I attended Antigonish Regional High School in Nova Scotia, better known as ARHS. The fact that I don’t remember anyone ever pronouncing it “arse” seems to me less a mark of school pride than a sadly missed opportunity.
In junior high, as with most junior highs, I attended mandatory gym class. It might surprise you to look at me, but I have relatively few traumas related to gym. The worst I can muster is that the gym teacher lined us up in columns, from shortest to tallest, and I was a late bloomer. But the view was great!
There were also the standard locker room humiliations that junior high boys of non-standard pubescent trajectory are subjected to, but I am completely over that, hardly worth mentioning, don’t want to talk about it.
I do recall, though, that I was actually quite good at climbing the ropes, a subconscious flight mechanism that I am only just now realizing.
Memory-wise, though, my high school gym is fairly neutral territory. It was where we hosted dances, school assemblies and a possibly-Christian cover band whose lead singer pulled my friend Rhonda out of the crowd and crooned “Babe” by Styx to her, so probably not a Christian band after all.
But other than phys-ed, I don’t particularly associate the gym with athletics. For instance, I don’t recall ever watching a basketball game there. In fact, I had to look in my old yearbooks to see if we even had basketball teams. (We did.)
So there was a disassociated sort of nostalgia last week when my son ended up playing basketball with the Bishop’s University Gaiters in my old high school gym. It’s a funny road of life that takes you back to emotional places you’ve never actually been.
To catch you up, James did a year at Nipissing University in Ontario, studying and playing ball. Though he was named Rookie of the Year, he wasn’t particularly enamoured of the school and the isolation, so he took a year off, worked in Ottawa, and this year finds himself back in the Townships and BU, where he is a rookie once more.
We’re looking forward to games down the road in Lennoxville instead of the road trips required to see him play Lakers ball in Ontario. We’ve caught a few pre-season games already, but last week James had a road trip of his own, or more precisely, an air trip.
With the football team travelling to an Atlantic conference game, the basketball team hitched a ride on the plane for exhibition play against StFX in my hometown. For whatever reason, it was played at my old high school.
My parents still live in Antigonish, and so of course they came out to see the game, accompanied by my brother Andrew, who thoughtfully arranged for them (both in their late eighties but still looking fi-i-i-ine!) comfortable mid-court seating rather than the hard benches. I’m now thinking of commissioning my brother to follow me around and provide me with comfortable seating wherever I go.
They watched the Gaiters win and James score some points, then enjoyed a brief visit with him before giving him a box of Grammie’s delicious chocolate truffles and saying their goodbyes. A couple of hours later, James was back on the plane and home.
It wasn’t until the next day when I was looking at the Gaiters’ Twitter feed that the strangeness of it all hit me. There, in one photo, was James in my old gym, defending an X player (and clearly committing a foul). And in another photo, there were my parents and brother, centre court, making their Twitter debut.
I thought about all the strands of circumstance that had to align to make this multi-layered, multi-generational moment possible. Or was it more of a geometric shape, with my parents and James at the bottom of the triangle in Antigonish and me at the top, connecting the lines here in the Townships?
Never having been an athlete, never having felt any particular nostalgia for my high school or that gym, I nonetheless felt a sense of completion, like in that one game in that one gym, there was an order to it all, rather than all just blind chance.
We grasp at the straws of connection to make sense of our lives. Or perhaps, finally, it’s just me wanting to tell all the world or at very least my hometown: “See? There were jock genes inside me all along!”