CATHOLIC CLOSES THE DOOR TO AN ERA, read the headline. "Gee, did they have to?" I murmured. Sure, it was a rattletrap. But no gymnasium could hold more memories deep in the dead spots of its floor than Brookland Gym at Catholic University.
The old place housed its 1,478th and last intercollegiate basketball game a few days ago. Catholic beat Allentown College, 74-61, before the usual collection of about 800 fans, 500 untouched programs and 14 light bulbs that still worked. A new gym, the Raymond A. DuFour Complex, will open in September. The smart money says that carpenters will overrun Brookland Gym during the summer, put up partitions and turn it into classroom space for the architecture department.
But I can't let that happen without remembering Fitz, and the night of The Great One-On-One Epic.
About 175 years ago, I served as adviser to the Catholic U. student newspaper, The Tower. It was one of the best jobs I've ever had. We'd put the paper, a weekly, to bed every Wednesday night. By the time we had finished, Thursday had not only arrived, but a good chunk of it had expired.
Hey, but who worried about sleep? To help a roomful of college students grapple with headlines and deadlines was a weekly boost to the spirit, if not to the flesh.
One year, The Tower's sports editor was a terrific kid named Bob Fitzgerald. Some people have "Winner" written all over them at 19. Fitz had it emblazoned in boldface. He was lean, smooth, smart and handsome.
Best of all (for Fitz, anyway), the girls thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. There were more female sports staffers during Fitz's regime than anyone could ever recall seeing before (or since). Take it from me, folks: It wasn't because the ladies were dying to write volleyball.
But Fitz didn't spend Wednesday nights reciprocating the google-eyes. He conscientiously put together his sports page, week after week. Until one Wednesday, when we got into a disagreement about a picture.
Fitz wanted to run a shot of spring baseball practice. It showed three outfielders just standing around. I thought he ought to run an action picture of a close finish at an indoor track meet. But Fitz said nobody at CU cared about track.
"Baseball," said Fitz.
"Track," said Levey.
Until we were both getting blue in the face.
Finally, I made a proposal that would make me even bluer in the face.
"Fitz," I said, "you are 15 years younger than I am. You are three inches taller. Your sneakers are about five years newer. Your waistline is but a mere percentage of mine. But I think I can whip your hindquarters at one-on-one basketball. If I can, you run the track picture. If I can't, you run boring outfielders. What do you say?"
Twenty seconds later, we were heading for Brookland Gym. A couple of Fitz's female admirers came along to keep score and make sure I didn't hurt him.
I had never been inside Brookland before, and I almost didn't make it that night, either. I looked inside, at the green stucco walls, the dark corners, the bent baskets, the worn-smooth floor. It looked like the third level of an underground parking garage. So I said:
"Come on, Fitzgerald. Take me to the real gym."
"This is the real gym."
"You're conning me."
"Would I do that?"
"In a word, yes."
"You're right. But this is the real gym. I promise. What are you, scared?"
That was all it took. I gave him the ball first. He shot. He missed. I got the rebound. And shot. And scored.
As my breath diminished, my lead increased. Before I knew it, I was ahead by something like 12-4. We had agreed that the first to make 15 baskets would win.
Fitz's rooting section was silent, and plainly concerned. Meanwhile, all over Brookland Gym, other athletes had stopped to watch. They peered through the dankness and the darkness, wondering how a fine, fit sports editor could be getting his clock cleaned by some stranger with gray hair.
Then I made my big mistake. I said to Fitz: "The (puff) track team is sure (puff) going to be happy I know (gasp) how to play basketball."
I don't know how long it took Fitz to get back in the game, but it wasn't very. The score was suddenly 14-14 -- and Fitz had the ball.
He dribbled to his right.
He stopped and shot.
As the sportswriters say, he hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
Somewhere in this favored land, three former Catholic University baseball players are probably having a brew and telling all their buddies about the time the school paper ran their picture.
They don't realize they have Fitz to thank -- not to mention a great old warehouse of a gym. Could any architecture classroom ever mean as much?