The Rock Report: To Go Down in the Record Books
January 29, 2014New Haven High School
I recently found myself revisiting one of my fondest memories I’ve had here at New Haven: the Wellston game during districts. It came to mind when someone asked me what was the best basketball game I’ve witnessed here in the Ray Steinhoff gym. I had a fleeting memory of all the nail-bitingly close games we had last year that always seemed to end in disappointment, but none of them really stuck out to me (homecoming did, but only because it was homecoming).
The Wellston game started at 6, like all Friday night games. I had been hearing some chatter and speculation around school that day, but not much. Whatever I did hear, I probably didn’t even pay any attention to. I think I was in sixth grade. The only reason why I went to basketball games in sixth grade was to look at the high school boys and shamelessly fantasize about the day that one of them would, like, proclaim their love to me with a jukebox outside my window. I had convinced myself that this proclamation of love was just a matter of time. The idea that it was ridiculously delusional for a 12 year old girl to legitimately believe that an 18 year-old senior would confess his undying love for her never seemed to cross my mind.
I walked into the cafeteria and was immediately met by a bunch of my hysterical friends. “BEN MCLEMORE IS GOING TO BE IN THE NBA AND HE IS HERE TONIGHT!!” they screeched, seemingly unaware of the fact that we were in a public place with people who didn’t particularly smile upon the high-pitched melody of 12 year olds having a complete freak out.
I knew absolutely nothing about basketball in general, so the idea that I would know who Ben Mclemore was was completely ludicrous. I’m not really sure how I replied to them after that initial greeting. I’m sure I probably screeched back, feigning excitement when in reality, I barely even knew what the NBA was.
I let them drag me into the gym where the girls’ game was going on. We went and sat in our usual spot, the top of the bleachers on the right side of the gym closest to the stage. At first, things held a semblance of normalcy. That all quickly went down the drain, though, when it was discovered that Ben Mclemore was in the locker room LITERALLY FIVE FEET AWAY FROM US. Sadly, this took a while for us to figure out.
This caused much excitement, resulting in the majority of us smashing our faces into the cracks of the little guardrail-type thing on the side of the bleachers so that we’d be the first people to set eyes on our new idol, Ben.
All that I really knew at this point was that Ben was really good. Not just kind of good, but really good. Like, the Albert Einstein of high school basketball. I began to get a bit of a grasp on the gravity of the situation, but just slightly. I still never really figured out what was going on, which has kind of become the theme of my whole life.
Then, it happened. I unglued my focused pupils from the steps leading down into the locker room for a half second, and immediately, my eyes began feasting upon something much more fascinating--the arrival of the Wellston cheering section.
It was one of those moments I don’t think I’ll ever forget. All these teenagers from Wellston high school began piling into the gym in a single file line, completely filling up the entire section where we were sitting. We got pushed to the front, and soon to the floor in front of the bleachers. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. My young, guarded self had never seen such an enormous cheering section in my entire life.
All the while, there was some kind of bizarre black market kind of deal going on behind the bleachers. A little girl who was even younger than me was offering to take people’s stuff for Ben to sign, and she was actually somehow managing to get signatures. I didn’t really understand why/how she had such exclusive access to him, but there was so much going on at this point in time that I barely had time to ponder it.
People were having him sign all kinds of things, too. “Ben, can you sign my headband?” “Can you sign my phone?” “Can you sign my back?” “Can you sign my forehead?”
I have no recollection of what the actual New Haven student section was doing during this madness. This is probably a good thing, considering the fact that they were completely outnumbered in their own gym. I kind of doubt that they even had the audacity to get angry at Wellston. How could you? It was amazing. The amount of kids who came to cheer on Mclemore was quite possibly larger than our entire school population.
The game is a very hazy memory of bloody murder-esque cheering for Wellston and moments of actually hyperventilating when Mclemore jogged off the court at halftime. I think he was probably the first person I saw actually dunk in real life, and although pretty much everything else is lost from that actual game, I do remember how the gym felt electric as I watched him place the ball in the hoop. Everyone flew out of their seats, the Wellston fans screaming out of their minds while beating on their chests as Mclemore actually transformed into the Incredible Hulk before our very eyes.
During halftime, the fans from Wellston were fraternizing with all of us, the kids too young to be sitting in the actual high school student section. I remember people taking pictures with them and getting their numbers. “We have to hang out sometime!” my friends told them.
Once the game started, though, it was back to business. It was incredible to watch the Wellston fans intently watch the game, passionately cheering when they got points, angrily freaking out when the team messed up. They were serious about their basketball, and it was more than obvious.
My young mind wasn’t really processing much of anything that night, so a lot of my knowledge of what was actually happening came to me in the days following the game. I learned that Wellston was a school in the crime-stricken part of St. Louis and that they were getting shut down that year. Next year, all the kids would be relocated to new schools, and the Wellston school district would be no more. They merged with Normandy in 2010.
Ben Mclemore actually did go into the NBA and currently plays for the Sacramento Kings.
Sadly, none of my friends ever hung out with anyone they met that night.
I think that the reason why this game has always stuck with me is because of the intense passion the Wellston students had for their team. These kids didn’t grow up like we did, in a safe, sheltered community where we were spoon fed pride for the Shamrocks. They didn’t grow up in a town known for its basketball and tradition of excellence. I kind of doubt that they sat in the gym as young children, yearning for the day they’d get to sit in the student section.
No, they grew up with crime. Drugs. They actually had to lock their front doors and watch their backs on the streets. They had bigger things on their mind than the school basketball team.
While our school has always been tight knit and close, theirs was literally falling apart.
Despite all their issues, though, they still had enough love for their team to go out to New Haven, Missouri, on a sweaty bus on a Friday night to cheer them on. I think that’s kind of awesome. Even though New Haven and Wellston are polar opposites, we shared that one common denominator: pride. My dad has always told me this, and I’m just beginning to realize how true it is--if the team is good, the crowd will come.
--by Clare Roth