Tag Archives: Personal

My Michael Jackson Memory: Dave Falkowski and the Hayward High Trapping Defense

HHS Basketball 1971_Team

When the Jackson Five first released “I’ll Be There,” a tender pop ballad with the teenaged Michael Jackson singing lead in that distinctive falsetto of his, I was playing basketball for Hayward High School. Our team mascot was the Farmers but we weren’t farm boys; we could play. We had big guys who could muscle and jump and quick little guys who could harass the man with the ball and one of the best schoolboy drivers I’ve ever seen and outside shooters who could sink shots when the other team started collapsing on our big guys. League champions and ranked tenth in the state at the end of the 1971 season, we finished with 23 wins against only three losses. Our final loss came in the finals of the Tournament of Champions, then the biggest prep basketball tournament in Northern California, and we were beaten by a Berkeley High team that featured two future professional athletes (6-11 center John Lambert of the Cleveland Cavaliers) and guard Rupert Jones, who played outfield for the Oakland Athletics and other major league baseball teams.

We didn’t have any future pros in our lineup (although current Giants broadcaster Jon Miller graduated from Hayward two years before me), but when you played us, you knew you’d been in a game. We got after people, using a trapping defense similar to a full court press in which we picked up the other team’s guards as soon as they got the ball inbounds after one of our frequent scores. I played guard for the Farmers along with Dave Falkowski, who grew up on Minnie Street in Hayward up the block from me. The Falkowskis were a popular neighborhood hang-out because they had a ping-pong table in their garage. It was a one-car garage but instead of a car they had the table set up for us kids. Mr. Falkowski was an electrician, and crowded along both walls were his tools, sports gear of all kinds, and lots of other stuff. As I recall there may have even been things hanging from the ceiling.

If the ball went off the table to one side or the other, it’d likely hit the wall or something attached to the wall. And if the ball bounced too high, it might hit one of the things on the ceiling. We played with the garage door open, and sometimes during our games the ball would fly outside, down the driveway and roll into the street as if it were trying to make a getaway from the crowded confines of the garage.

Anyhow Dave was a small, quick guy and a terrific athlete (I think he’s a psychiatric nurse now, though I could be wrong) who teamed with me in our trapping half court defense. We played man to man, and it was my job to pick up the other team’s playmaker, the man who handled the ball, and drive him toward the sideline either just before or just after the half court line. You do this by overplaying his dribbling hand, forcing him to go left when he’d really rather go right, or subtly shading his body so that when he goes right, the way he wants to, he thinks he’s in control of his destiny but really he’s running into a trap.

The trap comes when he hits “the corner,” the point where the half court line meets the sideline, and this is when my ping-pong buddy Dave joins me in our mutual harassment society. Dave leaves the man he is guarding so we can double-team the ball. And we’re all over this poor guy, waving our arms, slapping at the ball, trying to get him to do something panicky like throw the ball out of bounds or pull his pivot foot and be whistled for a travel. Many a time we would strip the ball from his hands and take it back to our basket for an easy lay-up (well, supposedly easy. I blew plenty of breakaway lay-ups in my day.)

This was the way it had to happen: me driving the guy into the corner and Dave coming up fast behind us to work the trap. So in the locker room at halftime during a game we’re sitting next to each other talking over this strategy and I’m saying, “Look, I’ll do it. I’ll get him into the corner where he’s supposed to go but you’ve got to be there.”

And Dave looks at me and in the words of Michael, sings: “I’ll be there, I’ll be there. Just call my name, and I’ll be there.”

We walked onto the floor for the second half humming and singing Michael. It was our theme song for the game and as far as I’m concerned it was the theme song for the vaunted Hayward High trapping defense that struck terror in the hearts of every team we faced during that mostly glorious season. And, for the record, Dave Falkowski always was there.

KN 1971 basketball Dave F

Here is Dave Falkowski in the middle of some defenders, passing to me on the right. Pictured at top,  the 1971 Hayward High Farmers Varsity Basketball Team: From left standing, Jay Hughes, Kevin Nelson, Joe Rucker, Jim Langenstein, Frank Volasqis, Mark Cooley, Mark Jackson. Kneeling from left: Calvin Goward, Dave Falkowski, team star Donnie Schroer, Craig Frye, John Forbes. Missing from this picture is the captain of our ship and the architect of the trap, Coach Joe Fuccy.

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Aryeh’s Path

One of the nice things about doing what I do is that I get to ask nosy questions of people I hardly know. I meet people in other walks of life that I would ordinarily never get a chance to.

One of those people I was lucky—and privileged—to interview was Aryeh Hirschfield, who died in a snorkeling accident in early January in the waters off the Mexican coast. A rabbi with the Portland congregation of P’nai Or, he and his family had attended the wedding of his son Isaiah in Mexico. After the nuptials he and his wife and sons went on vacation in Oaxaca, a vacation that ended with his shocking death. He was sixty-five.

Some years ago Aryeh conducted the wedding of my sister- and brother-in-law, Cynthia and Gesher Calmenson, in Ashland, Oregon, and that was how I met him. The father of five sons, he wrote and sang songs for his congregation and led interfaith efforts to bring Jews together with Christians and other religious peoples. He was one of the fathers I interviewed for The Daddy Guide, my parenting guide for fathers. I talked to him about “Transmitting Spiritual Values to Your Children.” Here is a brief excerpt from our interview:

Q: When we raise children, we want them to grow up with certain values. How do you transmit values to your children?
Hirschfield: “That’s a big question, a very big question. For our family, prayer is an important part of our lives. We celebrate Shabbat every Friday evening, which is the start of the Jewish holy day. We do it every week. We come together as a family, and it centers us in the home and in our spiritual selves. We light candles, say a special blessing, and be together as a family.

Q: What’s the point of these rituals? What do they have to do with transmitting values to children?
Hirschfield: “Raising children is such a tricky thing. Kids have all this stuff coming at him. In order for them not to be lost, we try to give them a sense of place that’s holy. Kids especially get swept away, you know, by the mall and TV and peer pressure. When they get to be teenagers, they’re lost. In Judaism, we emphasize two central elements: home and community. Whenever I do a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, I always tell the young person that we have come here to acknowledge you, that you are an important person, that we care about you. You’re part of a community, you’re not just lost out there. When the family has some kind of faith at the center, there is something to bring them back home.”

Q: What about doubt? Should you share your doubts with your children? Some men want to be a rock for their children and equate having doubts with being weak.
Hirschfield: “I remember I had a talk with my son Jonathan before his bar mitzvah. It was very open, we shared a lot of things. He was thirteen. I shared how I had screwed up in my life, how I felt I lacked courage. And you know what, the more I shared how I screwed up, how I fell short, the closer we became. Be truthful. Don’t hide stuff. When your kids get older they’ll know that their parents had doubts. But they’ll know, too, that you were truthful and real with them.”

Q: Transmitting values to your children, then, is not a matter of just filling up an empty vessel. You have to look at yourself and your own actions.
Hirschfield: “Children will pick up on what you do. It’s not so much what you tell your children. The question is, how real are you in your own spiritual life? Look to yourself. If you walk the life, you stand the chance that your children will get it, too. There’s a Jewish phrase, heshbon hanefesh. It means an accounting of the soul. When you become a parent you have to do your own soul accounting. If you really care what values you transmit to your children, you have to ask yourself: What are my values? What path am I on? Even as you instruct a child on his or her path, you must always be in the process of finding your own path.”

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A Hayward Guy

Adam Bellow said the greatest benefit of writing was personal, and I was reminded of this when I went to see my good friend Mark Croghan not long ago. I took my sons and met Mark at Val’s Burgers in Hayward where I grew up.

Val’s is one of the oldest and finest hamburger institutions in the East Bay, a place with pictures of hot rods and Little League teams on the walls, a place that only takes cash or checks—no credit or debit cards. Mark, Hank and I had Mama Burgers, Gabe had a hot dog, we all shared fries and onion rings, and the boys and I drank shakes made with Berkeley Farms ice cream and served in old-fashioned soda fountain silver canisters. Afterward Mark snapped a picture of me and the boys standing under the parking lot sign at Val’s, a place I had been to many times as a boy. The day filled me up, physically and emotionally.

While we were talking Mark said that someone had told him that Bill Evers had died and that his obit was in that day’s Daily Review. He said he didn’t know Bill very well and wondered if I did. Sure, I said. Good guy. Played football with him, rode on the back of his motorcycle many times, just flying down Crow Canyon Road on our way to a party or nowhere in particular.

On my way out of town I stopped and picked up a paper to see his death notice. After high school Bill had joined the Navy and after finishing his hitch in the service he moved to Spokane, where he got married and had a family. That was also where he died, of a sudden heart attack, at age fifty-five.

When I got home I emailed some friends who also knew Bill from high school and without any prompting from me, they responded with their memories. I then compiled and edited what we all said, and sent it in as a letter to the Review. It isn’t much of a sendoff for a man who deserved more, but it was something anyhow and it made me feel good to do it. Here’s what we said about Bill:

Dear Editor: Being four guys who knew Bill Evers, we were saddened to hear about his death and read his obituary in the Daily Review. Bill may have lived part of his life in Washington state, but he was a Hayward guy through and through. He grew up here, went to school at Markham, Bret Harte and Hayward High, and had East Bay grease in his veins. Here are four short memories of him:

Max Lateiner: “Bill had a ‘no holds barred’ personality. I remember once he had a party at his parents’ house off East Avenue and afterwards I got on the back of his Yamaha or Triumph motorcycle.  He drove so fast that I was sure I was going to die.”

Kevin Nelson: “That’s one of the things I remember about him too. Riding on the back of his motorcycle on Crow Canyon Road and to this day I am grateful he didn’t crash and kill us both. He played linebacker on the HHS football team and for a guy who loved to hit, he was an awfully sweet guy. He loved the blues and played a mean harmonica.”

Steve Bragonier: “Bill’s musical interests actually started before the harmonica. He and I were in the Markham Elementary School band sitting side by side in the 6th grade blowing a mean trombone. We were good!”

Bob Newlon: “I remember Bill as the original stud. As tough as nails. Steve Bragonier and I sometimes played tackle football with him and a buddy of his at the Hayward High football field on rainy Saturday afternoons. We’d choose the muddiest area and play all afternoon. Bill played the hardest and was always ready for more. Trudging off the field after one long afternoon, Bill finally looked whipped. Cockily I said to him I bet he couldn’t run around the track without stopping. Bill laughed and told me to put a buck down and he’d do it ten times! Damn if the guy didn’t take my buck. That was the last time I bet against him.”
Sincerely, Max Lateiner, Kevin Nelson, Steve Bragonier and Bob Newlon

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