Feb. 19—If you ever want to get that feeling of high school rivalry again, attend a playoff game.
That's what I did Thursday night.
I finally went to see the new Wilkes-Barre Area High School, which sits in Plains Township, to watch a bit of the playoff doubleheader — Pittston Area versus Holy Redeemer in the opener, and Dallas versus Greater Nanticoke Area in the nightcap.
The magnificent gymnasium was packed. The crowd cheered for their teams and the action was non-stop.
The scene brought back a lot of memories of pre-merger, small school rivalries that were part of the fabric of Wyoming Valley back in the day.
It seems like decades ago when local high school basketball games were filled with tradition, rivalry and capacity crowds jammed into rather tiny gymnasiums — which were often referred to as "bandboxes" — and each with their own very special features to give the home team a slight edge.
Watching the action Thursday night, it seemed like I had traveled back decades because, well, it was decades ago when those rivalries were at their peak.
One of the most fierce rivalries that I experienced was Nanticoke versus Plymouth. Plymouth played home games in the Gaylord Armory — a comfortable building with bleachers on both sides of the court and a horseshoe-like balcony.
Nanticoke played in one of those bandbox gyms, where there were support columns in the corners of the playing floor that were, I believe, in bounds. If the ball hit one of the columns, it was not out of bounds.
And there were other similar gyms that gave the home teams a decided advantage, Just name the school and the gym had its particular traits, shall we say. Whether it be GAR, Kingston, Newport, Ashley, Wilkes-Barre Township, West Pittston, Forty Fort, Swoyersville — and all those Catholic League schools — St. Vincent's in Plymouth was a dandy..
But through it all, it was always fun. When preparing to play a particular school, part of those preparations was a review of the venue — the gym — because we had to know what to expect when we went on the road.
A lot of those memories came rushing back Thursday night. But the Wolfpack gym is much larger. It really is a gem of a gym.
But I assure you there was a strong similarity to those halcyon days of old — the players played hard, the cheerleaders cheered loud and the crowd was supportive.
It was awesome to see this scene again — to be able to walk into a game in 2023 and feel the same vibes that were felt decades ago.
Every year of my youth, the Plymouth Shawnee Indians and the St. Vincent's Vinnies were always the talk of the town in Old Shawnee. And never without debate.
You would often stumble upon a good-spirited, yet lively debate about who was better — the Shawnee Indians or the Vinnies.
The question could never be settled on the court or diamond because the two schools competed in different conferences — Plymouth in the Wyoming Valley League and St. Vincent's in the Catholic League.
To be somewhat diplomatic here, I will say that I am certain that either school could defeat the other.
When we weren't confined by the structure of our school programs, we, the players, often did compete on the courts of Plymouth's playgrounds or in Doc Savage's backyard. And the games were always competitive and both sides could claim victory, but I can't verify that — let's say they were always competitive.
To this day, we tell stories of how the two schools did meet in scrimmages and each side will say they won. The Vinnies' guys will be sure to say that they beat Plymouth, probably more than once. Plymouth players will forever claim the Vinnies' guys are somewhat inaccurate.
Sometimes our memories are not as reliable as they can be, or, perhaps, we just want to remember those days they way we prefer they were.
There will be compelling arguments and lots of "facts" presented, but it's all circumstantial evidence. We have no game films of our past. We never had cell phones to record everything we ever did.
All we have is our memories and, trust me, they are all good. Those really were the best of times. We all won. We all can be proud.
And just like that moment whenever I walk into a gymnasium these days, all those good memories will come back to me.
Memories of the Red & Black and the Blue & White and of when our hometown would come alive and fill our home courts with fans.
Every town of Wyoming Valley was part of those glory days.
It's good to know they are still around.
And the memories being made today will stay with those players, cheerleaders, coaches and fans forever.
Plus they will have them preserved in pictures and videos.
Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.