It’s time I came clean. Not many people know this fact about me. Some would say they aren’t surpised. 🙂 I graduated last in my class in the 8th grade. True fact. I will get back to that later. What I want to let you know about will be from my Junior High school years. I will touch on the 7th grade tournament but I am saving the majority of that for a complete blog all by itself. These are some random thoughts about Junior High School


JH was Cool

These years were very cool. It was the first time in your life you got to move around for classes and you had some freedom between classes. It was a couple of years of experimenting and actually being able to participate in sports every night after school that made Junior High a special place. It was also cool to get out of Manito.



There was an odd phenomenon called dancing. It was a horrible thing to do in Junior High school. The problem with this was it required that male and females to touch each other. But what came with it was the stigma of knowing how to dance. The school always had a back-to-school dance about the second week of the year. It was from 7-9 in the gym. The vast majority of the boys hung together and the girls all huddled off to the side. Every once in awhile some couples put on an attempt to dance but that was far and in between. What went on was the gossip that floated around the gym. Some girl would come over to the boys and tell us so and so like one of the boys. Later, a boy floated over to the girls and told what had been said in their group. This went on for about an hour and a half. By the time you worked up the courage to ask a girl to dance there was 15-20 minutes left. It was a definite social experiment.

Another thing that happened was in PE, Mrs. Rossi would have a unit in dancing. This was not good. You could actually get paired up with a girl that carried cooties and you had no control over it. She lined us up and we called out a number and that was our partner. We did that several different times and was quite embarrassing.


Arts and Crafts


We had to take Arts and Crafts. Mr Guy was the teacher and he was a very odd duck. Now for me, this was one of the worst classes that I could be in. I had/have absolutely no talent in art or in the making of crafts. It was a boring class to be in. One assignment was to sculpture something. I didn’t do until he announced that it was due tomorrow so those not done should take their sculpture block home to complete. I had done nothing to mine at all. Mid-evening, my brother Lyle asked me what it was and what was supposed to be done with it. I told him and explained I wasn’t going to do the work. He said very little and I went to bed. Lo and behold, in the morning there was this great looking sphinx sitting on the table for me to take to class. I was a bit embarrassed because I knew and everyone knew I had no talent. I took it to class and turned it in. Just before the bell was to ring, Mr. Guy called me up and asked me if I had actually completed the project or did someone else do it. What am I to do? Just what I need to do to get a decent grade…. I told him I did it all by myself. I got an A on the project but he and I both knew I didn’t do it. Thanks, Lyle!



It was a blast. Two weeks before the first day of class we are practicing baseball every day. I had never experienced anything like it and Junior High was going to be so much fun. As the practices progressed, it appeared I was going to be the starting shortstop as a 7th grader on the 8th-grade team. Until….. one practice the catcher (I don’t remember who it was) got a ball fouled off his knuckles and broke two fingers. Coach Rudd took me aside and said I was to be the teams’ catcher for the season. I was just happy to play and that year and that position was a lot of fun. Jim Petty was a fireballing pitcher and he and I had played baseball in the summer for years. I loved being catcher as you were into every play of the game.

I remember two particular plays and they likely were in different games. I wasn’t a power hitter but a gap man. I was up in the bottom of the 6th inning and we were down 2 runs and the bases were loaded. Do you think I hit one out of the park? Well, not exactly. I hit the ball hard just over the second baseman’s glove that rolled on the grass in the outfield and just kept rolling and rolling. I was fast enough to make it a grand slam and we won in the 7th inning by two runs.

Another play I remember was in the field behind the plate. No big deal but I remember this. The pitch by Petty got away from me or he threw it wild with a runner on third base and the baseball rolled to the fence. I went back to get it and tossed it backward towards the plate as Jim Petty dove into the runner and he was called out. Just a cool blind throw that ended the inning. I think I remember that because the umpire told me it was the best play he had ever seen in a Junior High game.


Getting Stitches

Letting me share two stories with you about getting injured in the 7th grade in PE. One day we were playing flag football. Both the 7th and 8th grade boys played together. I was playing defense when the quarterback threw the ball downfield when I jumped to catch it. Problem was that at the same time on offense Leonard Wheat jumped to catch it and his teeth caught me just above the right eye and I was instantly bleeding all over. Whoever the PE teacher was sent a kid to the office to let Mr. Rudd know we needed an ambulance. He didn’t call anybody. He drove his car out to the field, put me in it and drove m to Havana hospital. It was the first time I ever heard a teacher/principal cuss as we were a fes miles from town he said, “You have a hell of a gash there, Tommy. You’re going to get damn stitches for that.” Well, they called my mom from the school and she met us there. I had 14 stitches. Ten above my eye and 4four on the eyelid. My actual eye had no damage. I went to school the next day.

In the spring I was pitching softball in PE when a line drive smacked me in the right eye. They called my mom and she took me home. I didn’t go to school the next day…….. because it was game one of the 1964 World Series and the Cardinals and Yankees were playing.



7th grade Basketball

Basketball was a blast. It was about this time of the year that I really started to like girls. However, I will add that it was also becasue girls started liking me. You see, I was the only 7th grader started on the lightweight team. Mark Thompon, Dennis Specketer, John Middleton, Lynn Vogel and myself were the primary starters. We had first year coach/science teach Frank Gassmann, a new SIU grad, as our leader. The core 5 of the team tried to emulate the players from the starting five of the then Bradley Braves. I was Joe Strawder, somebody else was LaVern Tart, another Bobby Joe Mason and I don’t remember the other three.

Our season was loads of fun as we kept winning and winning. We were 22-0 going into the state tournament to be played in Rantoul. It was because of this success that I can remember that my life was a blast. The State Touney brought out the entire towns and neighboring villages along with our own student body with fan busses and such. More on the State Tournament in a few weeks.



Remember this? The Mason County Jamboree. I don’t have anything to say about it but I enjoy it and won the baseball toss four years in a row. However, it leads into my next story.

Graduated Last in My Class

I suppose I shouldn’t be admitting this and should be ashamed that I graduated last in my class when diplomas were given out a graduation. I still shake my head but there was to be graduation on Thursday night at the Forman Junior High School. On the previous weekend I was in the Mason County Jamboree on Saturday and all went well. That night I began to feel bad. All day Sunday I laid on the couch in some pain not doing so well. My parents thought maybe I had hurt myself at the Jamboree. They mentioned a rupture and to an 8th grade kid that was an embarrassment.

Finally, Monday morning they took me to the hospital and I was diagnosed with appendicitis. They did emergency surgery Monday afternoon and I got out of the hospital on Wednesday. I missed three days of school for it. Come ThursdayI really hadn’t walked very far but about 5pm I insisted I go to the graduation. My parents allowed me if I walked sparingly. The school was in an uproar as they had practiced the ceremony and now I had put everything out of kilter. So they made an administrative decision. Instead of changing everything they just added me to the end. So, they added a chair for me at the end they called my name to graduate and I  walked up there slowly to the podium and received my diploma. Since I was last the crowd cheered loudly ( I am sure it was ALL for me) and officially graduate last in my class.







The Fight. Let’s get one thing straight right now. I wasn’t involved in The Fight. I was an accessory I guess, though.  More on that later on.

Sandy VanOrman and I hung out together the last couple years of high school from time to time. We had some interesting things that happened to us together. Here are a few recollections of those times. I remember we used to make tapes together with music and our own broadcast. Such as a newscast that would stop and then a current song was stuck in there to fill in the words we wanted to say. An example might be…. ” Here we are on Michigan Avenue in Chicago” (then the song Walkin’ Down the Street singing do-wah-diddy-diddy-dum-diddy do) and “look there is a man with a gun coming towards us” first would be athe song…(there’s man with a go over there) and followed by (song We Gotta Get Out of This Place, if it’s the Last Thing we ever Do”) We thought they were hilarious.

We both enjoyed music. In fact on February 9, 1964 we went on a youth group trip on the train to Chicago to see a play that was chaperoned by Carol Kreiling. We got home about ten minutes until seven to my house and no one was home. On the TV that night was The Beatles making their first visit to the Ed Sullivan Show. We got two badminton rackets and played along with them in my living room. That was for every song they played and we knew all the words to it. We loved the British Invasion.

Some Sunday Football

Sunday afternoons were spent playing football. We would sometimes play behind the Lutheran Church in Manito with Kirk Hilst, Nello Rossi and a host of others. We would play tackle and it got brutal but we never  broke any bones. On occasion we played on the side yard of Sandy’s house (the one he stills lives in). That lasted for a pure two hours as we started at 1pm and ended at 3pm. This gave me plenty of time to still get to Linda’s house.

Algebra 2 Test

There was only one time I remember doing a bad thing while in high school. I worked the last three years in the principal’s office running errand and doing the leg work instead of going to study hall. During my junior year it was around Christmas time and final exams were upon us. I had ONE teacher in high school in my four years that I didn’t like. I didn’t like him at all. He taught Algebra classes and Geometry. He always had a smart alec thing to say to me. So this Christmas he ran off copies of his Algebra II test and put it in his mailbox. I wasn’t in that class as it was some of the upperclassmen. I swiped one of the tests the day before and decided to give it to Sandy. Lo and behold what did he do? He had a study party somewhere and invited many classmates over to “review” for the test. I was stunned and expecting the word got out. Nope. Sandy never told them where it came from and they all did very well on that test. I dodged a bullet and knew at that moment Sandy had my back.

Drag Race Nationals

I knew nothing about cars. Let me repeat that. Nothing. One day Sandy got tickets to the National Drag Finals in Indianapolis and made plans for us to go. His plans we no lodging, no plans, just go. That first day he was in heaven as we wandered the pit area and he knew every engine and stuff around. I just followed. He talked to everybody and everybody talked to him. About 6pm it was time to get some food and park his car in a bank lot and sleep. Sandy wanders over to me and says, “I got us a room tonight.” Whoa, we were staying in a hotel? Then he says that one of the crew members (4 of them) had offered us their floor to sleep on and he accepted. Did we know these guys? Well, at least I didn’t. Sandy was unfazed and we went to their hotel and slept ( I think my eyes were open all night) on the floor. It was a nice gesture but I had visions of being chopped up while I attempted to sleep. Nothing happened and they invited us to stay close to them all day down in the pit. I can say I went to a Nationals Drag Race but I can’t say I learned much. But Sandy Ford ( he loved his middle name) had a blast and we came home in one piece.

ACT Test Day

Sandy’s mom was a really nice lady but she worried all the time where he was and what he was doing. One particular night we had been out hanging around with Kirk Hilst and wandered back to his house. They had a ping-pong table in the basement and we played and played. It was also the night before Sandy was to take the ACT test. He didn’t tell Kirk or I about that. It was almost 2 AM when we heard footsteps coming down the steps and there was Sandy’s mom, in her housecoat, looking for her son. She saw him playing and stopped in her tracks and exclaimed, “Sandy, you know what time it is? You need to get home, you are taking the ACT test tomorrow.” He told her he woud be home right away. She left and the three of us stood there staring at each other when Sandy exclaimed, “Bup, I think I better go home.”


Forest City Church

This is a short story as several youth went to FCCC on Sunday and youth group. It was the boys duty to take the church collection every Sunday. Several times I decided not to go and I always would get a call about 15 minutes before the collection was to be received. They urged me to come and help as there wasn’t enough help. On some occasions Sandy and John Eubanks would stand up front with the money as the preacher gave a prayer for the offering.  They would try to see who could blow out the candles on the alter table (our backs were to a praying congregation)without anyone knowing they were trying to do that.

The Fight

SandyFordVO I think it was a Fall Sunday when this happened. It was likely late September or early October as the weather was pretty decent. This day it was planned. I don’t what started it or anything but today Sandy was schedule to fight Jim Avery behind the root beer stand in the alley in Manito at 2pm. I was going with him. Sandy wasn’t a person that just looked for fights but he didn’t mind sticking up for himself. (my parents asked me later if I know this was going to happen and then they weren’t very pleased with me).

It was 2pm and about 20 teenagers were hanging around in a circle waiting for the main event. Sure enough it started. They danced around and smacked each other with some hard blows but no winner. The crowd was cheering almost non-stop. We were not paying much attention to anything else when the Manito Police car came down the alley and some scattered while others stayed put. The police chief, George DeCanter, got out of the car and asked who was fighting and both of them spoke up and admitted their particiapation. George put them in the police car and told the rest of us to leave or be arrested.

I had one problem. I was 15 and didn’t have my license. You see, I could get several places I wanted to go to without being on the main road. Just take the backway and you can be there. My parents didn’t mind.  Just before they left for the police station, Sandy had George give me his keys and told me to pick him up at the station when things were over. I drove around Manito without a license for a good 80-90 minutes. I probably drove by the police station 10 times waiting for his release. Finally, Sandy got out and he took the wheel. I was feeling like a big shot criminal but never got caught.

We headed out of town and Sandy drove to Havana. He was still talking a mile a minute about the fight, the arrest, the stuff that when on at the station. He drove down to the river to clear his head. We got out and looked away from the car and then we heard the sound. His Ford was rolling down the hill and heading for the river. Luckily, when Sandy got out he didn’t shut his door. We both ran after the car and Sandy jumped in and slammed the brakes about 3 feet from the edge of the water. That would have been something to explain.


We had some good times together!



Previous Blog Posts:

Remembering My Time Around Easton

“Oh Well, I Will Strike Her Out Anyway”

What Were Our Parents Thinking?

Call the Sheriff

Kilbourne Condom

I’m Still Paying For It

My First School Basketball Team

The History of Me- My Birthday

Just a note to let you know the for past month Linda and I spent it in Florida. This made it hard to continue my blog but for the most part I kept it going. There were many things in the way such as sun, grandkids games, sun, beach, sitting outside, sun, playing games with the kids, helping with homework and of course sun.

I haven’t written many stories about myself as an adult but today I will do that. A reminder, my recollections aren’t coming in any particlar order. Today I write about my first time in college.

Winston Churchill College

winstonchurchillcollegeThis college recruited me to play basketball. It all started after my senior season of basketball ended and one day coach Chuck Conrady pulled me aside and said he got a letter that a school was interested in me playing basketball for them in college. I asked him what it was called and he said Winston Churchill College. Now I knew my history rather well and stated,”cool, England sounds like a great spot” when he informed me that WCC was located in Pontiac, Illinois.

I took the information home and discussed it with my parents. My dad was saying that sounds good if someone is willing to pay some of your college. We made the appointment and visited their campus. We didn’t get to meet the coach as they were “in transition” of coaches. That is another few words for “we fired one and are now looking for another.” Before we left, we worked out a scholarship deal (Wallace Scholarship)  that was acceptable to both parties and I signed my letter and was now one of the  “Bulldogs.” Just a sentence out of order here is that the best class I took there that I still have use for today was a Speed Reading class that they had all the basketball players take. It has paid off for me. It was taught by the basketball coach’s wife and was really just a measure as to whether you could read or not. It was helpful to me.

The Dorm Area

I was in a single room. There study spot was for every four persons. It had a double and two single rooms in each area. The single next to me was a young skinny black kid from Chicago, Heights. His name was Julian and we had nothing at all in common. He came to WCC to get out of the city. He was really weird and preferred to be by himself. That was fine with me. The other two, in the double, were from the suburbs and both were white and very talkative and they also had a propensity for getting in trouble. The dorm was split in half with the right side for the girls and the left side for the guys. In the middle was a big room and then there was a door to the “house parents” residence. There was probably only about 40 men and 40 women in this living quarters and it was the house parents job to be the psudeo-parent when needed. There names were Jim and Jody and they host a Christmas Party in early December.

“Don’t Eat the Brownies!”

This story involves the guys in the C room (the double) and I suppose me to some extent. These guys were always hitting on this good looking girl and were getting nowhere. They kept trying and she tried to be nice and reject them. She knew I lived in the same study area as they do. I probably had talked to her about twice in my life before this event occurred, oh and her name was Carlotta.  I was walking down the hall between classes when she stopped me and said, ” don’t eat the brownies.” I looked at her with a baffled look and asked her what she just said. She said you will find out tonight and “don’t eat the brownies.” So ok. that evening she came to our studying area and entered with a pan of brownies and knocked on the C room. The two guys opened it and had a large smile on their face as Carlotta was standing there with a large pan of brownies and told them she had baked something “special” for them. She handed the brownies to them and turned around to leave. I was standing behind her about 10 feet away when she walked past me. She walked straight ahead and just before she passed me she smiled at me and winked. The boys asked me if I wanted some brownies and I refused. They closed the door and I thought that was it for the night. As the evening went on they ate about 5 pieces each of the brownies and now they were up and making noise in the bathroom as they each had to “go” again and again. I smiled inwardly and went to bed. The next day I saw Carlotta in the hall and she asked me how things went last night and I told her of the bathroom situation and how it went on all night. She smiled and said, “good”, maybe they will leave me alone now.” I asked her about what was “special” in the brownies and she told me they were baked with care and consideration using Ex-Lax as the main ingredient. The guys never bothered her again.

Christmas Party

I went home many weekends and didn’t stay in the entertainment city of Pontiac. What I could see is the town offered a prison, a high school, a college and a Mr. Quick fast food on the north end of town. Other than that, it was rather plain. I stayed for the Christmas party and it was relatively lame but about 50-60 people were in the house parents residence sitting on the floor and on their furniture. I don’t remember what really went on but eventually I left and went to bed. The next morning I heard a key enter the lock of my door as I was in bed and three members of the administration walked in, looked around, open drawers and snooped throughout my room. The never spoke and then they looked at me and left as they re-locked the door. What the heck! In a few minutes I heard a ruckus in study area and got up to find the admins in and out of the double room carrying wine bottles out and sitting them on the table. The two guys had spotted them under the house parents Christmas tree and stole them, drank them and discarded the bottles. Julian and I were questioned about it and let go as we knew nothing about it. The two thiefs were told that when the semester was over in 2.5 weeks they would not be allowed to re-enter Winston Churchill College.


I went to Winston Churchill College on a basketball scholarship so let me tell you a bit about that. We had several open gyms after a coach was hired. It was the former high school coach at Pontiac. He was white ane he had two black assistant coaches. In open gym I did fine. I could tell I was not the best player on the team but I was probably third best. Another oddity for me, coming from Forman High School, was that all the other players were black. I was the token. Open gyms got more and more volatile as it as apparent I was going to play and somebody would get left out. I was not feeling much love from any of my teammates. Which leads us to this story. It was in october about 1-2 weeks before practice was to begin when a student-faculty touch football game was to be played. I played in it and late in the game as things were going well I was playing wide receiver when I went across the middle of the field, caught the ball and turned upfield when I was hit in the right knee by two players and down I went. I tore my cartilage. The oddity was the two faculty members that “clipped” were the two assistant basketball coaches. My season was done before it started. I had surgery just before Thanksgiving and was enrolled at ICC for the second semester.

Phi Kappa Tau

The college had a onesorority  and one fraternity on campus that didn’t appear to have much of a profile around town. The Phi Kappa Tau was recruiting heavily but couldn’t get many to be considered plus they had a few rules. I was asked several times about joining but was unclear as to what value it would have in my life. Finally, Joe Skowronski, got me to join. He thought of himself as a combo of Fonzie and James Dean. So installation was to take place and it as just weird. I was blindfolded and led around somewhere until the blindfold was taken off. I was in a room with other people and they all had maskes on and holding a lighted candle. I was asked a few questions and I answered them to their acceptability and then I was blindfolded again and led around until outside. When I was free again I was told I had one more thing to do to be accepted. Joe was my sponsor and he told me I had to drive to Odell (about 15 miles away) and steal the town sign at the edge and bring it back within the next 90 minutes. I drove their and with tools they provided removed the sign and was back in plenty of time. But by now I wasn’t happy with the Tau group nor did I like stealing things. I gave the sign to Joe and the whole group was there as the president of the chapter told me I was an official member. I told him I quit. I walked away and never heard from them except for once when Joe stopped me and thanked me for the sign in his bedroom.

Student Government

I went to Pontiac to study Political Science. Since that was my new passion I decided to sign up for a Politics class. In that class on the first or second day they allowed a Student Government speaker to come in and discuss their role at WCC. Each year they were required to elect two freshman to their association. I decided to run but I had no realassociation to people yet. I wanted students to remember my name and who they were voting for. I developed a slogan—- ” Have no Scruples, Vote for Knuppel” – At least now they knew it rhymed with scruples. Four ran for two spots and I won. I was part of the college government. Looking back the meetings were like something you would do in high school as it had very little impact and was mostly social.

Meeting the President

I probably should have gotten to know more people in my time at Winston Churchill College. I was clueless when I got a notice to meet the President of WCC. I went to his office and his wife let me in and they had a chair for me in the middle of the room. There was another chair sitting next to it. I was told to sit down and the president would be there soon. He showed up quickly and introduced himself and then sat in the chair that was smack dab next to me. He as on my right and he said he just wanted to get to know the new students and (this is where I think I know what he said next but he placed his left hand on my thigh) asked how things were around campus. He never moved his hand but I felt his sweaty hand through my jeans and he continued to ask me several more questions. He ended by saying that is all, he nodded to his wife and she led my out the door.

What I didn’t know was the college leader was (let me say it as it was said in 1969) queer. He was rumored to like guys. Several around the college told me he often had young boys over to his house for the weekend and the stories were bizarre. I guess I didn’t make the cut because I was never invited. That’s a big thank you!


*Winston Churchill College was only in existence from 1965-1973. It was privately funded and that became the problem. I was there one semester.


Previous Blogs

Remembering My Time Around Easton

Oh Well, I Will Strike Her Out Anyway”

What Were Our Parents Thinking?

Call the Sheriff

Kilbourne Condom

I’m Still Paying For It

My First School Basketball Team

The History of Me- My Birthday