In Claremont, we played sports year-round when we were kids. My cousin Carl was the Stevens High School varsity quarterback in the late 1940s, and I wanted to follow in his steps.
I tried out for the junior varsity and made the team, but I think everyone did. And, even though I had a weak throwing arm, I became the starting quarterback. I threw the occasional incomplete pass, but mostly my role was to hand off the ball and get out of the way. That was fine with me, since practically everyone was bigger than I was.
I didn’t love practice. We would line up for scrimmage, and some of my lineman friends thought it was a good idea to “brush block,” meaning to let the defense plunge right through and aim for me. Mostly I was able to get away, but not always.
One time I got hit, went down, and my elbow struck the ground. It was quite a jolt, and for some reason my fingers started to curl.
“My hand, my hand,” I cried out.
“Run it off, Steinfield,” the coach said.
We didn’t have a very successful season – zero and eight – so I gave up football.
Basketball was another sport we all played, starting in grade school. I hoped for the nickname “Cooz,” after the Boston Celtics star Bob Cousy. No one ever called me that, but I did make the junior varsity, coached by the same junior high school teacher who showed no sympathy for my curled fingers.
My playing time was mostly in practice. During games, I sat on the bench at the far end from the coach, waiting for him to call my name. That usually happened when we were way ahead or way behind. “Garbage time,” it’s called.
I did get into a game my sophomore year, and I remember every second. I would say every minute, but I’m not sure I was on the court for a full minute.
Right after I entered the game a member of the other team went to the foul line. I was in the backcourt. He missed, our center got the rebound, I ran, and the ball came flying my way. I caught it and started towards the basket, hoping for a layup.
The problem was that someone from the other team was in my way, so I did what I had to do. After all, I wasn’t getting my hands on the ball very often. I stopped fifteen feet or so from the basket, jumped and shot – left-handed! Swish, my “Cooz” moment, and fouled in the act of shooting.
I made the foul shot, my first, and as it turned out my last, three-point play. Pure bliss, as the cheerleaders called my name.
Unfortunately, so did Coach “Run-It-Off.” “Steinfield,” he yelled, “you’re out.”
Later he told me, “You had no business taking that shot.” The fact that I had made the basket and the foul shot apparently didn’t count, although nobody told the scorekeeper and it showed up the next day in the Daily Eagle box score.
And that marked the end of my basketball career. I spent the rest of the season on the bench, but it was worth it.