofball moves like reverse layups and crossover fadeaways that Coach Joe Woods would never even have allowed near warmups. But in 1991, the school decided to expand intramurals two third and fourth graders and create two leagues: one for sixth to eight grade and one for third through fifth. In other words, my boys and I were about to start off our intramural careers not as low men on the totem pole, but as JV studs who would technically own every offensive record in the league’s all-time history.
As icing on the cake, the older intramural league would be designated teams in the same way they always had, by taking on the identity of college basketball teams. That meant that the groundbreaking junior circuit would get broken up into teams that were named after pro squads. This was even cooler than it sounds. In fifth grade, we were sports nerds for NCAA basketball as much as anything else they gave ten minutes to on Sportscenter. Since New York never has any college basketball teams worth caring about, that meant that we were free to align ourselves with any collegiate powerhouse from Georgetown to Duke to badasses like UNLV. But when it came to intramurals, the team names weren’t chosen by us, but rather by dads who felt some sad need to use this opportunity to show loyalty to their flaccid alma maters. So you got stuck being a part of the intimidating squad from Iona or Manhattan College. Why not just have us sponsored by Apex Tech, you old dorks? With NBA teams, there was no such obstacle. So when Kev Brown and I got the call to be on the first-ever St. Margaret’s Intramural Lakers, you might as well have told me to pick up some protective goggles because I was going to be James Worthy to Kev’s Magic Johnson.
There was one strange move the dads who ran intramurals pulled that year that I’ll never understand. When most of us picked up our team shirts, we discovered them ironed on with random numbers that seemed completely unrelated to the ones we had requested on the sign-up sheet (inevitably #s 0, 00 or 99). But the guy on each team that everyone knew was going to steal the show that season, the guys that were already finding playing time on JV alongside the sixth graders who were now earning their dues on Seton Hall, those soon-to-be star players were each given the number 10. What the fuck was that? Did the dads think that some pampered third grader touching a basketball for the first time was going to mess up the inevitable pecking order that would take shape throughout the season? Did they think that the rest of us would be unaware of the fact that Kev, Marc, Brian O’Sullivan and Danny Roque had all been given the same number and instead think that there was some magical power in the number that we should learn to respect? Did they really want a secret captain that bad? Would getting a captain’s C on the sleeve of those guys’ tees have stirred the pot too much and pushed the league fee to eleven dollars per player? I’ve always wondered. If anything having the number 10 was just the final stamp those guys needed to justify the fact that they should be given the ball each time down we brought it down the court so that they could drive to the rim and shatter those non-existent records that would promptly need to be “broken.”
Was I jealous that being one of the five percent of the league who also played on JV wasn’t enough to land me a sarced 10? Sure. But thankfully fate made up for it by sticking me as the #2 man to my favorite of the fith grade ballhogs, my best friend Kev Brown. Kev was a ridiculous show boat. When he drove through the lane, he would stick his tongue out the same way Michael Jordan did. And how was he able to achieve such dominance? By abandoning his natual position as a small forward, bringing the ball up as a point guard, and pulling out the same play almost every time–the give and go with his wing man in every sense of the word…Billy “I’m not Worthy” Parker. I think at some point we labeled our season of intramural dominance as “Bill and Kev’s Excellent Advenutre.” Or maybe just I did.
Turning us into superstars for our inaugural intramural season colored the whole way in which we interacted with this newfound discovery of hanging out every week on Friday nights. If we were sweating from thirty-two minutes straight of fast break offense, why should we have to put on our Starter jackets in order to go out in the December weather for our walk down Riverdale Avenue to get slices at Starlight? Why should the no Jolt cola rule after dark apply to ballers like us? How could we tell if our Friday nights would end, let alone when they would? And most importantly, why did seeing movies have to stay relegated to Saturday afternoon matinees? If Home Alone was just released today nationwide, wasn’t it our right as Americans to go see it on its opening night? Since we had been scheduled for the early game that week, our parents would never even realize that we had left the gym. Playas play on.
From that point on, it always felt like *something* was supposed to happen on Friday nights. Intramurals became Youth Group became Regis Dances. Having chaperones around never felt limiting. You might be hanging in the same space that you had just occupied unwillingly all week, but something was very different. And it wasn’t just the uniforms.