Worst Day At Miami High Still Pretty Good

The Miami High Sports Hall of Fame welcomed eight new members in its 2011 induction ceremony April 16th at the Miami High Auditorium. There may have been a more diverse crowd gathered in Miami that night, but none with a similar level of affection for one another. Miami High succeeds where urban planners fail. One of the inductees, John McGriff ’73, commented during his acceptance remarks, “I had one bad day at Miami High, the day I had to leave.” Yup, I thought, same with me, Class of ’77. If life were a movie, I would have jumped up and yelled, Amen bother! But life is not a movie and I don’t know Mr. McGriff, who stands 6’3″ and weighed 245 lbs back in the day, so I settled for making a note in my program.

This was the 2nd time I was able to attend the annual induction ceremony–read about the 1st experience here–and both times I left feeling grateful for being reminded of something that I am a part of and is a part of me. A massage of varying degrees for the psyche. A light massage for me and perhaps a deep tissue type for others, especially the inductees. In the words of the spokesman for the HOF Committee, Jose ‘Chamby’ Campos ’73, those present were there because “we developed an affinity for the school.” When those affinities survive distance and decades, that is something worth reflecting on.

In terms of the history and tradition of our city, to say that Miami High’s role is unparalleled by any other educational institution, except perhaps the University of Miami, is highlighted by the following fact; With the induction of Marshall Wayne ’31–combined with Pete Desjardins ’26–the Miami High Sports HOF now includes American medalists in diving for the 1924 [Paris], 1928 [Amsterdam] and 1936 [Berlin] Olympic games. I could go on, but wouldn’t we just be showing off at this point? The video produced by the HOF Committee does a nice job of displaying that tradition–see here.

“Where did all the years go?” That was the question asked by another of the inductees, Thalia Vgeros Athans ’54, as she found herself back on the MHS auditorium stage for the first time in over 50 years. Great question. Given that introspection cannot be outsourced, we have to make a conscious effort to reflect because otherwise, life is perfectly willing to let us just slide on by and out. This is my attempt.

The evening began with a Junior ROTC Color Guard leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and Justo Jay ’74 — father of St. Louis Cardinal John Jay — the invocation.  Part of my affinity towards Miami High is because there is where I learned what it meant to be an American and feel as though I belonged.  Aside from being grateful, I remember having a sense of doubt that I, along with my exiled Cuban-American family and community, could have the same rights and privileges in this country that some Midwest kid with a crew-cut and a father who served in WWII.  When you walked the halls and saw the pictures of those who walked the halls before us, you began to feel the connection.  Making the connection with my Stingaree predecessors paved the way for feeling connected to Americans from exotic places that I lacked the imagination to relate to back then, places like the Midwest.  As a naturalized citizen, I promise you that Pledge of Allegiances are never routine.  When I do the pledge at Miami High, we are in Saving Private Ryan emotional territory.  Thanks again Mr. Dorste.

Inductee Marshall Wayne ’31 served in the US Army Air Corps during WWII. Wayne’s life, he deceased in 1999, was the stuff of of Americana legend; vaudeville performing parents, attended Miami High during the Depression, University of Miami grad, Olympic champion, awarded medal by Hitler, friend of Tarzan, awarded medal by Charles de Gaulle, Pan Am pilot. For good measure, he is captured by Leni Riefenstahl in her acclaimed documentary about the 1936 Olympics. See a video clip involving Wayne from that documentary–click here–he’s the only blond male diver.

The Master of Ceremonies was Curtis Stevenson, a well-known local radio personality with family ties to Miami High. The ties would keep on coming and binding. If Miami High replaced Kevin Bacon, I think we could knock off a couple of degrees on the whole separation game. The first speaker, Jack Herskowitz ’58, recognized his fellow teammates on the Stingarees 1958 State Champion Baseball team. A number of the players from that team were also present; Jimmy [Singing] Carter, Carl Fanero, George Pringle, Lenny Scheinhoft, and Bobby Ward. Herskowitz recalled games which involved Boog Powell, George Mira and Charlie Nobles. In the audience were Lenny Booth ’52 and Steve Hertz ’63, legendary names in the Miami high school baseball scene. Also in the audience was Howard Kleinberg ’51, a well known and well regarded chronicler of all things Miami. Ties and affinity.

Thalia Vgeros Athans ’54 was a 4-sport star from the 7th grade on. She attended Shenandoah Junior High before Miami High and later the University of Miami ’61. The same stepping stones taken by my wife, Nory Galego, MHS ’79, UM ’83. Ties which happily bind. Mrs Athans presenter, Laura Miller, made a point of expressing thanks to the HOF Committee for recognizing a woman’s athletic talents. She noted with some irony that the most popular sport in Jacksonville nowadays is a women’s football lingerie league. Mrs Miller also had an interesting observation about why Thalia had become such a good athlete. Thalia was the only girl in the neighborhood and she had to be good to be included in games. If you think that’s a reach, then you’ll have to explain why that is the same reason given by Babe Didrikson for some of her skills.

The next inductee was also part of the 1958 baseball team being recognized, Bob Ward ’60. Bob was a 3-sport star at MHS and went on to earn the first baseball scholarship at the University of Miami. At UM, his path crossed with Ron Fraser. When I saw the high school pictures of Ward in the program, I thought I was looking at a right-handed Whitey Ford. Bob had a number of friends and family in the audience, including my pasta dining companion, Marcie, also a 1960 grad. Bob’s acceptance speech was moving in what was left unsaid. It consisted of many heartfelt thanks.

Another baseball player inductee was Lefty Rodriguez ’63. Even among other talented athletes, you can tell that Lefty was considered a cut above by those who played with or against him from their remarks. His presenter, Manny Crespo ’68, noted that Lefty was “Fonzie before Fonzie.” As circumstantial evidence, I sumit that anyone known as ‘Lefty’ in Cuban-American circles must be very good at what they do for the nickname to survive the political implications. Rodriguez went on to compete at a high level for many years in softball as well. His path crossed many familiar names as well, some local, Catfish Smith, and some national, like Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa.

John McGriff went on to play football and graduate from the University of Miami. I’m not sure what he does nowadays, but he could easily earn a living as a public speaker. Building on his remarks about how good the Miami High experience was for him, he noted that it held true for his family as well. He said, “My wife, Miami High. My brother, Miami High. My daughter, Miami High. My son, … Edison … [laughter] … no one’s perfect.” His timing was. John’s presenter and teammate, Rick Cabrera ’73, noted how John was the biggest guy on the team and his nickname was Pee Wee, while he was a 135 lb linebacker referred to as … Butkus.

The only inductee who made it to the top professional rung of his sport was current NFL player Jamal Jackson ’97. As opposed to most of the other inductees, where the HOF recognition might be the last time their achievements are revisited, in Jackson’s case the story is still being written. The story so far is of an undrafted free agent player who has worked his way into a starting offensive line position since 2003 with the Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson’s talk was short and humble. The respect between him and his presenter and former coach, Earl Tillman, was evident. Old school types like to say, ‘act like you’ve been there.’ Jackson did. He also put an end to attempts at cheerleader jokes when he mentioned that his Mom [MHS ’78] was a cheerleader herself.

Miami High Basketball

[Please read the next paragraphs in a James Earl Jones Field of Dreams voice]. Miami High basketball was a constant for many years of my life and I know exactly when the connection began. I went to see a game with my brother [Fernando Costales ’75] and our friend [Jorge Anaut ’74] at the Miami High gym in 1971. It was my 2nd shock and awe experience, the first was at Super Bowl III. In that one game–with the banners, the crowd, the cheerleaders and even the smell–I was hooked. That game also featured perhaps the last blond kid to star at Miami High [it’s like remembering what Miami Beach was like before South Beach]. A player named Billy Capps, who I think was leading the GMAC in scoring at the time.

My basketball hero was Jerry West and I remember reading how he ascribed part of his love for the game for the fact that he could play it alone and thinking, ‘wow, we got something in common.’ I hold an unconfirmable, but also irrefutable, record related to Miami High. I logged more time playing basketball on the courts [‘la corte,’ cancha was for foreigners] across the street from the Miami High gym than anyone else. [I was going to hedge by saying more than anyone who had entered the country legally, but I’m feeling confident today]. The record is safe now because the courts were torn down as part of the school’s renovation. I earned the record because I was a basketball junkie and I, or my parents, have lived within 1 mile of Miami High since 1961. Throw in the fact that I was a bit of a loner before, during and after high school who was only too happy to spend hour after hour alone with my thoughts and any synthetic basketball with enough air. So scarred was I by losing a few hours of hoops for lack of a decently inflated ball, that to this day I keep inflating needles around like other people keep hand sanitizers.

Trust me, those courts saw a lot of crummy basketball. Once they were even the resting place for a 1975 Cleo Heathington blocked shot on a layup attempt which began in the gym [shooter unknown–hey, we don’t rat]. The ball traversed one sideline, 8 building steps, 4 parked cars and 2 lanes of traffic. Others may have seen an oddly configured playground, 5 basketball full-courts of varying lengths with little sidelines across the street from the great old gym. But I recall a place where my Hoyt Wilhelm jumper and thoughts ate up the time. [Subconsciously, it also taught me the economic concept of diminishing returns before I could understand it]. Those thoughts ranged from what to do when I finally got to talk with girl X, to college, to changing jobs, to wondering if Solzhenitsyn was right about the West, to family illness, to marriage. I’m thankful I didn’t have a smartphone during that time. Today I have one of the rims from those courts–carelessly left behind, not unlike Roman Centurions casting lots at Golgotha, by those constructing the new Miami High–at home, unframed. I just can’t decide which wall to ruin.

There were two basketball related HOF inductions that Saturday night. One was for a playing career, Jose Ramos ’88, and the other was for coaching, Frank Martin ’83. Martin’s presenter was legendary high school coach and fellow Miami High Sports HOF member, Shakey Rodriguez ’71. Here the ties become so numerous, they are impossible to untangle. Ramos played for Shakey. Martin was given his chance to coach by Shakey. Martin was on the staff of the 1986-87 team coached by Shakey and led by Ramos to Miami High’s first state championship in 23 years. From all their remarks that evening, it’s clear the bonds not only remain, but have been strengthened.

As a fan, I don’t have fond memories of that championship. On the morning of the 1987 state championship game in Lakeland, my cousin Ramiro ’77, my brother and I decided to drive up to see the game. We had been present at so many of the near misses, we couldn’t miss it. Childhood friend and sportswriter Santos Perez ’77 promised me tickets when we got there. We left around 10:30am in my 1981 Jetta. We returned 16 hours later in a rental, since I had burned out the Jetta’s engine on the Turnpike driving up, and with my brother’s brand new $114 speeding ticket. Ties that sometimes frustrate.

Part of Ramos’ and Martin’s induction talks focused on how their accomplishments built on the tradition of the players and coaches which preceded them. My 2nd ‘Amen brother’ moment. I thought that that type of recognition, coming during their HOF induction moments, spoke to their humility and the genuine respect they had for their predecessors. The next time you watch a Kansas State game and the announcers comment on how Martin has a good relationship with his players, understand that Martin is practicing lessons he took to heart at Miami High and has taken, with great success, elsewhere. Just as Anthony Grant ’83 has. Too bad it was not the type of loyalty and passion which UM sought in their next coach. Between Ramos and Martin, they made it a point to individually recognize part of the Miami High tradition present that night; Manny Torres ’73, Benny Lorenzo ’77, Victor Alvarez ’78 and Carlos Mora ’78. If they had more time, no doubt the amazing brother tradition which came through Miami High basketball would also have been mentioned; the Heathington’s, the Minnis’ and the Edwards.’ Grateful for the ties.

As for Martin and Rodriguez, they are controversial figures only to those with a TMZ mentality–read more about that here. At Miami High we had the good fortune of being taught [even if we weren’t listening at the time] to believe in deeds, not words [Non verbis sed operis]. The fruits of their coaching deeds were on full display that evening and it was gratifying for someone who first crawled up the wooden stands 40 years ago to observe the ties which have been built since then. The same can be said of all the inductees, the fruits of their efforts being that their peers happily shared in their moment. They couldn’t have happened at or to a nicer school.

Congratulations to the inductees and their presenters:

  • Marshall Wayne ’31 / Kay Holland Griffith ’55
  • Thalia Vgeros Athans ’54 / Laura Stroemer Miller ’54
  • Bobby Ward ’60 / Jerry Wilson ’60
  • Robert “Lefty” Rodriguez ’63 / Manny Crespo ’68
  • John McGriff ’73 / Rick Cabrera ’73
  • Jose Ramos ’88 / Steve Marin ’86
  • Jamal Jackson ’98 / Coach Earl Tillman [Scholarship]
  • Frank Martin ’83 / Shakey Rodriguez ’71

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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4 Responses to Worst Day At Miami High Still Pretty Good

  1. florian stolfi says:

    For Bob Ward : Congratulations to you Bob !!!!!!!!!
    From way back to little league and pony league and the U.S.Post Office.
    You earned HOF MHS !!
    Your friend,Florian Stolfi

    • Lenny Booth says:

      I, too, have a feeling about MIAMI High that cannot be equalled as I continue thru life. In my office I have a huge portrait (4’x8′) of the Blocking being done against Wilmington NC High School which I feel is one of the finest portraits of the old single wing offense that ever existed. I cherish it along with many other relics that relate to MHS. Thank god I went to MHS !!!

  2. Elsa Trujillo says:

    So PROUD to have attended Miami High. Unforgettable memories were made, lasting friendships, and so much pride in knowing that I learned about this great country, and learned to be an American citizen on the grounds of such a great institution. To my US History teacher, Mrs. Powers, to my Government teacher, Mr. Butalla, to my Math teacher, Mrs. Kaufman, to my counselor, Mr. Leonard, to all those teachers who opened the doors for us to continue our education. Thank you for being an influential part of my life. Remember Pep Rallies!? dances on the East Patio after football games! walking the halls feeling tall and proud of who we were! And dreaming of becoming American citizens…
    “Those were the days, my friend
    We thought they’d never end
    We’d sing and dance forever and a day
    We’d live the live we choose
    We’d fight and never lose
    For we were young and sure to have our way
    La la la la…
    Those were the days, oh Yes! those were the days!”

    Thank you Lord, for placing me at Miami High during my teenage years. To you Be the Glory!

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