I don’t get out much for sporting events that I’m not covering. An occasional high school football game. A gymnastic meet or two, since my oldest granddaughter loves the sport. Youth sports involving 7-year-old Riley or my 6-year-old nephew, who plays basketball and t-ball.
But Friday night, my wife and I took all three granddaughters — Riley, 4-year-old Sadie and 2-year-old Tinley — to the McCarthy Gymnasium to watch the Bishop McGuinness boys play Ardmore.
I know, doesn’t sound like the greatest Valentine’s adventure. But the Dish and I had a nice dinner on Thursday night at Legend’s in Norman, because we needed to get to McGuinness. I hadn’t seen Brian Canfield play all season. Brian’s father, Owen, is an Oklahoman editorial writer and the former Oklahoma City Associated Press sports editor. We spent a hundred nights driving back and forth to Stillwater, covering OSU football and basketball. We became great friends, and I’m Brian’s godfather.
It’s an indictment of our fast-paced lives that I don’t get to more of Brian’s games. He’s a heck of a ballplayer. I last saw him play last March, in McGuinness’ Class 5A state semifinal victory over Chickasha in Tulsa.
Anyway, we went to the McGuinness game and had the most delightful time.
We walked into the gym and paid our admission. The girls got in free. Our tickets were $5 each. Then we went to the concession stand, because the girls hadn’t eaten. Riley wanted nachos. Sadie wanted a corn dog. Tinley wanted popcorn. We got them two drinks to share, and they came in bottles with lids. Perfect.
The total tab was $8.
Let me repeat. We got nachos, a corndog, popcorn and two drinks for $8. Not $28, which is what it would cost you for the same thing at some soul-less movie. I asked the woman working the concessions, “Did you mean $18?” Nope. Eight.
We walked into the gym and went to the far end, where the Canfields were seated. Owen does the public address for McGuinness, but we joined Lori and two of her other (older) children, Freddie and MaryBeth. It was senior night at McGuinness, so Brian and the other McGuinness boys and girls players, plus managers and poms, were honored.
McCarthy is a nice, new gym with a great setup. The first six or seven rows opposite the benches are chairback. Behind them are bleachers. We sat on the top row of the chairbacks, and there’s quite a bit of space before the bleachers start. So the girls had a great place to run around and play, right behind us.
About one quarter into the boys game, the Dish said I needed to go get the girls some M&M’s. They ate well and wanted some candy. I was having a swell time, sitting with Freddie and watching basketball. Fifteen years ago, I joined Owen and his two oldest sons, Freddie and John, on a baseball tour. We drove all over Middle America, watching ballgames. In St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. Had an unforgettable time. Now Freddie is an Arkansas grad who is back working in OKC. I don’t get to see him enough.
Anyway, here I was dispatched to an M&M’s mission, and I got a sudden thought. When I walked into McGuinness’ gym, I got a feeling about the place. This was different. This was not like anywhere we go these days. McGuinness keeps a lid on things. People do things right there. I’m not Catholic, and I’m not even a big supporter of private schools. But McGuinness does things right.
So I did something I’ve never done and might not do again for awhile. I pulled out my wallet, handed Riley (remember, she’s seven) a $10 bill and told her she could go to the concession stand by herself. She would have to walk to the far end of the gym, go through the doors and out into the lobby, where the concessions were sold. I even made her mission a little difficult. I told her to get me a hot dog while she was at it. With mustard.
I’m trying to think of a place where I would let her walk out of my sight, other than a house I knew extremely well. I guess at church. If she didn’t have to cross the walkway where cars drive down to our lower-level parking. Maybe at my office. Nowhere else. When we go to Mazzio’s, she’ll go to the bathroom by herself. And we watch her the whole way.
But I felt 100 percent security at McGuinness. Just a place where they’ve maintained order. A place where if someone is doing something wrong, it doesn’t slide. It gets corrected.
Another friend of mine has kids at McGuinness and is all worked up about the new OSSAA policy of making private schools who are successful in certain sports move up a class. He rails about the social injustice of it all. I don’t agree with the policy as it’s written; I support a different version. But he says it’s sheer jealousy, not just of athletic success but of academic and social success. To which I tell him, no, I think it’s pretty much athletic jealousy.
But it ought be more widespread coveting. Gold balls tarnish. A school where kids can thrive and learn without the nonsense of so much that afflicts schools, public and private, these days, that’s priceless.
Anyway, I felt the order at McGuinness and sent away Rileybird. She came back a few minutes with a bunch of change, three bags of M&M’s and mustard on my hot dog. I sent her back in the third quarter for more.
The game was great. McGuinness is ranked No. 1 in 5A, and the Irish won going away.
The girls loved the cheerleaders. MaryBeth took the girls down at halftime, and they got their pictures made with the McGuinness cheerleaders. The Irish mascot — some costumed guy with a big head — was not so attractive. Tinley wanted no part of him.
After the game, we sauntered out onto the court, and the girls ran around like they were in an amusement park. We went to a small reception for the seniors, where the girls got to hang around the cheerleaders even more, and I chatted with McGuinness athletic director Gary Savely. I told him how impressed I was with the environment.
“It’s a throwback,” Savely said.
I suppose it is. But McGuinness taught me that some places remain special, and we don’t have to give up and remember the way things used to be. Sometimes, we can make things the way they used to be.