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Barnhart: Back in my day, swingsets were just old tires and rope

Barnhart: Back in my day, swingsets were just old tires and rope

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I must admit I am so old I can remember when kids didn't have the credit-card parents of today. If you wanted a swing, you found a discarded ancient tire and hung it from a tree in your yard.

Look at yards today and you will find playground equipment that cost more than the $500 my father paid for a Model A Ford; an automobile he sometimes left in downtown Streator because he had forgotten he had driven it and thus walked home.

When my mother demanded to know where the car was, he slapped his head, said it would be OK to leave it there, and tuned the radio to the WLS Barn Dance.

I recall my basketball which had to be blown up because it had a bladder inside the leather and my side yard hoop which I tilted a little to the right because I liked to shoot from that corner. The wood for my backboard came from a late-night scavenger hunt in Mr. Friedman's junk yard.

Mr. Friedman was a busy man. He paid high school students for junk, then they went to his back lot at night, stole it, and sold it to him again.

I had to be careful with Mr. Friedman because one of his daughters was one of my grade-school teachers.

Their home backyard butted into our side yard and I finally got the nerve to ask my mother why Mr. Friedman wore a skull cap while he was eating.

If you attended public school, you could go to your church every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. for religious instruction. We envied the non-church members and they scoffed at us because they got to remain at school and play. We were at church learning that a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. No ACLU in those days.

So, I love to read anything that reminds me of those days.

Bob Gipson, sort of a retired local insurance man, sent me newspaper clippings which he noted dated back to November, 1943. One article read that quarterback Pete Elliott had been lost for the season to the Bloomington High School football team. The story never mentioned why.

Jim Elliott, Pete's youngest brother who is retired from State Farm, was a sophomore tackle at that time and explained that Pete injured his knee.

I have always been amazed at the similarity of Pete's and Jim's voices. All the Elliotts were gracious in dealing with others.

Then, another clipping told about Bloomington scoring a 27-0 victory over Streator. Gipson was sure the Barnhart in the Streator lineup was me. Nope, I was somewhere between New Zealand and Tarawa or on Tarawa in November, 1943.

Deceased sports editor Fred Young covered the game for the Pantagraph and also officiated it.

Many of the names mentioned in that BHS-Streator game story are part of local lore. It cites Johnny Pratt for his hard running. John Neal, then a freshman who might have been the finest athlete in BHS history, was mentioned for his running and passing.

Jim Elliott filled in for injured tackle Alf Lehmkuhl and was a starter the rest of the season. Mr. Young wrote that Bobby Gipson was admirable in replacing Pete Elliott at quarterback and said that Bill Frank was also being used at quarterback.

Delmar Ploense was another back on the injury list.

Mr. Young wrote that center Lyle Van Ness; guards Don Riebe and Clarence Bradshaw; end Charlie Esch; and tackle Bill Costigan also were impressive. Running back Bob Lundquist and end Gilmore Brust also caught Mr. Young's eye.

I do recognize some of the Streator names. John Kerestes became an all-stater and a starter at Purdue; Ken Pickerell was an outstanding quarterback later at Northern Illinois and lived a block from me; and Moose Conner, the deceased Streator mayor, was an end.

Moose was the old-style politician. When my mother needed something done in the neighborhood, she called Moose.


How could I forget George Zaglauer, the one-time gigantic Trinity High School middle guard circa the late-1950s?

George approached me recently and asked, "Do you remember me?"

I not only called him George but knew his last name.

After George graduated from Trinity he served on the basketball scoring table, blowing the horn to end quarters and get officials' attention.

This was the era when WJBC broadcast the games later at night.

George would hurry home so he could hear himself blow the horn.

50 years and counting

Pantagraph sports editor Bryan Bloodworth celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday.

I have known Bryan for more than half of his life. He will never be able to say that about me.

Jim Barnhart is a former Pantagraph sports editor. Contact him at


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