No one is born a sports fan. Its something that must be nurtured and developed along the way. In my case, as far back as I can remember, my dad is the one responsible for my love of sports.
One of my earliest sports memories was watching my dad play basketball. He played in an industrial league that held their games at the White Eagle Gym in Rockford. It was exciting as a kid to watch your dad run up and down the court in his real basketball uniform. It not only had a number, but also a team name and sponsor. It wasnt just a pair of shorts and a T-shirt like so many other guys at the gym had on. He also wore one of those old-fashioned elastic bands that kept his glasses in place during the game. At the time, he looked like what I pictured a star basketball player to look like. In my mind, he really was.
To the best of my memory, the first shared sporting activity we did was fishing. We would pack some sandwiches and snacks and then head to a couple of secret fishing holes only he knew about. We may not have always caught a fish, but we always seemed to have a good time. One time, while we were crossing a field to get to our special spot on the river, we got chased by a herd of cows. It was pretty scary at the time, but now its something we still laugh about.
There used to be a mini-putt place and driving range where the Cub Foods in Loves Park is. We spent many a summer night hitting golf balls into the darkness. He could hit his drives so far, they would disappear out of sight. Mine, on the other hand, barely made it to the first yardage marker. He never seemed to mind. He kept encouraging me and would keep taking me back there. Eventually, I got the hang of it. To this day, I still love the game, and sometimes I even drag my wife and daughters to the range.
He always made time to toss a football or play a game of catch. Most of those times came following a full day of work. He would come home, have dinner and then, instead of retiring to the couch or easy chair to relax, he would get up, go outside and throw the ball around with me until it got too dark to see.
Long before the IceHogs, there was a hockey team that played at the Wagon Wheel Ice Palace in Rockton. We went to watch a couple of those games. One time following a game, we both caught the worst colds of our lives. We blamed it on the damp air in the arena. We decided from that point on to watch the games on TV instead of at the arena. It wasnt until the Hogs came to town that we went to another hockey game.
As a kid, I felt Saturday nights were always special. In the summer months, we would go to the Rockford Speedway to watch Joe Shear or Whitey Gerken. In the winter, we headed downtown to the Faust Hotel. They had a small bowling alley in the basement. We had a standing match with another father-son team. After the games, whoever lost had to buy the other team a Cherry Coke at the old Hollywood drive-in on North Second Street. I dont remember my dad and me having to buy very often.
I have several other memories that are centered around sporting activities. We went to our share of professional baseball and football games. We saw Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon and the rest of the Harlem Globetrotters every time promoter Tommy Canselose would bring them to town. I hardly ever missed a professional wrestling match at Boylan High School.
There are some sports memories I wouldnt mind forgetting, such as my less-than-all-star attempts at Little League baseball or junior tackle football. The one thing consistent with all of those memories, good or not so good, is my dad was always there.
To all of the dads out there, happy Fathers Day! To my dad, thanks for all of the wonderful sports memories. I hope you have a terrific day. You not only deserve it, youve earned it! I love you.
Doug Halberstadt is a local resident and is track announcer at Rockford Speedway. He can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the June 14-20, 2006, issue