St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Friday, February 9th, 1963, and all the inspiration in the world had gone to
hell. Jim was sitting in Literature and Speech class with Brother Mathew, who looked like
Elmer Fudd. Jim had written one hundred of the worst love sonnets known to man.
Brother Mumbles was discussing the significance of the title of the book My Blackberry
Winter written by Robert Penn Warren. When the river flooded in the winter, the local folks
called it Blackberry Winter, because each flood changed the lives of the locals. Brother
Mumbles was referring to the passage that time was change, not motion, and noticed that
Jim wasn’t paying attention.
"Mr. Ciaffi, do you agree?" asked Brother Mathew.
Jim was dead meat. He stood and said, "Yes, Brother Mathew,"
"Yes to what, Ciaffi? Do you understand the question?"
"Then what is your answer?" Brother Mathew started walking towards him.
Prescott wrote the word "change" on a piece of binder paper.
"The book is about change, Brother Mathew."
Mumbles was face to face with Jim. He had bad breath from drinking wine and
spat when he spoke. "I don’t believe that you were paying attention, Ciaffi. Is that
correct?" asked Brother Mathew.
"Yes, Brother Mathew." If Jim said no, he would be calling Brother Mathew a liar.
"Did someone prompt you?"
"No, Brother Mathew. When I read the book the theme was about change. I
thought that you asked about the theme," replied Ciaffi.
"If you were not paying attention, then how did you know I was asking about the
"I am sorry that I was not paying attention. I thought that you asked about the
theme of the book," said Ciaffi.
"You took a lucky guess. Well, the next time you waste my time and the classes
time, you will spend a day in jug. And that goes for the rest of you. Just because next
period is a pep rally, I don’t appreciate the disrespect. Do I make myself clear,
Jim sat down. Prescott looked at him and smiled. Jim sat comfortable in his seat,
not showing the cold sweat running down his back. He remembered Steinway saying, "Be
cool, man. Never let them see you sweat." Brother Mathew continued to discuss the
significance of time referring to the example in the book about the droplet of water that fell
from leaf to leaf. It was change, not motion. Time was not two hands moving on a watch,
but events that happened. The bell rang. It was one-thirty.
The pep rally was for the Tournament of Champions in Berkeley. St. Nick’s was
the city champion and would play Richmond High School that night. If St. Nick’s won,
they would play the winner of the St. Elizabeth-Hayward game on Saturday. Jim would
take Lupe if St. Nick’s played Saturday. She hadn’t seen a championship basketball
game. St. Nick’s had lost to Richmond the last two years. Each game had ended in a
fight. Jim recalled the fight that Gilmore and he had after the game when they were
freshmen. He wondered how Gilmore was doing in public school.
Ace O’Connor had graduated and his brother: Deuce O’Connor, continued in the
tradition as head cheerleader. Brother Justin asked Duce to respectfully chide the faculty.
He reminded Duce that he was a senior, and that if he planned to go to college, he would
need references. The pep rallies didn’t have the bite they once had, but were still
entertaining. Marcus and Braxton began the rallies singing popular songs. On special
occasions Moonface jointed them, and sung Elvis’s greatest hits. This was a special
occasion. He sang and gyrated like Elvis. The students began clapping their hands to
Moonface singing "Hound Dog", "Jailhouse Rock," and "It’s Now or Never."
Then three chubby seniors came out dressed like Hawaiian hula dancers. The lads
wore grass skirts and two half-coconut shells to hide their femininity. They were barefoot
and wore white shell necklaces. Each had blue and white pom-poms. Someone had found
an old recording of My Little Grass Shack. The lads mouthed the lyrics and swayed to the
rhythm of the Harry Owen Orchestra featuring Lilly Okaloni. At the end of the dance they
turned and bent over, revealing their naked butts that collectively spelled "BEAT S.I."
Brother Justin did not appreciate their spirit. Then the lads turned and removed their
coconuts, began shaking their hairy chests, and giving provocative poses while Marcus
played "The Stripper."
Deuce saw Brother Justin leaving his seat, and hurried the lads off the stage.
Quickly Deuce began the whisper cheer and it appeared that order was restored.
Brother Justin returned to his seat. After the Hawaiian maiden’s rally, Brother Justin
demanded a detailed program of events for the next pep rally. The good old days were
officially gone. The pep rallies were mild compared to the days of Ace O’Connor. Brother
Justin had been president at St. Nick’s for a year and a half and he had made radical
changes to traditions that were older than him like freshman initiation, the pep rallies, and
seniors rule. A rumors spread like wildfire that upper and lower division dances would be
combined. This would reduce the number of dances by half. Upper division never mixed
with Plebes. Brother Justin had alienated himself from the faculty and student body when
he reduced the annual budget for teachers, laboratories, and sports.
After the rally the students boarded buses for Harmon Gym on the Cal campus at
Berkeley. They arrived at five o’clock. St. Nick’s game with Richmond High School
started at six o’clock. Richmond was a public high school that was predominately black.
They were the Apaches with red and yellow school colors. The students entered the gym
in single file wearing yellow headbands with red feathers. The school band played and the
students sang their school song as they entered their section of the arena. St. Nick’s had
arrived earlier and watched. Finally both basketball teams entered the court and began
warm ups. Richmond was a team with speed and good rebounding. In the past St. Nick’s
had played a white man’s version of basketball with set plays, taking a lot of shots from
outside the key. Richmond played a pure black game of run and gun, drive to the hoop,
and slam-dunk. This year would be different. St. Nick’s had Rick Braun and Russ
Gonzales. Rick was the shooting guard and Russ was the muscle under the basket. Russ’
game was getting the rebound and putting it in the hoop. Rick was quick and could shoot
from anywhere on the court. He had fast hands and led the league in steals. Courtney was
six foot eight, slow for a center, but he had determination. Henderson was the point guard
and set up all the plays. Henderson and Braun were black, and accustomed to playing run
and gun like Richmond. They forced their teammates to play better. Teague was a tight
end in football, and the other forward on the team. He was quick for a big man, and had
soft hands when he caught or shot the ball.
Both schools had a lot of spirit and loud bands. The game began and Richmond
won the tip off. Their guard took the ball and ran to the basket for two easy points.
Richmond cheered. Henderson inbound the ball to Braun, who passed to Teague cutting
to the hoop for a scoop shot that glided to the hoop and dropped in for two points. The
game ran in streaks. Richmond scored six points then St. Nick’s scored ten. The game
flowed back and forth. At halftime St. Nick’s was ahead 37-34. Richmond was surprised
that St. Nick’s was able to run with them. Braun was having a good game and had four
steals. Russ played a powerful game, and was wearing down Richmond’s center and
strong forward. Courtney had averaged five points a game, and had ten by halftime. Six
of the ten were free throws. Richmond’s best player was guarding Braun, and had three
fouls. Two more and he would foul out.
The second half started and Braun was hot hitting his first three shots that hit the
bottom of the net. The Richmond coach was upset with his player’s lack of defense
and replaced him with a taller player. Braun ran by the substitute player leaving him with
his jock hanging. The substitute picked up three quick fouls, and Braun made all six free
throws. The starter came back and Braun continued his dominance. With seven minutes
left in the game, Richmond’s best player fouled out trying to defend Braun. He was
frustrated, and removed his shirt. The Richmond coach yelled at his best player for fouling
out on two dumb plays. The player sat at the end of the bench. The St. Nick’s student
body began singing good-bye to the player. It was more than he could stand. He stood and
gave both middle fingers in salute to the St. Nick’s student body. The referee called a
technical foul on the Richmond bench. The Richmond student body exploded with anger. It
The campus police called the Berkeley Police for backup. The Richmond coach
used a microphone and ordered the students to sit and shut up. Deuce did a good job
keeping order on St. Nick’s side. The game continued with St. Nick’s leading by thirteen
points. With two minutes left the Berkeley Police arrived and formed a half circle on the
Richmond side. The game finally ended, and St. Nick’s won 71-61. The Richmond student
body left first while St. Nick’s sat in the stands for twenty minutes and sang their school
song. The police were determined that there wouldn’t be a fight like last year when the
Richmond students taunted the St. Nick’s student body because they had won again.
Some of the St. Nick’s students replied with explicit language and gestures. It escalated
and thirty-two of St. Nick’s students and twenty-seven of Richmond’s students needed
medical attention. Finally it was St. Nick’s r turn to board the buses. Jim was glad the he
didn’t bring Lupe to the game. Saturday St. Nick’s would play St. Elizabeth’s who had
beaten Hayward 57-48.
Jim decided that he wouldn’t subject Lupe to the possible battle on Saturday, so
he spent the day with her. She made cookies for Valentine’s Day in the shape of hearts
and diamonds. He was getting pretty good rolling the dough. That night they went to the El
Capitan Theater, and saw two comedy movies with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. It was
dish night and everyone got a serving dish. You had to come back next week to get the
salad bowl. After the movie they walked home. Lupe snuggled close to Jim’s wool toggle
coat, and said, “If you ever got tired of this coat, give it to me.”
“The coat’s taller than you. You’ll have to grew a couple of inches to wear it.”
“I’ll hem the coat.”
“I’ll buy you one.”
“No. I want yours.”
When they arrived they gave Rosa the serving dishes. She offered hot chocolate.
Jim and Lupe sat on the sofa in the living room enjoying each other’s company sipping hot
chocolate. He got home at ten and Joe told him that St. Nick’s beat St. Elizabeth’s 84-83 in
double overtime "You missed a hell of a game," said Joe. Jim agreed and wished he had
taken Lupe. He went to bed and lay awake trying to think of a love sonnet for Valentine’s
Day. He fell asleep before he could think of two sentences. Sunday morning he read the
sports section. It was a hell of a game. Braun had thirty-one points, Gonzales had twenty-
four, Courtney had a season high of sixteen. Monday there would be a rally to show off the
More next week...