After 25 years away, the memories come flooding back as longtime friends reconnect on the golf course and in the high school gym
By Mark Godich
The house sits in the middle of a quiet, tree-lined street, a modest English tudor that was built in 1925. Peek between the live oaks on a clear night and you can glimpse the glistening Dallas skyline. My wife, Leigh, and I stumbled upon the property during a house-hunting excursion almost seven years ago. We were returning home after 25 years in the Northeast, and after a frustrating and fruitless first day of searching, our real estate agent unlocked the front door at 918 Stewart Drive. “This is it,” I proclaimed as I set foot inside.
Leigh needed a bit of convincing, but by late that afternoon we had made an offer. Five days later the place was ours. I wondered what Mom and Dad would have thought. I had grown up in Richardson, the suburb immediately north of Dallas, and my parents had one steadfast rule when I would venture out with friends for a night on the town: Don’t cross the Trinity. Oak Cliff has changed, however, and our Kessler Park neighborhood has a vibrancy about it.
My parents were OK with me crossing the river during daylight hours for one specific reason: Stevens Park, a sporty municipal golf course that winds through Kessler Park and offers a couple of spectacular views of the downtown skyline. Back in the day, the course featured far too many funky doglegs and blind shots to attract many customers, but after a 2011 renovation and rerouting, it is among the most popular tracks in the area. (You can’t beat the $18.50 weekday green fee for us walking seniors.) We’re a one-car family these days, so I have occasionally made the six-block hike to Stevens Park, golf bag slung over my shoulder.
Golf has taken me further in my life and career than I ever could have dreamed, and the opportunity to play year-round was among the factors that appealed to me about returning home. What I didn’t expect was how golf would reunite me with long-lost childhood friends, becoming the connective tissue of a community that has rallied around our alma mater and its wondrous high school basketball team.
Colorado Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares in Kessler Park, bisects the 12th green and 13th tee at Stevens Park. Leigh and I drive down the street often, and the memories come flooding back. I got my first taste of tournament golf there in the late 1960s, at the Dallas Times Herald junior tournament. I was 10 years old and in a taut first-flight semifinal against a kid named Mike Parnell—the details you never forget!—when our match reached the par-3 7th hole (a tract of land now home to the par-4 13th). When my tee shot found a greenside bunker, it took me no fewer than seven swipes to extricate my ball from the sand. Concession? Well, neither Mike nor I understood the intricacies of match play, so I kept hacking away. Mike closed me out at the 9th hole, a 90-degree dogleg-left uphill par-4, playing left of the diabolically sloped (and borderline unfair) two-tiered green. I cried all the way home on the 30-minute drive to Richardson, convinced I would have won the match had I been able to negotiate the sand a little better.
A couple of years later, I attended my first PGA Tour event: the 1970 Byron Nelson Classic. Back then, the Nelson was played at Preston Trail Golf Club. It was a mere four miles from our home but a world away. Among the members of the exclusive club was Mickey Mantle, whom I counted among my childhood sports heroes. Out for a family dinner on the Saturday night of tournament week, my father made a detour on the way home. I stared out the back window in awe as our car crawled past the majestic homes that lined the street leading to the clubhouse. After church the next morning, Dad told me to get changed—we were heading to Preston Trail. Rain delays had necessitated a 36-hole Sunday finale, and we arrived just as the final group was starting its afternoon 18: Arnie, Jack and a third wheel named John Shroeder. I was a proud member of Arnie’s Army, and golf spikes laced, I walked all 18 holes and the playoff hole that ensued. Jack beat Arnie with a kick-in birdie at the par-5. It was a quiet ride home, but I couldn’t contain my excitement. I had just witnessed golf at the highest level, played by two legends of the game. I was hooked. And imagine my glee several years later when I spied Arnie a table away in the Pavilion, the Nelson’s rollicking party tent. He had a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other and an attractive blonde on his lap. My eyes locked in on him. He shot a cold glare back, seeming to suggest, What are you looking at, kid? Well, Mr. Arnold Frickin’ Palmer, sir.
I played golf at Richardson High, lettering two years, and was a member of a district championship team in 1974. (Full disclosure: I played on the B team that year.) The highlight of my senior season was our third-place finish at the Grayson County Invitational. We were tied after 36 holes, necessitating a 10-man, sudden-death playoff. Steve Turner and Dave Goscin were the best sticks on our team, and Turner was never at a loss for words. So as he watched our opponents tee off, he provided running commentary. “One down,” he said for all to hear after a tee shot was flared well right. “That’s no good,” he announced after another wayward drive. Then he proceeded to cold-top his tee shot, the ball trickling to the front of the box. Everyone erupted in laughter. Turner has always been an especially long hitter, and with two ensuing mighty blows he reached the front of the green at the par-5. We won going away. It was a raucous ride home as we relived the tee shot, the playoff hole and the shots that got us there. Only in golf.
My 15 minutes came a couple of years later, in August 1977, when I walked on to the golf team as a junior at the University of Missouri. Coach Rich Poe had no idea who I was, and when he announced I was one of 10 Tigers who would be traveling west the following Wednesday for a dual match against rival Kansas, I sheepishly mentioned it fell on my first day of journalism school. Poe replied that I needed to decide how badly I wanted to play golf, but considering Mom and Dad were into their third year of paying out-of-state tuition, the decision was an easy one. A week later I tried to redeem myself in the qualifier for a tournament in Kentucky. I shot 77-77 and promptly retired from college golf.
But my love affair with the game never wavered. After a decade in the newspaper business, including a stint at the Times Herald, I headed east with my new bride. From there, every stop included golf coverage, from The National Sports Daily to Golf Digest to Sports Illustrated to The Athletic. I have attended all four majors, the 2016 Ryder Cup—I got chills when fans at the 1st tee at Hazeltine chanted Ar-nold Pal-mer to memorialize his recent death— and countless PGA Tour events. As I plotted how to cover the best players in the world, I also tried to piece together some semblance of a golf swing. (What I would give to shoot 77 today.) I retired last May, but when former SI colleagues Matt Ginella and Alan Shipnuck inquired about my interest in joining the Fire Pit Collective as a consulting editor, I jumped at it. How could a guy who has been playing the game for 55 years say no? My role at the Collective is to talk about golf, think about golf and add an extra layer of polish to the stories. Not a bad gig.
The work schedule allows plenty of time for golf. I am playing more than I have in years—48 rounds and counting since that May “retirement.” It has been a struggle. The handicap, which hovered around a 5 about a decade ago, has ballooned to a 10. Never mind the pinched discs in the neck and the tight back; I dropped 30 pounds in the summer of 2019, the result of a mysterious illness that landed me in the hospital for nine days. The swing speed plummeted, and now I am almost two clubs shorter. Last spring I joined Hackberry Creek Country Club in Irving. (Stevens doesn’t have a range, and the guy who used to walk from the parking lot to the first tee and post a respectable score has long since retired. I need to practice.) Hackberry has Byron Nelson’s name on it, and I sometimes wonder if he designed the course thinking he’d be its only player. But who among us golfers doesn’t love a good challenge? It’s why we play.
That struggle hasn’t stopped me from developing new friendships and renewing old acquaintances. One of the hardest things about leaving the Northeast was saying goodbye to the guys at Jericho National, a superb track in Washington Crossing, Pa., with an even better membership. I’m lucky to have found a group at Hackberry that has truly welcomed me. And I have discovered a couple of things along the way: You can go home again, and those childhood friendships you developed in school and on the playing field never die. Since my return home, I have played in three RHS alumni tournaments, at old stomping grounds Canyon Creek Country Club and Duck Creek Golf Club, joining Goscin and Turner, along with Ron Samples and then Greg Hubbard for the four-man scrambles. Hubbard, in fact, drove up from Houston for the day last November, then walked in putts like he was Kevin Na. Goscin, Turner, Samples and I won the thing in 2018, showing the kids with the long backswings and the limber backs that a quartet of 61-year-olds still had game. We have also played around town from time to time, reminiscing about RHS and that third-place finish at the tournament near the Oklahoma border. “Remember when …” Not long after returning home, I was invited to join Halftime Huddle, a group of former RHS athletes who meet monthly (at least we did until the pandemic hit) for dinner, fellowship and the occasional service project. Oh, the stories.
And now basketball is bringing even more of us back together. Turns out Richardson High has assembled quite the basketball team. On Thanksgiving weekend, the Eagles knocked off Compass (Ariz.), the No. 1 prep school in the country, 61-38. Five days after Christmas, they edged Duncanville, the No. 1 high school team in the state and the country, 60-58 in overtime. Now Richardson is No. 1 in the country and in the state of Texas.
Between those two wins, seven of us attended a Friday night game at the old gym off of Belt Line Road: Goscin, Hubbard, Greg Broom, Craig Nedrow, Tom Weersing, Robin Moon and me. Broom and I once lived down the street from one another. Weersing and I played together on countless youth teams. We all share one unbreakable bond: Class of ’75 RHS graduates. We broke bread at Big Shucks, swapping stories about the glory days. Then we marveled at the show the Eagles put on. Cason Wallace, the top-ranked player in the state, who’s bound for Kentucky, and Rylan Griffen, who’s headed to Alabama, make things go, but this is much more than a two-man team. Coach Kevin Lawson has constructed a group that displays boundless energy, makes the extra pass or three and plays tenacious defense. These Eagles are a joy to watch.
After the game, we loitered on the court, Hubbard and Nedrow reflecting on their basketball days on this very hardwood. Hubbard examined the inviting 3-point line and wondered how many more points he would have scored. I quipped he was assuming Nedrow would pass him the ball. Before we left, we agreed we’d be back for more games. And as the sports editor of the Talon in 1974-75, this intrepid journalist felt obligated to chronicle the night in a Facebook post. That led to even more old-timers wanting to know when we were going back.
Bryan and Susie Jeanes were among those who chimed in. The three of us go back to Arapaho Elementary School. They started dating in high school and married during college. Bryan, who along with Scott and Lynette Nixon (now retired and living in Atlanta), was one of my closest friends growing up, recently retired from his job as a county judge in East Texas, and he and Susie moved back home a couple of years ago. Earlier this month, we met for a game. Another visit to Big Shucks. Another night of reminiscing. Another blowout win, this one by 46 points.
At the restaurant, we bumped into Stan McMillion, Class of ’74. I played junior baseball against Stan (our fathers coached), and he was a star point guard and shortstop for the Eagles. Of course he was heading to the game. When I mentioned how impressive the team had looked, he noted Wallace and Griffen had been on his radar since the seventh grade. The hype, it turns out, was warranted. Before leaving the restaurant, Stan stopped by our table for another quick chat. Having seen my Facebook post, he said, “Please tell Hubb and Nedrow hello for me. I’d love to see those guys again.”
McMillion now works for Thanks-Giving Square, a Dallas nonprofit. Many of us are retired now. Turner and Samples were club pros for years, and although Goscin remains gainfully employed, he always seems to be available for a round of golf at a moment’s notice. Yeah, Dave’s in sales. Same with Weersing. Nedrow owns a mergers and acquisitions firm. Hubbard beat the rest of us to retirement after a longtime career at Oracle. When he’s not monitoring game results of his son, a successful high school basketball coach in the area, Broom can be found doting on his five grandchildren. Moon will join us in retirement in March.
Sadly, we’ve lost far too many classmates at too young an age, including a trio of friends I played youth sports with. Mark Embler was a kicker on the football team, so good he got the call-up to the varsity as a sophomore. He would play at SMU. Perhaps his greatest hour came in a 1973 game at Sherman, when he booted three field goals from beyond 40 yards in a 9-0 victory. A straight-on kicker, Mark died of pancreatic cancer in 2020 at the age of 61. Bearcat Stadium sits hard by U.S. Highway 75, the same road we traveled to the Grayson County tournament, and every time Leigh and I drive by the field on our annual summer trip to the member-guest at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo., Mark comes to mind.
Ron Little was a football player too, and a very good one—a shifty running back with floppy hair and a devilish laugh. Our friendship dated to our early days at Arapaho, and he played with Weersing and me on our YMCA and peewee football teams. Ron married Dale Goode, another childhood friend. He died in 1997 of Ewing’s sarcoma cancer. At the age of 39.
And then there’s Gregg Harris, the star quarterback and third baseman. We attended different elementary schools, but we became fast friends because I played a lot of football, basketball and baseball with and against Gregg and his father, Bob. Mr. Harris was something else—a court reporter by day who was as competitive as hell but also compassionate and downright funny. He tooled around in a lime-green Mercury Cougar convertible, often with no fewer than four of us sardined inside. One day we arrived for baseball practice to find the field hadn’t been dragged. None too pleased, Mr. Harris attached the screen to the back bumper of his car, jumped inside and proceeded to spin around the infield like a whirling dervish, top down, wheels spinning, dust flying. That’s our coach, we all marveled, mouths agape. One of Richardson’s finest arrived just as he was finishing the job, and despite saying with a straight face he was only looking to lend a hand to the parks department, Mr. Harris became the owner of a stiff fine.
Mr. Harris was one of the first people I reached out to when I returned home, because I was eager to catch up with someone I hadn’t seen in decades, and more important, because I had to know what happened. Father and son had played a spirited racquetball match on a Saturday afternoon in October 2001. When they were done, they sipped smoothies and chatted for more than an hour—about family, about sports, about life. Gregg didn’t appear to have a worry in the world. Two days later he was gone. Suicide. At the age of 45. “Every day I ask myself, ‘What did I miss?’” Mr. Harris told me over lunch in the spring of 2016, his voice shaking.
Competitive and as sports-minded as they were, I’m positive Gregg, Ron and Mark would’ve been in the bleachers with the rest of us this season. This whole No. 1 thing is unfamiliar territory for us all. RHS doesn’t have a rich athletic history, although the Eagles reached the state semifinals last season before losing to Duncanville. My fondest recollection traces to 1967, when Richardson made an improbable run to the state semifinals in football. The Eagles stunned the second- and third-ranked teams in the state before falling to Jack Mildren and No. 1 Abilene Cooper in the Cotton Bowl. When I was doing my research for this piece, I reached out to the crew, looking for confirmation I wasn’t missing anything to rival the ’67 season. Wikipedia Weersing was quick to note the football Eagles also advanced to the state semis in 1987. But the season two decades earlier will always hold a special place in my heart. My parents had season tickets on the 50-yard line, and my sister was a flutist in the marching band. I didn’t miss a snap that season, and neither did Broom. His dad, Charlie, was the line coach at RHS. Coach Broom! My query produced a flurry of texts as we recalled what a memorable season that was. Now our Tuesday and Friday nights feature shared texts announcing another RHS victory, albeit in basketball. My phone blew up the other night as Broom kept the crew updated during an 85-78 too-close-for-comfort victory over Lake Highlands. John Calipari was in the sold-out house. The next morning I received a text from Bryan: “Did you follow the game? Sounded like a barnburner.”
We’re going back to the old gym on Friday, for another game and undoubtedly another Eagles victory. The opponent is Jesuit Dallas, alma mater of one Jordan Spieth. Based on the response we’ve received, we’ll be bringing a bigger crowd: Goscin, Broom, Weersing, Bryan, Susie and some folks I haven’t seen since our last reunion, in 2015, if not before. “I’m not a basketball person and this has even my interest,” wrote one classmate. We’ve got a standing invitation out to Chuck Carona, who coached many of us at West Junior High. There will be a pregame meal and perhaps a postgame beer or two. This much is clear: There will be stories. And laughs. A lot of laughs.
Naturally, none of us knows how this season will end. A potential state semifinal rematch with Duncanville looms. That would happen in mid-March, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. There is already discussion among us about making the trek down I-35.
We’ll be packing our sticks.