When Jarron met the spirit of Donnie

Pat Haley - Contributing Columnist

The 6’5” guard stopped, jumped toward the heavens, and buried deep a 3-point shot about 20 feet away from the hoop. Jarron Cumberland has made hundreds of shots like this during his brilliant Wilmington High School basketball career.

Players love the sweet ‘swishing’ sound when the ball touches nothing but net, and Jarron’s soft swish hit nothing but net.

When the ball descended into the basket, time stood still, and Jarron surpassed the all-time scoring leader in Clinton County basketball history, the late Donald Lee Fields of Port William.

My wife, Brenda, my sister, Rita, and I are season ticket holders, watching every game from the front row, just north of the Pep Band. When the game stopped and the tribute was given to Jarron, a strange feeling slowly crept over me.

The week before, I had asked our grandson Jack if he had been on any school field trips recently. “Our class went to an old theater last week,” Jack said. “Grandpa, I did something I rarely do.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I cried. I seldom cry at home or at school, but I did in the darkness of the theatre. I was watching Homeward Bound: The Great Journey, when the dogs came running home after their great adventure, and I wept,” Jack said.

Like Jack, I am not prone to emotion either. But I was feeling sentimental and didn’t know why. Then, I realized I was watching a metaphor. I was watching the torch being passed.

“Rita, do you realize you and I watched Donnie Fields score his 2,135th career point at the old Dayton Fairground Coliseum in 1959?” I asked my sister as we both stood and applauded.

We had been present to witness the breaking of the remarkable record twice in our lifetimes, on both magical nights, separated by 57 years.

Sitting a few seats behind us were Vernon ‘Butch’ Hooper, Jr. and his wife, Connie. We knew Butch understood. He had been at the game at the Coliseum as well. Rita, Butch, and I may have been the only ones in the Wilmington gym this past Thursday who had witnessed the scoring record being set and the same record being broken. The years had been kind to Donnie’s record.

Jarron’s teammates and the crowd jumped to their feet. Fans in 1959 popped flashbulbs on their old Kodak Brownie cameras lighting the old gym like the bright morning sun. Thursday night, the clicking sound of cell phone cameras filled the gym.

The imagination plays a trick. The young men on the Wilmington team began to morph into faces from my childhood. Everyone was there. There was Mike Mason, Donnie DeVoe, John Trivett, Donnie

Stoops, Raymond Doyle, Gerald Martin, Raymond ‘Junior’ Hughes, Lou Martin, Bob Evans, Charles McClary, Bob Johnson, and Donnie Fields. Those were the Port William Bulldogs, the men of the Orange and Blue.

It isn’t hard to summon memory, and know how the sport and life has changed. Wilmington’s players were dressed in shorts that dropped below the knees and blew in the wind. The Port William players sported old-school knee socks, and skin tight shorts, not much longer than a pair of briefs.

The Port William gymnasium was a fraction of the size of the Wilmington gym. They had four or five cheerleaders while Wilmington must have close to twenty. Long ago, a bag of popcorn was a nickel and a Coke was a dime at Port. Now we pay two dollars for water.

Jarron Cumberland is a self-professed “tough man” — his game face is always on. One night the ball bounced into the stands and I happened to catch it. I threw the ball back to Jarron. As he turned around I said, “Next time you get the ball in the corner, throw it to me and let me shoot it.” Jarron did a double take, turned toward me and smiled. It was one of the few times I’ve seen Jarron smile on the court. Live tough.

Donnie Fields was the polar opposite of Jarron on the court. Donnie was reed thin, animated, and loved joking and talking with the cheerleaders and spectators in the stands. While Jarron often passes the ball with finesse to open teammates, Donnie shot almost every time he put his hands on the ball. He seldom missed.

Fields’ time was before the three-point rule. He shot at least fifty percent of his shots, if not more, beyond three-point range. Someone said had the three point rule been in effect it might be reasonable to add several hundred points to his career point total.

Donnie Fields and Jarron Cumberland were two very different people, with one thing in common. They were gifted young men who excelled at basketball.

Back when we were young we liked to think people, places and even records would last forever. As we grow older we come to realize nothing does.

Congratulations, Jarron Cumberland. Godspeed, Donnie Fields.


Pat Haley

Contributing Columnist