Hall of Honor: This time it’s personalI watched with great interest at last year’s Hall of Honor ceremonies as Master of Ceremonies (and I do mean master) Mike Brown took great joy in inducting his friends and classmates into the Hall.
It will be my honor and privilege to be able to introduce my friends, classmates and teammates Martin Stroman, Ray Locklin and Odis Mack into their much deserved place in the Hall.
It will be as close as I ever get (unless they start putting in guys that liked to shoot from half court).
Our basketball coach Gerald Adams is also being honored and at this point in my life, I would call him a friend as well.
If we could transport ourselves back 35 years, I would probably be the last person on earth that Coach Adams would believe would be honoring him.
We butted heads, that’s a fact. I wanted to shoot the ball every time it came my way and play every second of the game. He had this notion we should run a disciplined offense that got everyone involved and guard people on defense.
And of course as we all know, when you’re 18 years old, you know everything, right?
After my junior year, I had had enough of Rockdale and I figured Rockdale had had its fill of me as well, so I was going to transfer to Del Valle, where my father lived in its school district.
The kicker is that Del Valle was in Rockdale’s district at the time, which meant I would be playing against my friends.
Sometime right before school started in late August, I got the phone call I never thought I would get in a million years—my dad stunned me one night by calling me to the phone.
It was Coach Adams.
He explained to me how important it was for me to come back for the team, how important it was to him and convinced me to come back to Rockdale.
I am forever grateful that he picked up the phone, because I may have gone on to greater personal glory, but I would have missed the experience of a lifetime, playing for the best basketball team this school has ever produced.
I use the discipline he taught me every day of the week as a writer.
I coached for 10 years in the Basketball Congress International and I couldn’t believe the things that I was making my players do and the things that were coming out of my mouth—it was Gerald Adams.
He has become a friend and confidant.
I should have known all along that he liked me. One night after a tournament game, some of the players went out and celebrated a little too late.
When I walked in the door at 3 a.m., Coach Adams was sitting on my couch with my mother.
If that’s not favoritism, I don’t know what is.
Old war stories
One of the great things about getting older and befriending your coach is you hear stories about things you never knew were going on when you were young.
My favorite is one Coach told me about playing Lockhart.
We were cruising along pretty good there in 1976 with a top ranking and a doubledigit win streak. During an off night, he and his assistant at the time, John Shoemake, went and scouted our next opponent, Lockhart, which was coached by one of Coach Adams’ good friends, Gerald Coppedge.
Well, after he and Coach Shoemake get back to Coach Adams’ place, they, well... let’s just say they were enjoying several of their favorite beverages.
So, sometime during the evening, they decide to call his old friend Coach Coppedge.
When Coppedge gets on the phone, Coach Adams informs him that Lockhart has no chance of beating Rockdale and would he like to go ahead and forfeit now to avoid the obvious embarrassment.
I eat that up with a spoon.
Get on the bus
When I think of Martin, Ray and Odis, it’s more of what we did off the court than on, that I remember.
The endless hours playing at Aycock. Playing until we couldn’t even see the ball anymore. Playing until we couldn’t stand up anymore.
Our bus rides to and from games were more like chorale practices, especially when we were younger.
We sang, we sang a lot.
A particular favorite was Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” Now there weren’t any Stevies among us of course, but we went over and over that song until we got it right.
Bill Withers (“Ain’t No Sunshine”) was also popular. As a matter of fact, my nickname came from a Withers’ album called “Still Bill.”
The Ohio Players, the Stylistics (Russell Thompkins, Jr. on lead vocals), the Spinners, all filled our musical repetoire.
When I moved back to Rockdale as a freshman, the first person I talked to was Ray Keith Locklin.
Sitting in alphabetical order in Miss Yezak’s first period English class, Locklin, Mack, Martin.
Ray explained to me that he had already been offered a basketball scholarship to UCLA and regaled me on all his junior high athletic exploits.
He talked for about 30 minutes without stopping, with each point punctuated by this large, tooth filled laugh.
That’s what I always remember about Ray, his boisterous laugh that emanated out of his chest cavity and could fill up a room.
That, and Vickie Currie chasing him all over the RHS sports complex from gym to field house—with her pet boa constrictor and him with just his practice shorts on and nothing else.
Odis and I were teammates on the Athletics, which defeated the evil Lions and their all-star team roster which included Martin and Ray.
If there was a fashion hall of honor. Odis would be its first and maybe only member.
“Nate the Skate” was always nattily dressed, no matter what the occasion. Odis always had the latest shoes, coat or hat that made the 70s hip. I believe he may have had a pair of shoes with the goldfish in them, but I might be wrong.
Of course back then, we wore stack shoes and he used to let me borrow a pair of his taller ones so I could walk down the hall at 6-foot-10, ducking under doorways and causing a stir.
Think Billy Dee Williams with a jump shot. A cooler cat, you will never meet.
Get a job
Sometimes, I regretted being Martin’s friend, because every time he found a job, he would always drag me along (and I do mean drag).
Whenever I thought I was going to be able to sleep late on the weekends, the holidays or during the summer, my phone would ring and it would be Martin on the line, with something for us to do.
One summer we worked for Coach Shoemake, roofing houses. It turned out to be a great job (other than the working part) because we would start at 4 a.m. in the morning and were done by noon, so that meant we had the afternoon off to goof off.
We were also lifeguards and cleaned out some rain gutters. He also got us jobs during the Rockdale Centennial celebration in 1974. He was the lighting director, I ran the slide projector. Neither one of us had a clue as to what we were doing.
I’m not complaining, all the jobs paid very well and kept us full of Bennett Burgers at the Dairy Queen.
I think fondly of his father Leo Stroman, who was everybody’s favorite coach and also his grandmother, Mama G, who we used to ride with to football games when we were freshmen. She was quite a character.
A large part of Martin’s mystique is that he is the most unassuming star you will ever meet. He doesn’t like talking about his exploits and I doubt if any of his current friends even know he played football.
When I informed him he was going in the Hall, his first words were, “Is this a joke?”
He won’t be happy with all that I have written about him today, but I don’t care, it needs to be said.
Our freshman year, there were 22 players on the team. I knew there was something special going on. We went 22-0, including four wins over varsity teams. And, most of that total was without Odis, who was moved up to the varsity by Duane Vincent as a freshman.
By the time we were seniors, there was just five of us left, including Danny Randall.
It was an honor to play with you and at the same time, to watch you play.
Thanks for the memories. And to borrow a line from Hoosiers, I love you guys.