Cordova Chronicles: The ball kept rolling

And the punch kept flowing

The 1953 CHS Wolverine varsity: Standing, from left, Frank Siemion, Stan Makarka, Bobby Maxwell and Jerry Olsen. Kneeling, from left, Roy Triber, Charlie McCracken and Teddy Siemion. Photo from Cordova High School Annual, 1953

The famous Cordova Volunteer Fire Department’s Annual New Year’s Eve Ball was featured in the December 29, 2017 Cordova Chronicles. Like many local events, it had a sequel.

One might say the Ball kept rolling.

Besides fiery blasts from Dad’s light pole compartment, and various other sources of contraband that kept the dancers light-footed, punch was provided at the Ball. It was served from a table over in a corner near the entrance to the girls’ locker room, which also doubled as a kitchen.

It wasn’t called punch without reason.

Yippee. Bring on the New Year.

Often, the CHS basketball team had their first practice soon after the Fireman’s Ball.  Back then, the players would walk down from the old high school on the hill when classes were over, suit up, and shoot around until their coach arrived. It was not uncommon for him to be a little late.

Well, boys will be boys; and it turns out, “kill ball,” now better known as “dodge ball,” was the sport of choice when their coach wasn’t around.

At one such practice, Wolverines Bobby Maxwell and Frank Siemion were among the ringleaders of this free-for-all. The younger JV players, whom of course modeled their behavior after the upperclassmen, were also enjoying the mayhem.

Basketballs were flying in every direction except the basket; there was a reason the gymnasium windows were protected by heavy wire screens that are still in place today.

Gradually, the number of players and balls seemed to diminish.

Soon it was just Bobby and Frank, wondering where everyone else had gone. The duo heard laughter from within the girls’ locker room, and decided to investigate. They found the other sweat-soaked Wolverines, standing amidst basketballs as numerous as colorful New Year’s Eve balloons that covered the floor.

All were holding fancy glasses in hand, daintily sipping leftover punch from a large crystal bowl. Evidently, the cleanup crew had overlooked the locker rooms.

And kill ball had generated considerable thirst.

With the gym now dead quiet, the merry Wolverines heard someone coming up the stairs. Quickly they grabbed the basketballs and raced out to begin shooting hoops. The coach walked in, blew his whistle, and told the troops to line up for wind sprints. Off they went, some of them tumbling at the free throw line, only a few making it past mid-court without falling down.

The coach blew his whistle again, and told them to line up on the sideline. He walked past, and it didn’t take long to sniff out the cause. A quick visit to the locker room confirmed his suspicions. He couldn’t very well kick everyone off the team, but back then discipline was swift and exacting.

The next day several Wolverines showed up for first period classes with headaches; and for several days after that asked their teachers if it would be OK to stand for the hour.

They could barely walk, let alone sit, after endless laps and wind sprints.

Yet one look at No. 33 and No. 77 in the 1953 CHS varsity basketball team photo tells you there were a couple of Wolverine characters who thought it was well worthwhile. 

Note: This story is an excerpt from a soon to be released book about Alaska sports, titled “Balls and Stripes”, by yours truly. Frank Siemion provided this tale several years ago.-DS

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at shorn@gci.net. Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016.