Rick Binder wrote me a letter that changed my life.
It was on yellow legal paper, and what he wrote only took up about a third of the page. His penmanship wasn’t great, his grammar OK, but what he said I’ll never forget as long as I live.
“When I saw you leave Southwest with a basketball, and walk down to 3rd & Spruce to play, and then come back with your ball, I knew you were going to be pretty good.” I got this letter shortly after my senior season in high school. Rick was coaching at Reading High; I was playing at Holy Name.
He was referring to a time when I was 10-12 years old and Pops was officiating Rec League games at Southwest junior high. I’d go to my dad’s games — usually a double-header — but as soon as we got there, I’d walk a couple blocks to a playground to play.
I guess I’ll say the quiet part out loud. That was a black neighborhood, and everyone at the park was black. I was a kid, and, of course I noticed, but I swear to god I didn’t care. I just wanted to see if I could get into a game and play. Thank God I made that walk! I wouldn’t be the person I am today nor the player I ever was if I hadn’t walked those couple blocks every time my dad reffed at Southwest.
We beat Reading High at Geigle my senior year, and I guess in our small world it was a big deal. But my teams went 1-6 against Reading High, so in the grand scheme of things it always comes back to Reading High: The gold standard of basketball for me. The heart and soul of my basketball foundation.
I’ve immortalized anything and everything Reading High basketball. I just have. Saw Cliff Durham hit the buzzer-beater at Martz Hall, watched Stu Jackson score 38 on TV, in the state championship game, was at the triple-overtime game when Pete Mullenberg hit game-winner at Hershey. And I’m pretty sure I remember Pete Pasko hitting a buzzer-beater against Ephrata — a team that shouldn’t have even been in the same class as RHS but for a damn good guard named Mike Matta. Who would later assist a little bit at Franklin & Marshall. All that may need to be fact-checked, but I’m pretty sure I’m on money.
Anyway, so when I got this letter from Rick Binder, who already had established himself as a great player and coach in Reading, I was floored. See, this is what I’m not sure I can nail down, and it’s just so hard to explain: Reading High was our pro team. It just was. It was that good.
They used to sell T-shirts at Reading High School games. They read: “Reading High: Where basketball is beautiful.” And never truer words were spoken. “Don’t you get it,!” I tell everyone out here on the West Coast … “Pete Carril coached at Reading High!”
Maybe if I keep this thing going I’ll write more about Reading High basketball, and its indelible impact on my life. Maybe I’m going to have to.
But for now, it’s just about this letter, a letter that still can reinforce me 40 years later — and not just about hoop. A dude from Reading High said I, a SUBURBAN player, was good. All things were now possible at that point! Thank you, Rick!
LOVE LOVE LOVE reading Matt’s posts. Many memories flash before my eyes. It’s all the BB and names that I remember and constantly filled my everyday conversations. Keep the memories coming!
This is not just good content, it has all the “Elements of Style”that every English major had to endure back in the day. You done good son, not just as a bbplayer, but as a man and writer.I think even E.B.White would agree.