WHY did we hate New Bern?

April21/ 2014

Thru coincidence, I’ve attended two reunions in the past month.  One involved my high school’s basketball program.  The other involved my college’s football program.

I enjoyed getting together with old friends in both cases, doing what everyone does at such affairs – (1) exhuming and exaggerating dusty memories and (2) talking about those who were not there.  #2 is why it is a good idea to attend such things.

In both cases, “those people” and “those days” are part of who I am, and always will be.  So are lots of other people and days.

These two reunions both involved sports.  With one it was about “success” – 51-1 over two seasons with back-back state championships.  With the other it was about “unrequited dreams”….. caught in the middle of a coaching change during which on-field success was minimal.  Both experiences created lasting “experiences-shared” bonds of friendship.

We are the sum of the choices and circumstances we make over our lives.  Each zig leaves its mark and leads us to the next zag.  Two of the most significant choices / circumstances are (1) When we are born, and (2) Where we “grow up”.  In both cases the individual has no say so.   We spend the rest of our lives moving on from those foundation circumstances.

I am in the median of Baby Boomerizm.  I came of age (?) during what I have defined as The Swan Song of America’s Innocence – the mid 60s.

The Statler Brothers have a line in The Class of ’57 – “Things get complicated when you get past 18”.  When me & mine barely “got past 18”, America got complicated with the Civil Rights Act and Viet Nam.

Many generations can say that.   World War I – The Depression – World War II.  Those were pretty complicated eras too.   The Civil War and Reconstruction….. The Revolution….. Europe during the Black Plaque and The Inquisition….. The Fall of The Roman Empire…. The Mongol Horde ?   There have been lots of complicated eras, but I only grew up when I grew up.

We had rotary phones and just three TV channels and those were just b/w for most of my early youth.  We didn’t even have “zip codes” until I was a sophomore in high school.  28501 – who ever forgets their first zip code?  Times were tough but we persevered.

I’ve kept in touch with both groups over the decades so there were only a few awkward moments spinning thru mental rol-o-dexes to connect names to time-worn faces.   That’s why God invented peel ’n stick name badges.

The high school basketball get-together was especially unique.   Our #1 rival team was invited…. and attended.   Maybe our reunion wasn’t the first time that has happened but it’s rarer than an unassisted triple play.

We were the #1 3-A team in the state for two years and New Bern was, arguably, #2.  We played them seven times over two years, defeating them six times.  BUT, they ended our 46 game win streak in Laettner-esque fashion.

As is so often the case, there was tremendous respect between the two teams.   Our beloved and revered coach passed away 4-5 years ago; but their coach attended and gave a fine talk about “those days”.    Fifty years ago and he still calls each player every Christmas.   Very cool.

Not unlike the UNC-Duke-State situation, our two rivals were located within a 30-mile radius.    All three towns (each under 25,000 at the time) went to the same beach in the summer.   30 miles might as well be 100 for kids of that era, so socializing was limited.   The three communities have separated themselves economically over the past 50 years – one prospering, one diversifying, one stagnating.   Ours is the stagnating one.  But back then they were amazingly similar.

Longtime readers here know my pet peeve re: “they are all abuncha ______!”  as it concerns rival institutions, communities and fans.  Certified nitwits can think that way, but will never understand how otherwise functioning adults can.

I realize I am the only person on earth who thinks sports rivalries that reach “We hate’em” proportions are silly.  Oh, I “get” political rivalries…. and barbecue rivalries.  Those ARE serious.

There may have been substantial differences between the American colonists & Mother England.   I’m sure Rome and the Visigoths were not homogeneous.

Having studied the Trojan War, I’m not sure Hector’s Men of Troy and Achilles’ Greeks were all that different.   Remove Helen and King Agamemnon’s ego and maybe Homer has no epic to write about and there would be no reason to fear “Greeks bearing gifts”.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor THAT provoked serious hard feelings.  Certainly History has its share of very legitimate animosities.  With sports they tend to be contrived or downright silly.

A question I kept posing over the weekend was “so, WHY did we hate New Bern?”  Had there been a signature incident that lit a fuse…. a bench-clearing brawl perhaps….. or a Romeo-Juliet situation involving “our” Homecoming How-Come-e1347239735101-384x400Queen and “their” Quarterback??   I received blank stares of “I dunno… never thought about it.”

Maybe it was like Hatfields & McCoys and involved someone shooting someone else’s mule?

Missouri & Kansas hate each other going back to the finals months of The Civil War and Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence which was actually in retaliation for a “Redlegs” raid on a small Missouri town.    There was no Quantrill between Kinston and New Bern.

There is a legend involving a Kinston catcher using a potato to pull off a hidden-ball trick against New Bern back in the pre-Ruth/Cobb days.  Trying to verify that would be harder than finding the headwaters of The Nile.

As 100 or so Baby Boomers milled about The Country Club dining room, there was no animosity….. no tense moments….. no beady eyes…. not a single babbling board monkey.   It was nice.

My subsequent gathering with UNC Footballers from the late 60s reaped similar memories.   With The Great Unpleasantness likely to surpass the Trojan War in duration there was only minimal talk of its latest twists & turns.  Comparing it to a smoldering tire fire in a landfill seemed to fit most perceptions.

Over the past five years, everyone has come to grips with his own version of that “grim reality”.  Athletes don’t drink the same Kool-Aid that fans do.   They know:  Balls do take funny bounces….. bad calls do even out over the years…..  the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeats both tend to dissipate.

Each of us is the sum total of all those people and experiences we encounter along Life’s Way.

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