The ball is tipped . . .
Fritz Hoefer ’72 and I lived on the third floor of Morrissey Hall. Fritz was coordinator of the Hall Presidents Council, and I was the newly elected president of Morrissey. The HPC ran An Tóstal, and hall presidents organized the events.
As I was walking by his room in the spring of 1972, Fritz said, “I’ve got an idea for a new An Tóstal event: a 5-on-5 basketball tournament. Would you run it?” I said sure. It was a 30-second conversation.
Fritz, from Wabash, Indiana, was the quintessential Hoosier basketball freak. At 6-foot-4, he had played on the Notre Dame freshman team in the days when there was such a thing. He left it to me to figure out the format, rules, schedule, et cetera. He just wanted one more chance to play competitive basketball. Then, ironically, he got hurt and never played in his creation.
Playing the games in all weather — rain, shine, even snow — wasn’t a clever gimmick; it was dictated by the schedule. On the other hand, letting students name their own teams — that was creative genius!
We really didn’t know what to call the event itself. A few days before An Tóstal, Fritz and I were discussing it with Jimmy Brogan ’70, a grad student, while standing on the basketball courts behind the old bookstore, where the event was going to be held.
Jimmy said, “I’ve got it — Bookstore Basketball.”
And the rest is history.
— Vince Meconi ’75
Back in the day, Badin Hall was home to the Babes — no offense to the current Bullfrogs — and was next to the bookstore with a prime view of the courts. Several of my fellow Babes were athletes and played on Bookstore teams every year, and the rest of us were enthusiastic spectators. But our senior year we knew we had to do more than cheer.
As nonathletes, we focused not on our basketball skills but on the all-important team name. For several years “Malicious Prostitution,” a team of law students, had dominated the tournament. We chose our name as an homage to that team and called ourselves “Mean Whores.” Super clever, right?
After registering our team for the tournament, I was on my way to class one afternoon and was congratulated by a friend for having my team’s name censored. I grabbed a copy of The Observer and sure enough, my name was listed as the captain of a team whose name had been rejected. We had only a few short days to submit an acceptable team name.
We didn’t have a Plan B, so we submitted the best we could come up with: “All We Had Going For Us Was Our Name And They Censored It.” Shortly after, we were delighted to see that we were once again featured in the newspaper, this time under our new team name in the list of “Top 10 Bookstore Team Names.” Score!
Epilogue: We lost in the first round.
— Alyssa (Fleck) Hammerschmidt ’91
Eager but inept
Participating in the tournament was entirely Keith’s idea.
I had known Keith since freshman year as a roommate, but senior year I lived in a single on the fourth floor of Morrissey Manor. My basketball skills were limited, in that I didn’t dribble well, shoot accurately or jump high enough to touch the rim. Keith’s athletic skills were worse. However, he had a curiosity and desire to be in the tourney.
When he floated the idea, I doubted he could recruit three additional players, so I agreed to join whomever he found, anticipating shared embarrassment. Keith identified three willing freshmen in our dorm and called my bluff. The Airball 5 was born, lacking height and talent.
We were matched against a similarly eager but inept team, who most probably also expected first-round elimination. I pity the spectators who witnessed our sloppy contest behind Lyons Hall, which lasted nearly 45 minutes, given both teams’ defensive tenacity and inability to score.
Keith grabbed a few rebounds and scored once. I shot a miserable 3-for-20 according to the courtside statistician, who kept remarkably detailed records. The paltry crowd cheered whenever either side made a basket, merely wanting the game to end so the next one could begin.
Our team prevailed by a small margin and predictably got smoked in the second round. Keith and I exited with a .500 record.
— John Hennessy ’83
So many stories about Bookstore Basketball, you could fill a book. Actually, I did! Thirty years ago, I wrote and self-published a history of the first 20-plus years of the tournament, told through stories of the many people (including myself, an ex-assistant commissioner) who experienced it.
The stories ranged from the great players, varsity and nonvarsity athletes alike, to the “joke” teams that dressed in costumes. And then there was Bryan Graham ’83J.D. You would see Bryan, a law student, eating with his feet in the dining hall. That’s what you do when you’re born without arms. You just don’t expect to see him play in a basketball tournament.
Bryan shared this: “Prior to the game, I approached the other team to explain that I used my feet and asked if they had any objections. The first time they brought the ball down the court, the player dribbled without worrying about my guarding. As he dribbled in front of me, I reached out with my foot and took the ball away from him. Needless to say, he was very surprised. The small crowd watching our game broke out with a loud cheer.”
From Faustin Weber ’84, ’85M.A., watching the game: “The guy with no arms would go to the top of the key, lift the ball with his feet to the goal! Once they blocked his shot and were roundly booed by the spectators.”
This story is one of my favorites, because I think it captures the spirit of Bookstore Basketball.
— Mary Beth Sterling ’81
Neither rain nor snow . . .
By the early 1980s, Bookstore Basketball was billed as the largest 5-on-5 outdoor basketball tournament in the world. If memory serves, there were more than 500 teams in the last of the four tournaments I played in.
There were so many games that captains were told without a hint of insincerity that each game would be played at the given time, rain or shine. Sophomore year, we got soaked playing in a downpour. We had to learn on the fly that the ball stops dead when it hits a puddle, making for an easy steal by the opponent.
Junior year, a major snowstorm hit in March, dropping more than a foot of snow on campus. Surely that would postpone the games for a day or two? Absolutely not. On our way to South Dining Hall, we stopped to watch two teams playing in the falling snow on the original bookstore court. One of the players was Father Monk Malloy ’63, ’67M.A., ’69M.A., at the time the assistant rector of Sorin Hall. Every third trip or so up the court, his teammates would toss him the ball near half court and he would launch it toward the basket. After watching him make two of those shots, we hustled out of the freezing temperatures and enjoyed a warm dinner, hoping for sunshine when it was our team’s turn.
— Michael Mader ’83
No Big Red
Upon arriving at Notre Dame in 1969, the basketball courts behind the bookstore became my oasis. My roommate, “Big Red,” shared this enthusiasm for basketball. When the weather was accommodating, our friends knew where to find us. Big Red graduated in December 1971.
I was thrilled when the inaugural Bookstore Basketball tournament was announced in 1972. A fellow “student-athlete” from Sorin Hall had recently formed the Arkansas Club and thought that sponsoring a team would be good publicity. He had attended school in Arkansas but had since relocated, meaning the team representing the Arkansas Club notably did not include anyone from the state.
We faced a team from Pangborn Hall that included Walt Patulski ’72, then weeks away from selection as the first pick in the NFL draft, and Ralph Stepaniak ’72, another football starter. A crowd ringed the court for a gaze at this celebrity lineup.
I added authenticity to our team’s name by donning an old, gray baseball hat for the tilt. Whether it was the hat or my familiarity with the bookstore rims, I played the game of my life. We were down 17-16 when the boys from Pangborn got serious, and we lost 21-16. We had, however, won over the crowd and I felt like a hero when congratulated throughout dinner, having yet to take off my hat.
I am confident we would have won that game if Big Red had played more basketball and stretched his graduation date to May 1972.
— Michael Devlin ’73
Frozen in time
My brother and I never got to play a sport together with big-time stakes. Growing up, we played backyard football, park basketball, beach whiffle ball. You name it, we played it. But in high school, I focused on soccer and basketball and he on football and baseball. As tight as we were, it was a bit of a bummer. That would change on April 19, 2013.
South Bend’s weather that night: 34 degrees, 20 mph gusts, light snow. In my mind it was a blizzard, because that’s what it feels like when you’re playing basketball in those conditions.
It was the round of 16. Our team captain was out of town. My brother, still in high school, happened to be visiting. Going up against a mix of football and track players and coaches, he would have lacked size. But that day my brother, in the midst of offseason lifting for football, brought the beef.
With our mother smiling (and freezing — love you, Mom) on the sidelines, that hour became one of the best memories my brother and I share. Back and forth it went. Frozen hands. A slippery court. Jump shots not an option. We battled and bruised our way through the snowy South Bend evening.
A 21-19 loss was the footnote, but that remains the best basketball game my brother and I ever played.
— Ryan Bonner ’16
In 1974, I was a sophomore living in the same Morrissey Hall first-floor section as two legends of Bookstore Basketball: Vince Meconi ’75, then a junior, and Tim Bourret ’77, ’78MCA then a freshman. Vince, besides being editor and publisher of the Bull Sheet, was Bookstore czar; in the weeks before the tournament started, he organized it as if we were building a new Panama Canal. Rules were promulgated, calls were taken from new teams, pages of brackets were typed, re-typed and mimeographed, and a staff of scorers and other helpers was assembled. I hung around Bookstore Central (Vince’s single) long enough to be assigned as a roving scorekeeper, a role that took me to outdoor courts all over campus. I started the games and kept score; we compiled all the stats like they were regular varsity events.
One time I went to the court in the woods by Carroll Hall, arriving about 20 minutes early. It’d snowed, and though it was melting there were still some piles on the asphalt surface. A snow shovel wasn’t part of my gear; I thought about using my boot to side-swipe the snow off the court, but wound up using my clipboard. That worked, though it got me strange looks from the arriving players.
Another memory was playing with four dormmates as the M*A*S*H Klangers — my pals were all pre-meds — and facing Bill Laimbeer’s Poseidon Adventure in the first round. How we scored 4 points is still a mystery.
— Kevin Byrnes ’76
Notre Dame Magazine invites personal essays of no more than 250 words on subjects of nostalgic interest to alumni of all ages. Here are upcoming topics, deadlines and details about how to submit.