Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Going to London in the days of the old Mid-Eight

News that London and Madison-Plains high schools might soon join the Mid-State League brought back memories for me of when London was a member of the Mid-Eight League from the late 1950s until the league’s demise in the early 1970s.

Groveport was a member of the Mid-Eight League during that time. As a former basketball player and a 1974 graduate of Groveport Madison High School, I can remember the trips we made to London for basketball and football games.

The schools in the Mid-Eight were primarily farming communities scattered across Franklin, Madison and Union counties (and even Champaign County in the league’s last years). This made for lots of long road trips. It was a good, competitive league, and it seemed like every team match-up was a rivalry.

The long trips from Groveport to London and Marysville were an adventure for me as a kid growing up in the 1960s. To get to London, we piled into the car and wheeled down London-Groveport Road (State Route 665). I can remember thinking that, though the towns were far apart, it was kind of cool they were linked by this old country road in both name and asphalt.

The old London football field, Von Kanel Field, was unlike any other high school football stadium we visited in those years. I can recall walking through an area of silos to reach the field. There was also the railroad tracks that went right by the stadium, and more than once a train would clatter by as a game was being played. During one game, in the late 1960s, I can remember an extra point being kicked through the goal posts, with the football flying over the fence and landing in an open boxcar of a passing train! I’m hoping someone else can remember seeing this.

The coldest I’ve ever felt in my life was at a football game late in the season at London. (That’s saying something because I once worked on a masonry crew outside during the blizzard of 1977.) It was bitterly cold with a pelting rain that night in London. It felt as though my blood was about to freeze solid. On the long ride home I wedged my numb toes into the car heater vent to warm them up. They didn’t start to get warm until we got home.

I loved going to the old London High School gym, both as a spectator as an elementary school kid and as a player in my high school years. It had that wonderful feel and energy that old gyms have with the fans in the bleachers seemingly right on top of you. That old gym could get loud as the cheers of the fans reverberated off the nearby walls.

I’m relying on memories that are over 38 years old, so forgive me if my recollections of this great old gym are a little foggy. I can recall an elegant, auditorium stage at one end of the gym and a small section of tiered, theater-like seating surrounded by railings at the opposite end of the gym. I thought this was so classy. I seem to remember windows high on the walls that let in natural light. Best of all, the basketball floor was made of rich, old wood that felt good under my feet and gave a true bounce to the ball.

Today the schools, stadiums and gyms are bigger with all the modern amenities. I’m sure today’s students will have their own fond memories of these places once they hit middle age.

The old gyms and football fields may have been small, but they had a majesty and intimacy all their own.

- Rick Palsgrove, Southeast Editor, Jan. 4, 2012

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