Jim Healy at Bellagio in Las Vegas
By FRANK BARNING
A couple weeks ago, my classmate Jim Healy and I had an extended telephone conversation. He splits the year between Portland, Oregon and Sarasota, Florida. His grandkids live in Florida.
Among many other things, he mentioned Mike Newton, Division Avenue High School's first basketball star. When it came to hoops, Jim and I were Newton wannabees.
We were into nicknames back then. Jim called me "Slinky" and to me he was "Spider." The two of us played together on a poorly coached, talent-deprived junior varsity basketball team. Most of the guys dribbled like they had suitcases under their arms. Healy and Barning were the only two guys who shot more than 50 percent from the foul line and neither of us was varsity material.
The coach was Joe DiMaggio, who was the baseball coach but probably needed a few extra bucks so he took on JV basketball for one season, 1958-59. Joe D, no relation to the baseball hall of famer of the same name, was a delightful man. But he didn't know spit about coaching a basketball team.
A few years ago, one of our teammates, Bill Stanley, admitted to me something I didn't know. A delightful guy and a retired police detective, Bill said that Joe D used our JV team to keep his varsity baseball players in shape. He and a couple of other good baseball players were ordered to play hoops that season.
My buddy Louie Pascale, of the Primrose Lane Pascales, was on the team. I lived at the corner of Hyacinth and Primrose, maybe four houses from Louie. He didn't pick up instructions from Joe D very quickly and he really frustrated our normally mild-mannered coach. Shockingly and totally out of character, one day during practrice he screamed at Louie, 'You're a goddamn horse's ass!"
He topped it off by calling Louie something that sounded to me like "chootch." I guess that with the Italian roots of the Pascales and DiMaggios, our coach figured that his confused player would understand the word which more or less means "donkey."
I needed a clearer definition of chootch, so I asked a friend of the same heritage as Joe D and Louie to provide information. She replied, "A chootch..( don't know how to spell it)..in my house was someone who looked oversized or out of place..so, as to appear stupid..like a left back kid in class."
The other players picked up on the coach's outburst and for the rest of the season Louie, a sweet kid, was often reminded of what he had been called. Our teammate, Mike Caldararo, wrote in my yearbook, "Remember JV basketball. HA." Of course, HA stood for "horse's ass." The things we remember after more than 50 years, but can't remember where we left the car keys.
Photo by Frank Barning
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The next blog post continues my conversation with Jim Healy and our wondering whatever became of our classmate and Division Avenue basketball star Mike Newton.