A joyless victory/Paul Peterson

It should have been one of the highlights of an athletic career.

My John A. Doelle High basketball team traveled to Champion in our season opener and broke the Indians’ 35-game home court winning streak by a 73-58 score.

Yet, there was very little or no joy for any of us that particular evening because it took place on Nov. 22, 1963.

President John F. Kennedy’s assassination earlier that day in Dallas cast a pall of gloom over the entire nation. The event was so catastrophic that many are of the opinion that it is felt to this very day.

The news from Dallas began circulating around school at 1 p.m. The first rumor was that a deer hunter’s bullet had killed JFK, something so preposterous it defied belief. Then, it was said a police officer accidentally fired the fatal shot.

School was immediately dismissed and everyone gathered before their TV sets to see the latest news on the event.

We assumed the basketball game would be canceled, but because the officials had already been assigned, it was decided to go ahead with it.

It was one of just a few games that was played that Friday night in the Upper Peninsula.

The game itself was one the strangest I’ve ever played in. The cheerleaders for both teams decided not to do their cheers, and the Champion crowd was eerily quiet – unusual for a town that was noted for its rabid fans.

We played like our feet were encased in cement in the first half, falling behind 29-28 at halftime. A decent second half accomplished the victory, but there was no celebrating afterward. We walked silently to our bus for the long and quiet ride home.

JFK was a hero to most young people in this country and his death would create many changes – most of them bad – for the so-called Baby Boomer generation.

Foremost was the pending conflict in Vietnam, an event Kennedy had decided was not worth the risks. He would have almost certainly prevented it.

But his successors thought otherwise, and soon had us deeply involved in the disaster that war would ultimately become.

It also ushered us into the turmoil-filled rest of the 1960s and beyond. It was truly, the end of innocence in this country.

For most young men, that meant they would soon be hearing from their local draft boards. Local notices came from Irene Ford, a kindly clerk in the Houghton office.

Our once promising basketball season followed a similar course that long ago winter. Despite having four starters back and a front line that went 6-3, 6-2 and 6-4, we underachieved.

A strong (state runner-up in 1963) Negaunee St. Paul team that we had taken to the final two minutes a year before in a narrow defeat blitzed us by 27 points.

We lost a key player to injury after that and fell to teams that shouldn’t have been within double figures of us.

Although we did regroup to finish 12-6, our season ended in the districts with a nine-point loss to Baraga. The Larry Kangas-led Vikings would make it to the state finals that March.

Now, it’s 50 years and a lifetime later, and that blackest of days still remains clear in my mind.

And it leaves me to to wonder where the years went … and what might have been in this country …