Clem Haskins was a first-round overall pick for the Chicago Bulls in 1967’s NBA Draft; standing 6’3” as a point guard, he was also 1 of 2 black students integrated into the WKU Men’s Basketball program, inducted into the Kentucky High School AA Hall of Fame in 1988, and served as assistant coach of the 1996 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team”-working with such players as Penny Hardaway, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, and Scottie Pippen.
In Campbellsville, where Haskins has all but retired from the sport as a full-time cattle rancher, general consensus is that it’s easy, considering such accomplishments, to overlook the nefarious shortcomings of his past; above all other concerns, the Taylor County School Board shows utmost diligence in maintaining an unvarnished public image with regards to its staff/faculty. That being said, if you’re a student/resident you probably won’t hear much about the incident aside from over embellished rumors, but as a matter of public record, in 1999, the University of Minnesota’s Men’s Basketball program was linked to accusations of academic dishonesty; specifically, Academic Office Manager, Jan Gangelhoff, now retired1, alleged that she had written: “hundreds of research papers and homework assignments” for somewhere around 20 players between 1993-1998, during which she served in the position under direct supervision of head coach Haskins.
Evidence of his impropriety mounted substantially, leading to internal investigations on matters of bribery, intimidation, and other heinous accusations of administrative interference in sexual/criminal misconduct charges involving various members of the team.
On June 25th, 1999, U of M bought out the remainder of Coach Haskins contract for 1.5 million dollars; 10 months later the Justice Department requested all documents pertaining to the university’s investigation, and in August, the school announced to the media that Haskins had confessed to a “portion” of involvement in the cheating scandal. U of M was not so satisfied, nor as concerned with public image vs. loss of revenue, and on 9/11/2000, started proceedings to sue him for the rendered buyout of his former contract2.
In his essay, The Negro Celebrity3, Eldridge Cleaver summarized the topic by stating that:
“One tactic by which the rulers of America have kept the bemused millions of Negroes in optimum subjugation has been a conscious, systematic emasculation of Negro leadership. Through an elaborate system of sanctions, rewards, penalties and persecutions--with more often than not, members of the black bourgeoisie acting as hatchet men—any negro who sought leadership over the [black] masses and refused to become a tool of the white power structure was either cast into prison, killed, hounded out of the country, or blasted into obscurity and isolation in his own land and among his own people.”
While I don’t condone the misogynistic turgidity of Cleaver’s seminal work4, I’d be hard pressed to contradict his claim that black men of authority are held to more scrutiny and consequence in America… There are several “celebrities from the apolitical world of sport and play” regaled with varying levels of esteem and the media’s admiration for nascent ambition/success in the face of adversity, the infantile monkey pulling apart the brass ring with his bare hands, is contingent on a black man’s retention of his place in a society that rejects his menial accomplishments of stability/dignity, and his ultimately futile attempts to set a positive example for his peers and successors.
I have no delusions on the matter in regards to personal responsibility; I’m not an example of stability and positivity is not a strong suit by any means. Maybe I was just born to be a reclusive, utterly apathetic realist/cashier…
I’ve always been frugal when handling other people’s money and I’m almost in a state of Zen when I can limit interacting with other people to the rushed, yet cordial rapport of mercantile transactions. I exhibit zero interest in their stories and maybe that’s why the weather reports provide the best social lubricant for me. If I have to be uncomfortable, there’s always the sly chance a stray lightning bolt will end the misery of the moment.
As a junior at Taylor County High, I took a pass/fail elective course in Advanced Food Marketing with Ms. Evans, a short tanned woman in her mid-40’s with shoulder length auburn hair, a mole whose placement and circumference were reminiscent of Cindy Crawford’s, and sleek brown legs which she kept mostly hidden beneath a pair of Cardinal Pride sweat pants.
She was my instructor in Basic Food Marketing during my sophomore year and offered those who passed the opportunity to work at the recently renovated Cardinal Kroger, opening sometime during the Spring semester. I got a job as a stocker/relief cashier and since I enjoyed the break from 6th period, the employee discounts on Surge soda and Funyuns, this time I applied for the head of stock/store manager position; Ms. Evans took her time with hiring, as she was having strenuous domestic issues and everyone felt the vaulting tension when she would pass Coach Evans5 in the hallway. She finally settled on Emma Roberts as Head of Stock and Erika Graham6 as Store Manager, both of whom had passed her Retail Marketing course by planning rather elaborate/successful day to day operations for a fake steak house during their freshman year.
I was given a promotion to Head Cashier…
When the bell rang at the end of 5th period, most kids would run for CK, trying to get their processed sugar highs within the allotted 15 minutes; some rushed the halls for the greenhouse, located on the east side of campus in front of a discreet alleyway, narrowing with dark corners near the west exit, where they would congregate to smoke joints/cigarettes. The WtH clique were known to be a frequent presence and it was rumored they had an understanding with certain faculty members in the AG Dept; if no one was caught, they had free reign.
At the head of WtH was Rodney Sprowles7, who lived just 2 houses south of Jessie Riggs and was technically within the Marion Co. School Zone, but had been expelled after a fight with another student8.
When he started referring to me as the sand nigger during recess, I resolved to save my smoke breaks for the bathroom rather than risk running into the ugly fat fuck and his goon squad.
Still, when I would take boxes to the dumpster during my shift, on regrettable occasion I couldn’t avoid his endomorphic headlining act—a muddled procession, pausing, with his mouth open, over recollected details from country store rhetoric he’d heard that morning before school. He developed male pattern baldness early on, as was a common trait among Sprowles men over the age of 13, accentuating his brachycephalic skull like a shaved bull mastiff with crossed, vacant eyes and an aquiline nose that hooked to the right/whistled when his breath was shallow.
Most loyal or at least attentive of Rodney’s flunkies were Brandon Skaggs & Josh Sprowles, a younger cousin. While his counterparts were glib, Brandon held more of a protean curiousness; although he didn’t fit in as easily as Josh, he possessed a transitive sincerity that was easily overlooked because of the constant blinking and verbal ticks. Josh was lanky and unassuming; always afraid to make eye contact for prolonged periods because of his insecurity with facial scars on his forehead and cheeks9.
Holding court one afternoon, Rodney gets on about the legend of Blueboy, a house fire story about a man from Feather Creek Road.
“You ever noticed he don’t wear anything sides turtlenecks?”
“So? Don’t mean nothing.”
“Juvenile pranks in familiar circles.”
“That’s enough of that B.S., there’s ears in these windows… Like I said, he has to wear those shirts, to hide his scars. Say, maybe you should look into a turtleneck or 2.”
Josh wasn’t amused and stepped closer to his cousin indicating as much.
Rodney didn’t budge, “Maybe you can stretch out the neck and walk around with the shirt up over that niggermelon head of yours. Who knows, you might even get some pussy that way, hahaha!”
I came out the side door to find the 2 of them grappling on the ground next to the dumpster, B.S. screaming:
“Stock up! Robinson and Wilhelm Merger! Stock up! Stock UP!”
Our mutual hatred never got physical; often I’d run into Rodney at Mt. Washington Baptist, where congregation members of the Sprowles, Miller, Cox, Mattingly and Fabri family trees nurtured a silent rumor mill in place of outright hostilities. The same was true for Rodney and I, as he was overly polite in the presence of my father and various company.
“Well Baptist desecration and bath tub exorcisms, Robinson and Wilhelm Merger… The Burning Nigger! The lone contender!”
B.S. tugged at Rodney’s shirt, diverting his attention from the fight at hand.
* * *
The news about my encounter with Jessie’s dad had made/met with several rotations/embellishments in the WtH gossip circuit; when Rodney used this opportunity to remind me of the incident, I somehow left the exchange agreeing to meet them that weekend at Philip’s Lanes on Bambi Drive. Surrounded by medium priced/HUD approved duplexes and 1 story, 5-bedroom bug shacks, P.L. was a landmark for teen angst in Campbellsville, replacing the Solid Rock as a spot to cop loosies when you came of age to steal/buy them from the vending machine inside the front door.
Brandon’s 3rd cousin, Tommy Laringer, worked weekends for cash under the table; always with a white rag in his back pocket, buffing balls and ready to quit without notice, he was held in place by the watchful eye of those who knew his father and expected a full day’s work from a man without direction. He was also in charge of Cosmic Bowling, held every Friday and Saturday night between 10pm-1am. If you were in with one of the staff, you could pick up extra frames after hours, provided the owner had already worked during the day when business was slow, which was often save the random school funded field trip or scheduled Lion’s Club meeting.
I met the boys in their usual Lane 4 around 11:00pm; like other P.L. regulars, Rodney & Co. had their petty larceny rackets—ripping off vending machines, stealing smokes from Wal-Mart and selling overpriced packs to underage smokers, b&e’s on the neighboring veterinary hospital for vials of ketamine or horse tranquilizers etc. —typically their best laid plans were relegated to bowling alley/backwoods centric aspirations that provided Zima and pool money. But that Friday night, Rodney explained that Brandon had been picked to help with stocking duties at Cardinal Kroger, per the school’ s outreach effort, SNAP10 (Special Needs Assistance Program).
Brandon’s first shift was the following Tuesday at 10am—where he would help unload the week’s stock of canned goods for the homeless, distributed at the Broadway location later in the day—before returning to Coach Turpin’s Alt. Studies for homeroom by the time the bell rang at 1:15pm.
Rodney accounted for an unsupervised 30-minute window before the bell, wherein B.S. would swipe boxes of dry product and exit through the back door, stashing them behind the dumpster. Rodney and Josh would pick up the score and slip off to the parking lot, securing everything in his truck, and return unnoticed before anyone was the wiser. By the time it came to counting inventory, who knows what happened? Just a miscount, solid plan. But he needed a lookout, at the very least a distraction, and seeing as how I was always buddied up with Emma and Erika, and Ms. Evans trusted me as far as you can trust a sand nigger, I should be the one to give B.S. heads up when the moment was right.
I wanted nothing to do with this bullshit and mentioned as much underneath the pulsating glow of fluorescent orange pins, an annoyingly large disco ball and strobe lights synchronized to Styx’s Wheel in the Sky before storming back to the pool room.
I broke the rack on a game just before closing, when Tommy’s voice came over the P.A.
“Let’s hear it for big cuz, Brandon Skaggs, on Lane 4! He just rolled a whopping 280 on his 9th frame! Perfect game on the line ya’ll!!”
* * *
Erika and Emma were absent from school for a DECA sponsored field trip to Frankfort, leaving me in charge of their duties for the day while Ms. Evans cried in her empty classroom. It was slow for business that afternoon, and while I didn’t help B.S., I did look the other way when he decamped through the west exit with several boxes at 12:50pm. When he returned empty handed a few minutes later, Coach Turpin walked into CK to retrieve him for homeroom a little early, as there had been some reported behavior issues that morning and he didn’t want the boy to overextend himself the first day on the job. Turpin snidely apologized for the extra work he was leaving me and led Brandon into the alley, finding Josh and Rodney at the drop-off point red-handed11.
* * *
Although not named directly, I was implicated as an accomplice after the fact by Brandon Skaggs12. Per Principal Yarberry, when Coach Turpin caught the boys in the act, it took an hour or so to get Brandon to quit repeating burning nigger, while his cohorts elaborated on whose poor choice of judgement led them into this mess. While Mr. Yarberry wasn’t completely convinced in my involvement, he did have concerns about my future employment with CK, particularly my ability to manage operations outside my assigned responsibilities.
His office was a complete clusterfuck; placards and stacks of past memos, curriculum reports, PTA meeting minutes, file cabinets like high rise apartment buildings housing every permanent record until they were just another scratch on the school’s legacy. While I felt somewhat relieved having informed the principal about our meeting at P.L. the weekend prior, the effort involved was like I was proving my innocence using sign language with someone unfamiliar/blind.
“While I’m willing to let this go,” he leaned forward in his black leather chair, his gray beard and thick bifocals going dark with the subsequent reflection from his Jos. A. Bank 2 button poplin. “I have to say, I’m disappointed in your diligence with the situation. You were put in charge and failed to keep focused on the task.” He offered me a dish of cinnamon Red Hots—I could see the fingerprints of kids/faculty who’d been in the same seat and declined. “I’d like you to consider something the next time you’re on the job, any job really—if you’re in a position of authority, it’s imperative to treat your workspace with a pragmatic and communitarian focus. Do you understand? Simply put, a man’s legacy lies in what he contributes, what he gives back, and what he protects. You keep all that in mind and who knows?” He pointed my attention to the framed/autographed photo over his head. “Maybe you’re the next Clem Haskins. You certainly can achieve as much…”
1 True to form of public scandal fallouts, just 8 days after the initial story broke, former Academic Counselor Rick Mardsen verified suspicion, claiming he too was asked to do course work for a player in 1986.
2 In October, U of M placed the basketball program on a 4-year probation and cut scholarships during such period.
3 Soul On Ice. Ramparts Press. 1968.
4 I certainly don’t sympathize with Coach Haskins.
5 Taylor County Girls’ Basketball Coach/Political Science Instructor.
6 Admittedly I had a huge crush on Erika; I made it a habit to brush/style her long flaxen hair during World Literature, and even though I would never act on it, when she told me that even in black lipstick and sporting a misaligned fro-hawk, there was still potential for me as a spoken vessel of the Holy Spirit, I briefly considered her suggestion of joining a youth mentorship program at her church.
7 Manet in atterum (Abideth forever): A common war cry among the Spreules of Scotland/Ireland in the 15th Century, while Latin mottoes aren’t usually displayed on contemporary family crests, having removed the prefectural verbum domini from its original context, the Sprowles family of Central Ky. still enact the same tenacious diligence with regards to outside threats. A notable distant relative of the Ky. offshoot was Nancy Bass, otherwise known as the Spurlington Tunnel Witch, who was killed and buried on top of the tunnel in an unmarked grave by the Jesse James gang after she witnessed the outlaws burying treasure from a train robbery in the Cumberland Mountains.
8 He stabbed the boy in the arm with an aluminum protractor during homeroom over an undetermined dispute.
9 They were the result of 6 relatively unsuccessful plastic surgeries after a devastating car accident in front of the abandoned Miller Saw Mill on I-527.
10 Sponsored by Kroger Foods, Citizen’s Bank, and DECA.
11 Altogether they had made off with 72 cans of Surge soda, 3 cartons of Lifesaver Gummies, 6 boxes of Andy Capp’s Hot Fries and several cases of prepackaged macaroni and bean salad.
12 “Stock down. Robinson & Wilhelm, nigger merger. Deep confession, Ingram Ave—telepathic beacon, give an inch.”
Frankie Metro is the co-founder/chief editor of Kleft Jaw Press. He has been published in numerous online/print journals like ABQ Free Press, Drunk Monkeys, Alt Poetics, Underground Voices ad infinitum. He has published 2 collections of poetry and his first prose novella The Professional Donor is due from Kleft Jaw Press in 2016.