Olympics Gerritsen Beach Style
Recently, after receiving an e-mail from an old high school friend that I have not seen for 50 years, I thought about the time I tried out for organized high school sports.
One Friday afternoon during my freshman year the PA blared "Any student wanting to try out for the junior varsity basketball team report to the gym at 3:30 in uniform." The gym uniform was a six-part deal consisting of white T shirt, blue shorts, jock strap, white socks, sneakers, and an attitude. A bunch of kids, mostly freshmen, were milling about when I got there. The coach sent ten of us out to the court, five on each side, to get an idea of what we knew. Due to the absence of an opposing team uniform, someone had come up with the elegant idea of "shirts" and "skins." So five guys took off our shirts and became "skins." By the way, have you ever noticed that you can tell how eager a guy is to play by the way he rips his shirt off and throws it to the sideline? Anyway, we're out there on the court, "skins" vs. "shirts," and I have visions of fame and fortune as a big basketball star at this all-boys school in the heart of Brooklyn. After a very short time the coach, Mr. Doolan, blows the whistle and motions me over to the side.
"What's your name?" he asks. I think "Boy, this guy can spot talent real quick." I tell him my name. He asks: "WHERE did you learn to play basketball, in North Korea? Never mind, I don't want to know." Ah, a rhetorical question, I think. He goes on: "In just two minutes you have committed every foul in the rule book, AND a few I never saw before. See that red-headed kid with the glasses? You converted him from a "shirt" to a "skin," and you WILL pay for that T shirt. And that kid with the pimples on his forehead? When he went up for the rebound...well I didn't know you could DO that to a jock strap. Didn't they have any rules where you played?" Of course, where we played was the park (no longer there) in the Beach. "Yeah coach," I answered, "you couldn't kick a guy when he was down." The coach's eyes bulged. "Please, get out of my gym now. NOW." So, I figured basketball was not an option.
This got me thinking about the Beach and all the various sports that went on year round and I realized why I never had any great interest in the official Olympics. I grew up with continuous Olympic activity. True, most of the sports were relatively unknown to the rest of the world, but I can think of no other neighborhood in NYC that was as sports-minded as the Beach. There were obvious advantages. You do not have to travel, at great expense, to out of the way places like Cortina, Italy, or Antwerp, Belgium, both places known to be full of foreigners.
As mentioned before in an earlier report, there was the annual winter event of Bus Hitchin', done with a sled. There were singles and doubles with two to a sled. Often the guy on top had not been invited by the guy on the bottom. Similar events were Truck Hitchin' and Auto Hitchin'. These, in time, led to Sledless Hitchin' for the financially challenged who had no sleds. They simply grabbed on to the rear bumper and let their feet do the hitchin'. I hear this event was popular with shoe cobblers. Also there were the runnin' events. Most interesting was the popular Runnin' From The Cops. Similar were Runnin' From The Movie Matron and Runnin' From The Bus Driver. The last was usually associated with Bus Hitchin'.
We also had a Shot Put event in which very large stones, much too big to throw, were shot putted at some target. A favorite target was the metal door attached to the Graham Theater just to the right of the screen. This event was often an introduction to the Runnin' From The Matron and Runnin' From The Cops events.
Another well-received event was Dart-the-Cat, where the athlete, using regular darts from a dartboard set, hunted the neighbor's cat. I always thought that a useful Triathlon would have been the Shoot-Peddle-Dart event involving a trusty Red Ryder carbine, Schwinn bicycle, and the afore-mentioned darts. The athlete would shoot out a street light with the carbine from a measured distance then peddle as fast as possible for a measured distance where, in a timed event, he would dart the neighbors pesky feline. Needless to say, we were a dog family.
In the winter there was Ice Hockey played on the frozen canal. The same place served for Figure Skating. Both events were made more interesting by the many irregularities in the ice caused by the wind as it froze. Gerritsen Beach Ice Hockey was a full body contact sport and the worst skaters were the goalies. Since I never even owned a pair of ice skates as a kid, I avoided the Ice Hockey event like the plague. You could always tell the goalies wherever you met them because they lacked front teeth.
The Figure Skating event was made more interesting by the many random soft spots in the surface, where the athlete would simply disappear from sight momentarily. Occasionally an out-of-control figure skater would stray onto the Ice Hockey playing field and take some lumps.
Another popular winter sport was the Chicken Sleddin' event, where the athlete sped down the incline on Ave. W onto Gerritsen Ave. The spotter would stand at the bottom of the hill and signal the athlete when no cars were coming and the athlete then sped downhill on his sled and across the avenue. Occasionally the spotter would misjudge the speed of an approaching vehicle, and at those times it was great fun watching the autos slip and slide uncontrollably as they attempted to avoid contact with the athlete and his sled. I'll bet none of those wimps out in Salt Lake City would try that one.
Although not a true Olympic sport, there were always plenty of baseball and softball games. Two of the more memorable visiting teams that I remember were the House of David baseball team and the Sportscasters softball club. The Sportscasters were all professionals from the world of sports but not baseball. They had the likes of Jake LaMotta and Steve Beloise, both well-known though over-the-hill boxers. I will never forget their wives, who were clones of Mamie Vandoren. I think Stan Lomax was also a member. They were not very good but lots of fun.
The greatest concentrations of young athletes were in the schoolyard. In my case that was Resurrection. A sport evolved there that, as far as I know, had no name. All that was required was one of the ubiquitous pink rubber balls, though a tennis ball would serve as well. Simply put, one kid would run with the ball. There was no objective in mind except, possibly, staying alive. All the others ran after him and knocked him down and ripped the ball from his hand. Then the new ball carrier ran for his life until he was thrown to the turf and so on. It was quite a sight watching one kid zigging and zagging at full throttle until he was pulled down and pummeled. I have never seen the sense to this event but it was exciting and a boon to the dry cleaning establishments.
But it was during the Summer Games that the athletes really came into their own. Perhaps the best-known and longest-running summer event was the Death Dive, which was done from the bridge on the Belt Parkway. Almost everyone jumped from the bridge to the dark water below, but a few, a very few like Charlie Mendez, would start out with a handstand on the edge and then push off to a perfect dive. Some care needed to be taken in this event to avoid the painful possibility of diving onto a returning fishing boat. I mention this because my father was a religious fisherman, and one day, on arriving home from the beach, he mentioned that he had seen me on the bridge as he returned from fishing. "I hope you're not one of those dumb guys who jump off the bridge." I assured him I was not.
The most memorable, if short-lived, summer event that I remember was the Bicycles Dive that evolved from the Dry Dive. In Gerritsen Beach a day at the beach, or the Point as it was known, could be either great fun or very boring. Boys in Gerritsen Beach did not have much use for blankets or towels unless they were with girls, who definitely did require blankets. Some of the otherwise regular guys were even known to carry combs when in the company of girls. So three or four guys would emerge from the surf and merely flop down onto the sand. This was unthinkable to a girl.
It must have been on one of those boring days at the beach that someone devised the Dry Dive contest. It was definitely for the no-nonsense, no-blanket guys. The athlete would run toward the water but dive from way back so he landed in about two inches of water. The spot would be marked. The next athlete dove from a little farther back. This progressed until the participants were diving onto wet sand. The technique for success was to slap the ground with the palms before the rest of the body came into contact. Surely this event must have been concocted by a couple of no-blanket guys on one of those boring beach days.
Finally, the athletic event that evolved from the Dry Dive. When it was eventually realized that the Dry Dive was a bit too tame, another replacement event had to be invented. After two or three days of dry diving there was not even one sprained finger. What to do! Of course, the Bicycles Dive. Here's the way this went. At some distance back from the water, two or three bicycles were placed side by side. All the athletes, one by one, ran and dove head first over the bicycles, hit the sand, and rolled out. Sometimes they ran out of bicycles and the event was suspended until some more bicycles arrived at the scene. More bicycles were then added to the line.
I do not remember how many bicycles were dived over before an athlete got racked up, but it was quite a line. I do recall wondering what would happen if one of the butterfly handlebars complete with black, rubber handgrips, which often protruded ominously upward, were to snag a bathing suit as the athlete sailed missile-like through the air. He would have instantly been converted from a "Trunks" to a "Skins" player, no doubt. Only in Gerritsen Beach.
Time: 1949 to 1954
Last changed: June 28, 2002