Bicycle Commuting in 1952

BIKE COMMUTING

After the first couple of weeks of riding the streetcar to high school, it was time to ride my bike back and forth.  She was hard to convince, but Mom finally relented and allowed me to do it.

Why it was so important for me to do it, I don’t know.  Maybe it was the adventure of riding a little over three miles from home on streets that were all strange. My paper-route basket was able to carry my books without any trouble.  This was the first school year that I didn’t deliver papers in a long time.

I plotted a route to take Woodlawn Avenue south all the way to the dead-end at 99th Street.  A right turn swung me toward Cottage Grove.  A left turn put me on Cottage Grove Avenue where I followed the streetcar tracks up to 103rd Street.  At 103rd Street I ducked right under and through the  viaduct to Dauphin Avenue. Dauphin runs parallel to the Illinois Central tracks in a southwesterly direction. It is a narrow street with little to no traffic.  I stayed on Dauphin up 109th where it stopped. I zigged west to Eberhart which turns into 110th place, and finally dead ends at South Park Avenue (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). I rode the sidewalk along the Mendel property fence to the school gate. On a busy day, I might see two cars during the trip. The twenty-five minutes  it took to ride was less than using the streetcar, especially if the cars were running slow.

Bike route from home to Mendel High School

I parked in a very long bicycle shed with room for fifty bikes behind the Rec Center.  It had three walls and a roof.  There, I locked my bike to the rack and walked the path to the building.  The total distance was short, but I felt like I had ridden to the end of the world.

It wasn’t long before the days got shorter and the weather turned nasty and I was back on the streetcar again.

Following A Secret Dream

Presented here is a photo of Soldier Field, Ch...

Image via Wikipedia

FOOTBALL

The football team at Mendel was as young as the school; one year old.  The young team played games, but always against the Freshmen/sophomore teams in the Catholic league.  Football in the Catholic league was a huge sport.  Since most of the Catholic schools were boys only or girls only, the teams meant a lot to a school.  The dominant footballs teams were from Carmel, Leo, Fenwick, Saint Rita, and De LaSalle.  There were others, too, but these schools dominated the league.

I remember reading about “Red” Gleason, the coach from Leo High School. Leo played in the championships often.  Winning the Catholic school championship meant playing at Soldier Field against the public school champions for the All City Title.  My brother Bill went to St. Leo when Red Gleason coached the Leo team to a championship.

I secretly dreamed of joining the football team.  My limited association with the game came from playing “tackle” on the lawn next to the rectory. Tackle games were few because we had to wait for an evening when Father Horvath was out. I didn’t know about shoulder pads, hip pads, padded pants, jerseys, or helmets. None of my friends did either. Most of the time we played “tag” games in the schoolyard, or on the street in front of the house.

One day, during the spring of my first year, an announcement came: “Anyone wishing to try out for the football team should come to the gym at 3:30 to meet Red Gleason the new head coach.”

Wow!  I thought, Red Gleason, a chance to meet ‘the man’ himself. I couldn’t wait for the day to end so I could rush to the gym to sign up.  Finally, the last bell rang and we rushed to our lockers to put away our books.  There was plenty of time to get to the gym, it was only 3 p.m.  I got there early to stand in line with what seemed like  at least two hundred boys. All of them were anxious to try out for football.

At three-thirty, Fr. McNabb walked into the gym with a short dumpy man, rather portly, with thinning reddish hair.  I recognized him from the pictures I had seen in the newspapers. Red Gleason is really here.

Father directed us to line up single file and shoulder to shoulder. The coach and Father McNabb passed by the line for inspection.  Coach stopped in front of each boy and looked him over head to toe.  Sometimes he asked for a name, or some other question, and occasionally, he even shook a boy’s hand.

It took forever but he finally got to me.  He stopped, looked at me hard and asked, “How much do you weigh, boy?”

I really didn’t know my weight so I answered, “about 90 lbs.”

“Be sure to come to tryout in summer.”

I was in heaven.  Red Gleason asked me to try out for the team!

Of course, the largest obstacle I faced was not the team tryout, but it would be talking Mom and Dad into letting me do it.  Neither of them knew much about the game except that you could get hurt.  I had all summer to do it; now I just wanted to celebrate.

Ideas flooded my mind for how to convince them. After a days of deliberation I decided to work hard all summer to earn my tuition so they would have to let me do it.   The summer of 1953 became the longest summer of my life, and  was also the one that changed my course in a way that tested me beyond all of my dreams.

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