My first try at team sports was farm team baseball. A chubby red-headed freckled kid, I was not good at baseball. The other kids were good and understood the rules. I played on the farm team until I was too old, and never made it to Little League.

In third grade I got a mimeograph invitation to try out for peewee basketball at the Rec Center, now the Flanagan Community Center. The mimeograph was still wet and smelled good. I decided to try out.

Everyone was put on a team. There were enough teams and coaches for everyone to participate. Practice was a couple nights a week and Saturdays.

I was taught the basics: fingertip control of the basketball; shuffle your feet side-to-side (never crossing over); dribble with your head up; snap the ball when you pass it.

I felt like this would be my game. Unlike baseball, which was my father’s idea, basketball was my choice.

I was in a very good place.

Like generations before me, I learned the basics handed down in this hallowed place. Men’s league, high school leagues and peewee leagues were all under the same roof.

When I was not playing, I was watching. I was a sponge. I was placed on a team and began playing. A mimeograph sheet every week had the games and which team we would play each Saturday.

It was time for my first pair of basketball sneakers; real ones.

I chose Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, in LOW WHITE, just like the varsity players. It was pretty much the one sneaker that all ages wore.

In these sneakers, I was the same as all the other ball players. Even if you did not start or were not on first string, we all got good playing time.

I played peewee ball for three years. My last year I was good enough to play on the all-star team. That meant having mom buy me a pair of real gym shorts.

My mom got me a pair of huge maroon shorts that made my extra-white legs look funny. I played better than I looked.

We all moved up to junior high leagues and I began to grow out of my chubby frame. It was a great time, and we were all fast friends as well as competitors.

There was a league for me as well when I entered high school. It was for kids that did not play on the high school teams (freshman, junior varsity and varsity). I tried out a couple of times but did not make the school teams.

I chalk that up to the depth of talent in Rockland back then.

Looking back, I likely would have spent most of my time on the bench had I made the team. The Rec Center league gave me lots of playing time.

After school there were half-court pickup games. I especially enjoyed these, as often the players from the school teams would join in.

There was an unwritten rule: you earned your turn to sub in.

When someone got tired, you would get called in. Wait your turn, don’t complain, and you will be rewarded. As I got older, my waiting times got shorter.

I especially enjoyed playing with better players than myself. The better the competition, the better I played. By my junior and senior years I learned that if I wanted the ball I had two choices: steal it or rebound it off the backboard. I became a small forward.

I played pickup games in college and in the shallow waters of the talent in Machias I more than held my own.

Until I came across Sonny Pinkham from Bath.

I watched him play and played pickup games with him. I prided myself on my defense and asked him if he wanted to play one-on-one. He smiled and said no thanks.

I never had been turned down before, so I persisted. Finally after many offers he decided to play, just to shut me up.

Sonny wiped the floor with me. A superb ball handler with a great jump-shot, he beat me 10-2.

We played two more times with the same results. He smiled and told me good game as we left the gym.

When I got back to the dorm I began to tell the story of how I had played Sonny Pinkham. My crew was rolling on the floor laughing at my story. Finally one of them let me in on the joke.

Sonny Pinkham was a McDonalds High School All American, one of the top players in the country.

Sonny would never tell me that, and we became good friends.

My game left me in my early thirties. One of my last games was with John Vigue who now runs Thomaston Grocery. I was playing tenacious defense on John, who was speedy. My right knee snapped and I knew it was over. He and I always reminisce over it when we get together.

I am so grateful for all that the game has given me. I still draw from it to this day.

I now rock a pair of Chuck Taylor One Stars, in red suede!

Converse Chuck Taylor One Stars in red suede. Photo by Glenn Billington

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.