Immaculata University Magazine - Spring 2011 - page 31

y father, John, was a selector at the A&P warehouse on
Baltimore Pike. Mymother, Chris, was a nurse at Fitzgerald
Mercy Hospital in Darby. She is now 81 years old, and she
recently published a book chronicling the genealogy of our
family. She is a remarkable woman. I always felt that if I had a little bit of
the talent she has, I would be really successful. You see, I have always
believed that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My parents had
five children. I was the oldest, followed by Michael, Donna Marie,
Chuck, and Anthony.
Our house had only one bathroom. If anything, that taught us
teamwork. Eventually, my father knocked out the garage and put in a
powder room. Back then, that made us part of the elite. But we didn’t
know that!
My father wasn’t really a sports person. He took a lot of flak
from people asking him, “Why are you letting your daughter play
with the boys?” My grandmother, his mother, thought that was very
unladylike. It didn’t faze him. He believed in me.
When I was in the sixth grade, I learned to play basketball by
competing against the guys. There were five boys on our block, so I
was the sixth player. They were all older than I, but they let me play
with them.
Boys pick their teams based on ability; girls choose on the basis
of popularity. Two boys could be arguing, even engaged in fisticuffs,
but although the chooser might be doing battle with the best player,
I guarantee that he would not hesitate to select that fellow for his
team. Girls, on the other hand, choose their best friends, or the most
popular, or the one who has the best clothes. It’s ridiculous.
I had the privilege of being taught basketball by the guys. I carefully
observed just how they chose teams. Since I was a girl, they were very
hesitant about selecting me. Once I proved myself, I was no longer
a skirt. I was one of them. To the guy who chose me, I was the best
available player. The only fellow who was upset was the one whom I
replaced because he was a terrible player. He was the guy who thought
I had no business being out there playing after all.
Michael Tomasso and Ralph Menichini were pretty good athletes.
The key for me was always to watch guys like the two of them play.
Afterwards, I would ask them, “How did you do that?” Then I’d
practice. Johnny Testino was another source of bottomless knowledge.
He managed to be sent to summer basketball camp. I pestered that kid
to no end: “What do they teach you at summer camp?” “What did you
learn last week at camp?” “What drills or new plays have you been
practicing?” After a while, he just said, “T.C., why don’t you just shut
up?” (They called me T.C. for Top Cat.) This early experience not only
taught me the fundamentals of the game, it also got me out of helping
my mother clean the house.
We played basketball by shooting a ball through the telephone
wires and the kitchen window. Ma Bell’s repair men had a fit because
we separated those wires, which would cause interference on the party
lines people had back then. The service truck came by. We ran. They
fixed the wires. They left.
We went back to playing.
At the time I was growing up, a girl couldn’t go to a playground and
play ball with the guys. And a girl was not expected to wear sneakers.
God forbid that I should wear a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers! Since
I couldn’t do that, I played in loafers. Just imagine how many pairs of
loafers I went through!
When I was 13, my father put up a court behind our house. There was
one parking space behind each house on our block. I was always thinking,
always trying to figure out a way to play basketball, and I had this great
idea: “Okay, this would be so much better if this were a bigger court.” I
talked our next door neighbor, Mr. Lenten, into letting us put the pole
between the two properties. And that’s where I developed my outside
shot. And my reputation preceded me. Sort of.
Michael Arizin was a big star on the boys’ team at O’Hara after
I graduated. We started talking about old times recently, and he
reminded me that when he was younger, he came to our neighborhood
looking for a pick-up game. He asked some of my friends who was the
best player on our block. “Well,” they told him, “It’s a kid we call ‘Top
Cat.’” “I want to play him,” Michael said. “It’s not a him,” they told
Michael. “It’s a her.” It’s stories like that which never fail to amuse me.
I met my husband of more than 35 years (Karl Grentz) about that
same time. He was our paper boy. Karl was a year older than I, and
we grew up together. I lived at 110 Stratford Road, and our house was
smack in the middle of the unit. Karl lived about seven blocks away.
The first time we met, I was, naturally, in my basketball uniform.
He was standing on a stoop, looking up at me. He was wearing those
I grew up in a row house in Glenolden, a middle-class neighborhood in Delaware County,
Pennsylvania. My parents were simple people who had great faith—in their church, in
their children, and in themselves. Family was everything to them.
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